Figueroa aiming to crack 25-man roster

Infielder getting regular reps with everyday lineup

Figueroa aiming to crack 25-man roster

BRADENTON, Fla. -- As they took the field Tuesday for their first full-squad workout, the Pirates split their position players into two groups. The "Gold" group was packed with prospects and players likely bound for the Minor Leagues to start the season.

The "Black" group looked like they were mostly bound for PNC Park. Around the infield were John Jaso and Michael Morse at first, Jung Ho Kang and Jason Rogers third, Jordy Mercer and Sean Rodriguez at shortstop, second basemen Josh Harrison and ... Cole Figueroa?

Spring: Tickets | Ballpark | 40-man roster | NRIs

Yes, Figueroa. Signed to a Minor League deal in early December, the 28-year-old infielder has been working out with the big league crowd this week, another sign he has a shot to crack the Opening Day roster despite only 25 games of Major League experience.

"My reaction, I guess first and foremost, is it's good to get out there and be with guys that have been in their system for a long time at the big league level and get acclimated that way," Figueroa said.

Selected by the Padres in the sixth round of the 2008 Draft out of the University of Florida, Figueroa has spent eight seasons in the Minor Leagues with the Padres, Rays and Yankees. Figueroa's played second, third and short, and he's hit at every level, albeit without much power.

General manager Neal Huntington has spoken highly of Figueroa on several occasions, pointing to his Minor League performance and a lack of Major League opportunities. Figueroa made 49 plate appearances over 23 games for the Rays in 2014, and the Yankees called him up for two games last year.

"Cole's earned the opportunity, we feel, based on the conversations we had with him over the winter," manager Clint Hurdle said. "[I] wanted to get him in that environment early. We'll see where he goes with it, but he's going to get reps and he's going to get opportunities to play."

If Kang isn't ready to play come Opening Day, the Pirates will have to fill an infield spot. It could be second or third, depending on how the replacement infielder best fits with Harrison. The most likely pick is Rodriguez, who's spent most of his Major League career at second, or perhaps Rogers at third.

Even if someone is called into starting duty, the Pirates need another backup capable of moving around the infield until Kang returns. It could be someone on the 40-man roster, like Pedro Florimon, Alen Hanson or Gift Ngoepe. Or it could be Figueroa, a non-roster invitee.

Figueroa is a career .290/.375/.386 hitter in the Minors, recording more walks (383) than strikeouts (280). His contact-heavy approach meshes well with the Pirates' renewed focus on a keep-the-line-moving offense.

"You don't want to put the ball in play just to put it in play. But I'm not going to hit the ball out of the ballpark, and I need to contribute in some different manner," Figueroa said of his approach. "I think that's something I relish, making sure I draw walks and I put the ball in play."

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