Well, folks, spring is here.  What’s that you say, there’s still snow outside?  OK, fair enough:  spring training is here.  Yesterday the final five Pirates position players reported to Pirate City, with a fairly unprecedented number of players arriving much earlier than required.

The pitchers and catchers have been working for a week already, with a few events of note.  Firstly, it was announced that Joel Hanrahan, one of the more decent relievers the Bucs have this year, suffered a flexor-pronator strain.  This was initially expected to land him on the DL to start the season, but it was reported today that his MRI showed the swelling had decreased substantially and that there was no structural damage.  His timetable for return is still not known, and I would rather see him miss a week or two to start the season than to have this flair up again (or worse still require surgery); nevertheless this information still bodes well.

Secondly, at his own request, Neil Walker reported to training camp with the pitchers and catchers to offer up his services at catcher, a position he hasn’t played at since 2006 when he played in A+ ball and five games at AA Altoona.  I find this interesting since he was moved to 3B (presumably because he couldn’t hack it defensively at C) when the current Coonelly/Huntington regime took over.  Of course, now the Pirates have Pedro Alvarez, who will almost assuredly start at 3B for AAA Indianapolis, and Walker’s future has been very much in limbo.  Pirates’ brass has made no attempt to publicly define a role for Walker moving forward.  Furthermore, Andy LaRoche blocks Walker at third in the majors.  I guess it’s pretty much a moot point if Walker never shows he can hit in AAA or the majors:  his AAA line in 1+ seasons is .248/.291/.428 and he performed poorly in a September callup last year too.  He’s shown good power potential, but .291 OBP isn’t going to cut it.  I suppose you could do worse for a backup plan at C:  the Astros will start another season with J.R. Towles at second string.

Lastly, Octavio Dotel, who should take over the closer spot vacated by Matt Capps after his less than stellar 2009 campaign, was shut down with a side strain.  It sounds like it isn’t very serious and shouldn’t set him back more than a few days.  The bullpen was a weakness after last year, and Dotel and Hanrahan might be two of the brighter spots in what should be an improved ‘pen, so here’s hoping they both come back healthy and soon.

So, starting at 9 AM this morning, the Pirates’ were back on the diamond getting ready for another season.  My expectations are somewhat more tempered this season than they have been in the past few years.  The roster isn’t much different from what we put on the field at the end of last season, but that’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of guys I’m excited to see.  McCutchen tops that list by far, but Lastings Milledge, Garret Jones, Jeff Clement, Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton and Andy LaRoche also have me eager to see what they can bring.  I also wouldn’t count this team out of performing well late in the season:  Pedro Alvarez, José Tábata and Brad Lincoln are some pretty high grade prospects who are probably long shots to make opening day but very likely to crack the roster by mid-season, and they certainly could help the team perform pretty well down the stretch.

At any rate, we can rest assured that while we still suffer (depending on where you live of course) below freezing temperatures and drifts of stale snow, there’s a bunch of guys down in Florida running around on some green grass,getting paid to throw and hit a ball around in 60° weather in late February.  It certainly brings a smile to my face.