The Pittsburgh Pirates will be kicking off Spring Training tomorrow, with pitchers and catchers reporting today. To get ready for Spring Training, we will be previewing one set of positions each day this week, with the final group coming tomorrow. Here are the groups we’ve already profiled:
Today we take a look at the starting rotation. The Phillies signed A.J. Burnett this afternoon, which means that the Pirates will definitely be going with the players already in the system. Here are the roster predictions based on the current Spring Training invitees.
The Guaranteed Starters
You can count on Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, and Charlie Morton to be in the Opening Day rotation. Liriano had a huge 2013 season. Cole was looking like an ace by the end of the year. Morton returned healthy, and started to look like a strong middle of the rotation starter by the time his command came around. The Pirates followed that by giving him an extension, keeping him under team control through the 2017 season.
The Pirates signed Edinson Volquez for $5 M this off-season. While some don’t like the deal, and don’t want Volquez in the rotation, the reality is that the Pirates didn’t pay him $5 M to compete for a spot. He’s pretty much guaranteed a spot, which means you can pencil him in to the rotation. We’ll see if Ray Searage and the pitching staff can work their magic once again, much like they did with Liriano and A.J. Burnett in previous years.
The final rotation spot will go to Wandy Rodriguez, if healthy. Rodriguez is owed $7.5 M by the Pirates, and if he’s healthy, they’re going to use him. If he’s not healthy, Jeff Locke looks like the top option to win the fifth starter’s job.
The Pirates were highly successful in 2013, despite a ton of injuries early in the season to their pitching staff. They were successful largely because of depth. That depth returns once again this year. Last year the Pirates had to rely on James McDonald to be one of the key starters in the rotation out of the gate, despite McDonald having a poor finish to the 2012 season. Jeff Locke is in the same boat this year, but the Pirates aren’t relying on him, and will have him as a sixth starter. Stolmy Pimentel should start the season in the bullpen, but is a great option as a spot starter, playing a Jeanmar Gomez type role in 2014. Gomez is also projected to return, giving another starting candidate in the majors.
Last year the Pirates got starts from Phil Irwin and Brandon Cumpton throughout the year. Irwin’s start didn’t go well, and he ended up missing the rest of the season shortly after his major league debut. Cumpton did much better in his time in the majors, although he doesn’t project to be as good as his numbers in 2013 indicate. Both profile as back of the rotation starters in the majors, and both pitchers should start the season in the Indianapolis rotation, with a chance to make it to the majors during the season.
The depth won’t just come from the above five players, but will also come from top prospects who could make their debuts mid-season. Jameson Taillon is the top name from this group. He’s expected to make his debut in mid-June, similar to what Gerrit Cole did in 2013. If Taillon comes close to the success that Cole had, then his addition will be a big boost for the Pirates, especially if they run into injury problems.
Nick Kingham and Casey Sadler both had success in Altoona last year, and both could be candidates to make it to the majors by the end of the 2014 season. It’s possible that one, or both, could remain in Altoona to start the 2014 season. However, the Pirates have seen plenty of pitchers start the year back in Altoona, then make the majors by the end of the same season. The most recent example would be Cumpton. Sadler is on the 40-man roster, and has already made the jump to Indianapolis, so he seems more likely to start the season there.
Joely Rodriguez is on the 40-man roster, but he doesn’t project to make the team out of Spring Training. He should start the year in Altoona, and could make it to Indianapolis by the end of the season. It’s possible that Rodriguez could help the major league team as a lefty out of the bullpen in September, but that’s far from a guarantee since he hasn’t faced upper level hitting yet.
Kyle McPherson looked like a potential #3-4 starter a few years ago, but has dealt with a series of injuries. The most recent injury required Tommy John surgery, which he underwent in early July. That would put him on the path to return in the final two months of the 2014 season. If he reverts back to the starter he was before the injuries, then the Pirates have another good option, and someone who profiled better than Locke, Cumpton, and most of the pitchers already mentioned as depth. However, since he has seen so many injuries, it’s hard to tell what kind of pitcher he will be when he returns. Fortunately, the Pirates have depth that runs two rotations deep, and then some, meaning that any production from McPherson is a bonus.
Projected Opening Day Rotation
SP1 – Francisco Liriano
SP2 – Gerrit Cole
SP3 – Charlie Morton
SP4 – Edinson Volquez
SP5 – Wandy Rodriguez
Early Season Depth – Brandon Cumpton, Jeanmar Gomez, Phil Irwin, Jeff Locke, Stolmy Pimentel
Second Half Depth – Nick Kingham, Kyle McPherson, Casey Sadler, Jameson Taillon