A few weeks ago I looked at the projected 2011 Indianapolis Indians infield, noting that there could be a roster crunch, one which could leave prospects like Chase D’Arnaud and/or Jordy Mercer back in AA to start the 2011 season. The same situation is starting to form with the 2011 rotation in Indianapolis. Four of the top prospects in the farm system pitched in the Altoona rotation in 2010, and all four are expected to make the jump to AAA in 2011. The Pirates could also potentially be sending Brad Lincoln down to start the year in Indianapolis, assuming he doesn’t win the 5th starter role in the majors. To top it all off, they’ve signed a few minor league free agents, such as yesterday’s addition of Brian Burres. All of the options could leave one or two of the 2010 Altoona pitchers back in AA to start the year.
The options for the 2011 rotation are as follows:
Aaron Thompson - Thompson was added via waivers, after starting in Washington’s AA rotation in 2010. He hasn’t been effective as a starter, so it’s possible the Pirates could move him to the bullpen.
Brad Lincoln - Lincoln will be competing with Scott Olsen, Charlie Morton, and Jeff Karstens for the fifth starter role. Morton is out of options, and Karstens and Olsen each have guaranteed deals. There’s a chance that Lincoln could beat all of them, although I think it’s more likely he starts back in AAA.
Bryan Morris - Morris could be a candidate to move back to Altoona to start the 2011 season. He started the 2010 season in Bradenton, and after dominating for eight starts, went to Altoona, where he put up strong numbers in 89 innings. The Pirates might want to give him some additional time in AA before pushing him to AAA and beyond.
Jeff Locke - Just like Morris, Locke started out in Bradenton in 2010. He spent more time in high-A before making the jump to AA. Locke had strong numbers in AA, with a 56:12 K/BB ratio in 57.2 innings, although like Morris, the Pirates could opt to give him more time in AA before moving him up.
Michael Crotta - Crotta started between Altoona and Indianapolis in 2010, and was added to the 40-man roster this off-season. He profiles best as a relief option, and it’s possible he could move to that role in 2011.
Tony Watson - Watson was strong between the rotation and bullpen in Altoona, and was added to the 40-man roster this off-season as a result. He should move to AAA, although he profiles best as a reliever, and could move full time to that role in Indianapolis.
Brian Burres - Burres isn’t likely to crack the opening day roster out of Spring Training, but he could serve as rotation depth out of AAA in case of emergencies.
Cesar Valdez - The Pirates acquired Valdez for Zach Duke this off-season. Valdez has pitched out of the AAA rotation the last two years, and has even made a few appearances in the majors. He could be used as rotation or bullpen depth out of AAA, although considering the options available, it’s likely that he will pitch out of the bullpen.
Fernando Nieve - Nieve was signed as a minor league free agent early in the off-season. In 2010 he pitched out of the New York bullpen, with a 6.00 ERA and a 38:22 K/BB ratio in 42 innings. He also made eight starts for their AAA team. The Pirates said he would get a shot at starting, although it seems more likely that he will end up as depth out of AAA, working in a Jeremy Powell type role out of the bullpen.
Justin Wilson - Wilson spent the entire 2010 season in AA, putting up a 3.09 ERA in 142.2 innings. He struggled with control, and was inconsistent from start to start, especially toward the end of the year. He could be a candidate to return to AA due to his control problems.
Rudy Owens - Owens also spent the entire 2010 season in AA, with a 2.46 ERA in 150 innings, along with a 7.9 K/9 and a 1.4 BB/9. Owens is the best bet of the four AA pitchers to make the jump to AAA at the start of the 2010 season.
Sean Gallagher – The Pirates outrighted Gallagher to AAA earlier in the off-season, and expressed a lot of interest in keeping him around as rotation depth. There’s a chance they could use him out of the AAA rotation, as he probably won’t make the majors on Opening Day.
The ideal rotation would be Brad Lincoln, Rudy Owens, Bryan Morris, Jeff Locke, and Justin Wilson. However, Sean Gallagher, Brian Burres, and Fernando Nieve could also be candidates for the rotation, especially if the Pirates choose to keep Wilson (control) or Locke/Morris (experience) back in AA to start the 2011 season.