Pirates make another round of cuts

Pirates make another round of cuts

BRADENTON, Fla. -- With just two weeks left until Opening Day, the Pirates further dwindled the number of players in camp on Monday when the team announced that 10 players had been cut.

Four players -- shortstop Brian Bixler, right fielder Steve Pearce, right-hander Ty Taubenheim and right-hander Bryan Bullington -- were all optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. Another six non-roster invitees were reassigned to Minor League camp, including outfielder Andrew McCutchen, third baseman Neil Walker, right-hander T.J. Beam, infielder Luis Cruz, right-hander Brian Rogers and right-hander Marino Salas.

In addition to the four players who were optioned to Triple-A, McCutchen and Walker will also both start the season at Triple-A, according to general manager Neal Huntington.

The sweep of moves brings the total number of players now at Major League camp down to 40: Twenty-one pitchers, six outfielders, nine infielders and four catchers.

Though none of the players cut on Monday were expected to make the team's Opening Day roster, the announcement did ensure that the core group of top prospects within the organization will all be playing in Indianapolis this season.

McCutchen, Walker, Pearce and Bixler are all frequently listed as the top position prospects within the Pirates' farm system. Add in that mix Bullington, who was the overall No. 1 selection in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, and Huntington admitted that "it's going to be a fun team to watch" in Indianapolis.

It was a need for more time to develop and the fact that none would have seen stable playing time in the Majors. With all needing continued consistent at-bats, the Pirates had no intention of keeping any of the four on their bench as a backup.

For both McCutchen and Walker, the start at Triple-A recognizes the solid seasons that both had in Double-A Altoona last year. Both players spent the majority of the season in Altoona before being promoted to Triple-A during the final month of the Minor League season.

"In both players' situations, we're excited about what they've shown this spring," Huntington said. "They had solid seasons in Double-A, and we think that after evaluating their situations, they are both ready to go."

McCutchen overcame a slow start to then hit .307 in his final 41 games at Altoona, while Walker jumped out to a quick start that earned him a spot in the Eastern League All-Star game.

"You hate for this time to come," said McCutchen, the team's top Draft pick back in '05. "I believe that I belong, and I am going to go down to the Minors and show them that."

Said Walker, who will continue to develop as a third baseman: "I truly believe that I'm prepared to play at [the Major League] level. I'll see some of the other third baseman in the league and I'll say, 'I don't feel like they look.' There is still a lot to learn about where I need to be."

A start in the Minors will allow Pearce to continue to develop as a right fielder. It was only a week ago that the Pirates officially moved him there for good, and while his bat is arguably Major League ready, there is work to be done defensively.

"I am only a two-month-old outfielder," said Pearce, who was moved to right field for the first time last August. "I've got to ask questions. I've got to be out there for early work. I have to do so much to help myself get better."

On the pitching end, cutting five more pitchers gets the Pirates one step closer to determining which four relievers will claim the big league club's four open bullpen spots. With the five starters and Matt Capps, John Grabow and Damaso Marte all set, the Pirates now have 17 pitchers vying for those last four openings.

After being cut, both Bullington and Taubenheim can be expected to be in the rotation at Indianapolis in order to prepare to be potential spot starters if the Pirates need to dip into their system.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.