Pirates have a few roster spots up for grabs

Rotation and bullpen among notable openings

Pirates have a few roster spots up for grabs

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Pirates squad each day this week. Today's topic: Predicting the 25-man roster.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- With Spring Training about to begin, the Pirates have a lot of time to settle the few spots remaining on their Opening Day roster.

First baseman Josh Bell's recovery from knee surgery will be closely monitored, as will the status of third baseman Jung Ho Kang. Injuries could create additional questions. But for now, there aren't many uncertainties.

Is Chad Kuhl the fourth starter? Who's the fifth starter? Who will be the last men in the bullpen? What will the bench look like?

The rest of Pittsburgh's roster seems to be set, and we can take an educated guess at those answers. Here is MLB.com's projected Opening Day roster for the Pirates.

Catcher: Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart
Cervelli will return as the starter with Stewart backing him up. Elias Diaz is the only other catcher on the 40-man roster and he's better off getting everyday at-bats at Triple-A.

First base: Bell, John Jaso
Bell is expected to be the primary starter, while Jaso figures to see time at first and in the outfield and maybe at third base. For now, let's assume Bell's knee will be healthy by April 3.

Second base: Josh Harrison
Still Harrison's job. The more interesting question is where he will bat in the lineup.

Shortstop: Jordy Mercer
With the starting job locked up last year, Mercer was able to better prepare his bat for Opening Day. Same situation this spring.

Third base: Kang, David Freese
Kang will start, assuming he's healthy and active following his latest DUI arrest. Freese will back up Kang and provide additional depth at first.

Utility: Adam Frazier, Alen Hanson
Frazier seems to be guaranteed a job after his breakout rookie season. Hanson is not, but he's out of Minor League options. He just has to be good enough offensively to support his athletic defense and speed on the bases. Recently acquired infielder Phil Gosselin, a right-handed complement to the lefty-swinging Frazier, might be Hanson's toughest competition.

Outfield: Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen
A new look, left to right, but no position battles here.

Healthy Taillon key to Pirates

Rotation: Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, Kuhl, Drew Hutchison
Cole, Taillon and Nova are locks. Kuhl is not set in stone, but it's probably fair to pencil him in. The last spot is up for grabs, with Hutchison, Tyler Glasnow, Steven Brault and Trevor Williams the most likely candidates. We'll give the edge to Hutchison based on his experience. Glasnow certainly has the highest ceiling but still could start the season in Triple-A.

Bullpen: Tony Watson, Daniel Hudson, Felipe Rivero, Juan Nicasio, Antonio Bastardo, Jared Hughes, Wade LeBlanc
Watson, Hudson and Rivero are the back-end trio. Nicasio and Bastardo (if he's not traded) could work just about anywhere. Hughes should be the fireman, called upon for ground-ball outs and multi-inning stints. But with an option remaining, Hughes must prove his rough first half last year was just a fluke.

There are a handful of candidates for the last spot. The early favorites are LeBlanc (who signed a non-guaranteed contract), Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Webb (who could be sent back to the Yankees or retained in Triple-A through a trade) and right-hander A.J. Schugel (who could be optioned to Triple-A).

For now, LeBlanc gets the nod over Webb based on his September success in Pittsburgh. Theoretically, both could crack the roster if Bastardo is traded before Opening Day.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.