Forget the veterans: Pittsburgh should hand first base to Jeff Clement

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Amid reports that the Pirates are interested in signing a veteran left-handed hitter coming off a down year like Rick Ankiel, Hank Blalock, or Kelly Johnson, Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette suggests that they may end up simply going with young, in-house left-handed hitter Jeff Clement instead:

The deeper we get into this offseason, the clearer it is becoming that the Pirates want to see what Clement has, with maybe some urgency toward doing so before Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata arrive to crowd things further. They do nothing less than rave about what Clement did at the plate in Indianapolis right after the trade, and they sound as if they are very much looking forward to seeing if that translates.

Clement was once a top catching prospect, but just about everyone seems to have given up on the notion of him sticking behind the plate defensively and Pittsburgh got him from Seattle in the midseason deal for Ian Snell and Jack Wilson. While playing first base rather than catcher significantly lowers Clement’s overall upside, his bat still projects to be an asset. He’s struggled through 75 games in the majors, but the former No. 3 overall pick hit .279/.368/.492 with 59 homers and 95 doubles in 359 games at Triple-A.
Those aren’t spectacular numbers, especially spending four seasons at the same level, but Clement has 25-homer power and should supplement a modest batting average with a good number of walks. And as Kovacevic notes, at 26 years old and with over 1,500 plate appearances logged at Triple-A the time has come to see what Clement can do with 150 starts against big-league pitching. He’s certainly no worse of a bet than someone like Johnson or Blalock, and at a fraction of the cost with much more upside.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.