Pirates lock in Opening Day, Alternative Site rosters

By Garett Mansfield

Now that the long-awaited Major League Baseball season is officially underway, the use of 30 alternative training facilities around the country are soon to be in full-swing.

The Altoona Curve are one of 19 affiliated Minor League franchises to directly feed players to the Major League affiliate during the 60-game regular season. This opportunity is a unique one for the 13 alternative training sites that are not Triple-A teams.

Prince George’s Stadium, home of the Bowie Baysox (Baltimore Orioles), is the only other Eastern League ballpark hosting their parent club’s taxi squad. Meanwhile, the Corpus Christi Hooks (Houston Astros) and Springfield Cardinals (St. Louis Cardinals) are the only other Double-A franchises serving as an alternative training site.

Words to know
The term most frequently used for these alternative training sites during the ramp-up to Opening Day has been “taxi squad“.

The term actually originated from football and legendary coach Paul Brown. He wanted his Cleveland Browns to keep a group of promising players that didn’t make the team, but he didn’t want to get rid of them completely.

In baseball, taxi squad refers to a group of players that are regularly called up to quickly address a need at the Major League level. Those players are normally assigned to the Triple-A team. There are often circumstances similar to what the Washington Nationals faced in 2019 that kept a handful of players at Double-A Harrisburg to fill empty spots on the MLB roster on short notice, due to proximity. That is why 2020 taxi squads are mostly within 100 miles of the MLB team’s home stadium.

This season, however, taxi squads will serve more of an official capacity instead of a phrase commonly used within an organization to describe a handful of players.

After the Pirates finalized their 30-man Opening Day roster, the taxi squad roster officially took shape. Click here to view the list of players the Bucs have assigned to camp in Altoona.

The taxi squad rosters consist of roughly 30 players that can be readily available to the big league team. Right now, the Pirates have 24 players in the Altoona camp. Roster sizes at taxi squad sites will increase as MLB rosters drop down to 26 members of the active roster over the next four weeks. Only 60 total players can occupy a roster spot on the active MLB roster and alternative training site roster. One small twist is teams can have up to three taxi squad players with the club on all road trips to make an emergency call-up.

After seeing how the other 29 teams have utilitized their taxi squad rosters, it is clear that there are two sets of players on each taxi squad: those set to replenish an empty spot for the Major League club and those that are there to further their development with the lack of a minor league season.

Workout Routine
The pool of players in Altoona will participate in daily workouts and intra-squad scrimmages at Peoples Natural Gas Field. The majority of the workouts have taken place when a typical evening game would be played with day-time workouts mixed in as well. The daily schedule has had some fluctuations during the first few weeks of summer camp. The Pirates baseball operations department has worked to replicate a gameday atmosphere and routine for the players in Altoona, which has incorporated time weight room, meals and other preparations.

Workouts consist of pitchers staying in rhythm with bullpen sessions and throwing live batting practice. Position players are going through defensive and baserunning drills while taking batting practice swings as well. Simulated games are another component to alternative site training to mock live, in-game action. The taxi squad will not compete against other taxi squads, just their teammates.

Per MLB regulations, fans are still prohibited inside the ballpark to watch workouts.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, meanwhile, open the season on Friday night with an 8:15 p.m. start at St. Louis. The Bucs’ home opener is Monday, July 27 against the Brewers at 7:05 p.m.

This contribution to the Around the Curve Blog is presented by Microtel. Plan your stay at one of Altoona’s three Lion Country Lodging locations. Click here to make a reservation today.

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