Bucs' infield battle one to watch this spring

Rodriguez, Hanson and Figueroa among candidates to fill holes with Kang likely to return in April

Bucs' infield battle one to watch this spring

PITTSBURGH -- Even by the Pirates' relatively drama-free standards, this could be a quiet spring in Bradenton, Fla.

As players filter into the crowded Pirate City clubhouse this week, most will know where they stand heading into the season. Realistically, there aren't many jobs up for grabs.

Still, there will be a few races to watch. The Pirates need to fill out their bench. They must decide on their ideal bullpen configuration, and there are about a dozen candidates for the last spot. In the fourth part of our Spring Training series, let's look at the most interesting position battle: the infield.

Comeback candidates | Newcomers | Prospects to watch

There are several moving parts at play in this competition, and they all fall into place the moment Jung Ho Kang is ready to return. When healthy, Kang will be the third baseman and Josh Harrison will play second. That was easy, wasn't it?

At this point, all signs point to Kang rejoining the Pirates in April, probably later in the month. His recovery from a fractured tibial plateau and torn lateral meniscus has gone well, but Pittsburgh will remain quietly optimistic until he's back on the field.

While he's out, the Pirates may choose to slide Harrison -- named the full-time second baseman after the Neil Walker trade -- back to third base. That creates an opening at second, and there are a few candidates.

The most likely choice is Sean Rodriguez, the utility man who re-signed with the Pirates this offseason. He spent most of last year as a defensive insurance policy for first baseman Pedro Alvarez, but he's a natural middle infielder.

In eight big league seasons, Rodriguez has played 268 games (and 1,851 1/3 innings) at second base. He has started 202 games there, more than double his total at any other position.

But what if the Pirates want a more dynamic offensive player? Rodriguez posted a .701 OPS and hit 12 homers with the Rays in 2014, but those numbers dipped to .642 and four in '15. What if Pittsburgh would prefer to keep Rodriguez in a utility role?

In that case, the Pirates could turn to infield prospect Alen Hanson or non-roster invitee Cole Figueroa.

Hanson, a switch-hitter, had his best offensive season for Class A West Virginia in 2012. He hit .263/.313/.387 with 35 stolen bases in Triple-A last year, the first full season he's played more second base than shortstop.

Top Prospects: Hanson, PIT

General manager Neal Huntington has spoken highly of Figueroa on several occasions. The 28-year-old infielder has 25 games of Major League experience, but he's spent parts of four seasons in Triple-A.

Figueroa is a .287 hitter with a .730 OPS in Triple-A. He doesn't hit for a lot of power or run quite like Hanson, but he has consistently walked more than he's struck out -- a trait the Pirates value in their keep-the-line-moving offense.

So, who will line up at the keystone come Opening Day? Stay tuned over the next month and a half. It could be Rodriguez, Hanson, Figueroa or perhaps even Harrison.

Pitchers and catchers report
Feb. 17

Full squad reports
Feb. 22

First Spring Training game
Away vs. Tigers, March 1 at 1:05 p.m. ET

Opening Day
Home vs. Cardinals, April 3 at 1:05 p.m. ET

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.