Departures could improve infield defense

After the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Neil Walker to the Mets and released Pedro Alvarez this offseason, fans didn’t think the club could rebuild the infield defense. They’re wrong.

While Alvarez and Walker combined to hit 43 home runs last season and started more than 75 percent of Pittsburgh’s games at first and second base, respectively, according to pirates.mlb.com, John Jaso looks to step up in his role as first baseman.

Alvarez committed 23 errors and cost the team 14 runs at first base in his last season with the Pirates. Jaso, who has been working on his new position in Bradington, Florida, plans to ready himself to improve the team’s defense.

Last season, the Pirates ranked 27th with a defensive efficiency ratio, or the defensive effectiveness of a team in converting batted balls into outs by the fielders, of .680.

The club also looks for improvement from shortstop Jordy Mercy and third baseman Jung Ho Kang’s on his eventual return to play. Josh Harrison will take over for Walker, returning to his position as third baseman where he played alongside Mercer in the minor leagues.

This season could lead to a more productive year at the plate and defensively.

Injury update: Diaz

Pittsburgh Pirates catcher prospect Elias Diaz will sit out at least a week with lateral right elbow discomfort, according to pirates.mlb.com.

Diaz, Pittsburgh’s No. 8 prospect, will be re-evaluated after resting and is expected to start the season at Class AAA Indianapolis, a Pirates affiliate. Diaz is 8 for 19 with a home run and five RBIs this spring.

Last year, Diaz batted .271 in 93 games at Indianapolis. After joining the Pirates in September, he appeared in two games for Pittsburgh.

Diaz and Reese McGuire look to be future catchers for the Pirates behind Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart.

Ngoepe may “Gift” Pirates

Shortstop Gift Ngoepe may enter the major leagues sooner than expected.

The Randburg, Gauteng native has played as a middle infielder in the Pirates minor league system since 2015 after playing at Triple-A Indianapolis. In 2008, he became the first black South African and sixth South African to sign a professional baseball contract.

Able to hit from both sides of the plate, Ngoepe focused his swing in 2009 by practicing to bat only right-handed. Although he didn’t see immediate results, Ngoepe worked his way to batting .257 with a .333 on-base percentage, according to post-gazette.com, in 2015.

Ngoepe aims to secure the final spot on the Pirates bench, alongside contenders Cole Figueroa, Jason Rogers, Pedro Florimon and Alen Hanson.

Pirates send eight to minor league camp

The Pittsburgh Pirates sent eight prospects, including five starting pitchers to minor league camp on Monday.

The spring training camp roster, now reduced to 54 active players, approaches its final cuts as the Pirates move closer to their April 3 opener against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Pitching prospects Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault and Trevor Williams were reassigned to minor league camp, according to pirates.mlb.com. The Pirates also reassigned catching prospect Reese McGuire, outfield prospect Harold Ramirez and non-roster left-hander Kelvin Marte to minor league camp.

Glasnow, Pittsburgh’s top prospect, may enter the Pirate’s rotation later this year.

Alvarez signs one-year deal with Orioles

Free agent Pedro Alvarez signed a one-year contract on Tuesday with the Baltimore Orioles, according to mlb.com.

The Pirates’ former second-overall pick reportedly signed for $5.75 million with up to $1.5 million more in incentives.

Alvarez hit .243 with a team-leading 27 home runs last season. The Pirates declined to offer Alvarez a contract for 2016 and he walked away as a free agent. His contract would have been approximately $8 million.

With the addition of Alvarez, the Orioles now have six players who have hit 30 or more home runs in a single season on their roster.

Pirates extend radio broadcast deal

The Pittsburgh Pirates and KDKA-FM announced a multi-year broadcast contract extension this morning.

The contract will keep Pirates radio broadcasts on CBS Radio’s KDKA-FM Sportsradio 93.7 The Fan. The Pirates and KDKA-FM previously engaged in a four-year contract that they agreed to in October 2011.

In 2012, the Pirates returned to KDKA-FM after five years with Clear Channel Communications’ WPGB-FM News Talk 104.7. Prior to News Talk 104.7, KDKA-FM aired Pirates games on a regular basis for more than 50 years.

Sportsradio 93.7 The Fan will broadcast a total of 16 spring training games, all 162 Pirates regular season games and every postseason game for each year of the contract, according to pirates.mlb.com. Announcers Steve Blass, Greg Brown, Bob Walk and John Wehner will return and be joined by new play-by-play announcer Joe Block.

The club did not announce the length or financial terms of the agreement.

Pirates defeat Tigers 4-2

The Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Detroit Tigers 4-2 on Tuesday in both teams’ Grapefruit League opener at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.

Shortstop Adam Frazier hit a triple off Logan Kensing’s pitch in the sixth inning to bring in shortstop Alen Hanson to put the Pirates ahead by one.

Left-handed pitcher Kyle Lobstein produced two scoreless innings despite throwing back-to-back walks in the first inning. Lobstein, a former Detroit Tiger, concluded his pitching with a double-play grounder by the Tigers’ Victor Martinez.

Catcher Francisco Cervelli and shortstop Jordy Mercer each hit home runs in the matchup.

The Pirates play the Tigers on Wednesday in their Grapefruit League home opener.