BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates made their second round of Spring Training roster cuts on Friday morning, sending 10 players -- including a few who entered camp with a chance to crack the Opening Day roster and several of their top prospects -- to Minor League camp.
Josh Bell, the Pirates' No. 3-ranked prospect, was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis, along with infielders Alen Hanson, Max Moroff and Gift Ngoepe, outfielder Willy Garcia, rehabbing starter Nick Kingham and reliever John Holdzkom. Non-roster prospects Adam Frazier, Dan Gamache and Juan Diaz were reassigned to Minor League camp.
"We sent probably one of our most gifted groups of players out that we've ever had this early in camp, as far as guys that have skills and can help us during the course of the season," manager Clint Hurdle said.
Bell was the biggest name sent out to Pirate City, but Holdzkom was perhaps the most surprising -- not the decision itself, but the reason behind it.
Holdzkom took a remarkable journey from independent baseball to the big leagues in 2014. He was sidelined by shoulder injuries much of last year but came into Spring Training with a chance to win the last spot in the bullpen.
After a rough spring debut, Holdzkom made four straight scoreless appearances. But he told the Pirates he didn't feel right, that the ball wasn't coming out of his hand the way it should. His high-90s cutter was clocking in at 89-91 mph and moving more like a slider.
Facing a little-known deadline, the Pirates had to make a decision on Holdzkom. Friday was the final day clubs could option injured players who didn't accrue any service time last season. If Holdzkom remained in camp and turned out to be hurt, the Pirates would have to place him on the Major League roster's disabled list.
"Now, our focus becomes finding out why the ball isn't coming out the right way. Is there something underlying that we're not being made aware of at this point in time?" general manager Neal Huntington said. "How do we get him healthy, and how do we get this guy back to what he was in 2014 and get him back to the guy that can help us?
"That guy can really help us. Unfortunately the guy that we've seen so far this spring doesn't help us."
Hanson and Ngoepe had an outside shot to make the Pirates' roster before they signed David Freese. Hanson worked exclusively at second base this spring, and Huntington kicked around the idea of letting him compete for a starting job.
"The general manager made a decision to go get a 'now' player," Huntington said. "It was a reflection, essentially, on where we are on the win curve and the opportunity to add a very good Major League player that fits for us really well. In Alen's case, he's closer than he's ever been."
When he returns to Triple-A Indianapolis, Hanson will continue to bounce around the infield, spending time at second, shortstop and third base.
Bell, a talented switch-hitter who's come a long way defensively after a full season at first base, is currently blocked by John Jaso. But Huntington said Bell "isn't far from being able to help us if the opportunity was there."
"It's incredible, just being one phone call away," said Bell, perhaps fittingly standing in front of a wall mural at PNC Park. "Being in big league camp and seeing big leaguers on a daily basis, it's a different experience. It's definitely humbling. It's definitely eye-opening."
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.