An Early Look at the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates Rotation

It’s way too early to be talking about the 2015 starting rotation. The 2014 season is just over a week old, and we still have a lot of questions to be answered about the rotation this year. However, the recent injury to Jameson Taillon has led to a lot of questions about how the 2015 rotation will look. Taillon was originally supposed to be in the majors by mid-season this year, and would have been part of that 2015 group. Now that he’s out for the year with Tommy John surgery, his potential debut gets moved back to next June, and the Pirates have some questions surrounding their 2015 rotation.

A bigger issue is that Francisco Liriano, Wandy Rodriguez, and Edinson Volquez are all free agents at the end of the year. That might not be bad news to a lot of people on Rodriguez and Volquez, but Liriano should be missed. Currently that leaves just two members of the 2015 rotation, along with a lot of question marks.

The Locks

Gerrit Cole – He started looking like an ace at the end of the 2013 season. So far, the results have been good in 2014. If Cole becomes an ace this year, that would be a huge boost for the 2015 rotation, since the Pirates would have their leader.

Charlie Morton – Last night was a rough outing, mostly due to Starlin Castro and his two homers. Since returning from Tommy John surgery, Morton has looked like a strong middle of the rotation starter. The Pirates also have him under control through the 2017 season. If he continues looking like a middle of the rotation starter, then the Pirates will have a good start to their rotation with Cole and Morton.

Could Arrive to the Rotation in 2014

Some of the guys below are already in the majors, or have been in the majors in the past. However, with each guy there are question marks about what they can do in the majors.

Stolmy Pimentel – He already has one outing in long relief, which was almost the length of a start. I’d expect Pimentel to get the first shot at a start in the majors this year. The organization loves him as a starting candidate, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him in the 2015 rotation. He’s got the stuff to be a number two or a number three starter if he’s consistent. A lack of consistency with his fastball command has been an issue in his career, and if that continues it would be likely that he’d end up a solid number four starter.

Nick Kingham – With Taillon out for the year, it’s possible that Kingham could make his Major League debut this season. The conservative upside with Kingham is that he’s going to be a strong middle of the rotation starter who can eat 200 innings per year. However, Kingham has improved his game each season, and could exceed that projection to be a strong number two starter in the majors. If he arrives to the rotation this year, then he would certainly be in the rotation for the 2015 season.

Jeff Locke – He’s the only guy on this list who has significant time in the majors. That said, we don’t know what Locke can do. He had a great first half and a horrible second half last year. I think he’ll wind up in the middle, pitching like a solid number four starter. He should get a shot at the rotation again this year, and could use that shot to make a case for a 2015 spot. If you’re a believer that the rotation needs a left-hander, then he would be the top internal option.

Brandon Cumpton – Cumpton is in an interesting situation. He’s good enough now to pitch in the majors, however, his upside is lower than a lot of the other guys in the system. He’ll be used as a depth option this year, and could make the jump to the Pirates’ rotation at some point. However, it’s hard to see him escaping that depth role next year. He’d have to come up and really impress, showing that he’s more than a back of the rotation starter, in order to win a 2015 rotation spot.

Casey Sadler – He’s just getting acclimated to Triple-A, so it’s hard to accurately project when and where Sadler fits into the majors. His upside is a back of the rotation starter, and his heavy sinker approach will definitely work in Pittsburgh. It’s likely that he’ll end up a depth option next year, just like Brandon Cumpton this year.

Phil Irwin – Just like Cumpton and Sadler, it’s hard to see Irwin escaping the depth role. He could make it to the majors this year as a starter, although the Pirates would need to go through a lot of injuries for all of these guys to make it. I think Irwin’s upside is a back of the rotation starter, which might make it difficult for him to jump past a few other guys on this list.

Mid-Season 2015 Rotation Candidates

A lot of the talent in the previous section has the upside of a number four or a number five starter. The big boost the Pirates could get might come from mid-season additions. At this point it’s hard to absolutely project any of these guys in the rotation for 2015. A lot depends on what happens in their recovery. It’s also possible that some new names could be added to this list by the end of the 2014 season. And as we saw with Taillon, projecting someone to end up in the rotation by mid-season isn’t a guarantee that they will end up in the rotation at all during the season.

Jameson Taillon – Most players are back from Tommy John surgery one year later. That would have Taillon ready for the 2015 season, with a shot of making it to the majors by mid-season. Tommy John surgery doesn’t really take anything away from a player these days, so Taillon’s top of the rotation upside remains the same.

Tyler Glasnow – He’s currently rehabbing a lower back injury, and should be with Bradenton soon. His eventual arrival in Pittsburgh will depend on his control numbers. Last year he improved his fastball command throughout the season, although it still left a bit to be desired. If he continues that improvement in High-A, then he could end up in Altoona by the end of the 2014 season, and on pace for a jump to the majors in 2015.

Joely Rodriguez – Rodriguez should spend most of the 2014 season in Altoona, but could jump to Indianapolis by the end of the year. He’s a lefty who throws 91-94 MPH, and has two off-speed pitches that are at least average or better. He lacks control at times, but did a better job in that area last year. Rodriguez is a lot like Justin Wilson in the sense that he could be a dominant lefty reliever if he doesn’t get a rotation spot. However, with his stuff, he could pitch like a middle of the rotation starter, especially with the PNC Park advantage for lefties.

The 2015 Rotation, An Early Look

My early prediction for the rotation would have Cole, Morton, Pimentel, Kingham, and one from the Locke/Cumpton/Sadler/Irwin group. The problem with this rotation is that it lacks upside. Cole would be the only top of the rotation guy. Morton is a strong guy to have, but you want one more guy like Cole in the rotation. It’s too early to say whether the Pirates will sign someone, or try to bring back one of their departing free agents. We haven’t seen how the rest of the guys on the above list have done in the majors, and that could impact the approach next year. But at this moment it seems they’d have more of a need for an established outside starter this off-season than they did last off-season.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • DG Lewis

    I love that there’s this whole list of guys (Locke, Cumpton, Sadler, Irwin) who project as having #4/#5 starter levels of performance and who are probably not good enough to start for the Pirates in 2015.

  • lonleylibertarian

    A question – if Liriano has another year like last can the Pirates do the QO thing with him?

    • stickyweb

      Absolutely. And they’d end up getting the comp pick because he’ll refuse the offer and someone will sign him to a deal better than the 4/$50 deals being handed out this offseason (Garza, Jimenez, Nolasco).

      • Nickmid13

        If he pitches like he did last year, he’ll get way more than 4/$50.

      • http://@gwbicster gwbicster

        Good luck getting Nutting to take this chance.

  • jaygray007

    The rotation would look a lot better if it had a Taillon with 100 major league innings under his belt from the very beginning.

    Honestly… Jeff Samardzija could be the perfect bridge from 2014 trade deadline until the end of 2015 when those higher upside options are ready. With a healthy Taillon, Samardzija would be excessive and unnecessary. Now… as you mentioned…. the current crop doesnt have the necessary upside. But i’m sure some team will overpay for him more than the Pirates should.

    Also, any word on how Kyle McPherson is progressing? Does he maintain his middle of rotation upside?

    • jaygray007

      Or maybe even AJ Burnett…..

      • jaygray007

        and… just throwing it out there…. Cliff Lee..

        mmmmmmm…. Cliff Lee….. Contract through 2015. Vesting opt for ’16.

      • SportOMania

        I have a feeling AJ will be a Pirate at the trade deadline. The Phillies will be out of it by then and AJ has an affordable option for 2015.

      • stickyweb

        No way on AJ. Who wants a guy walking 6 per 9 innings this year? :-)

    • Y2JGQ2

      I think Tim just forgot about mcPherson……

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

      I had an update on him last week.

      I don’t know what his upside could be until I see how he returns. Most players are fine after TJ, but McPherson also had shoulder problems before that.

    • csnumber23

      I would like to see Samarzdija but the Cubs have been asking for the moon for him.

  • Douglas Byrd

    I expect Liriano to stay. If he looks great again this year, and so far he has, I’d expect him to be extended. Cole, Liriano and Morton are the core for 2015. The Bucs have the money and Liriano seems happy to be in Pittsburgh.

    • SportOMania

      The only way I see Liriano staying is if he accepts a qualifying offer, and the only way he does that is if he is scared of the market for players with the QO hanging over their head. The end of this year is most likely his last opportunity for a big contract.

      • Douglas Byrd

        The way I see it, it’s a question of want. If the Bucs really want to keep him, they can if they offer him a fair deal. The mistake with AJ will teach them about what to do here. Make the QO and also try to get him for a 3 or 4 year deal.

  • cyphtime

    Don’t forget Kyle McPherson as a dark horse candidate. He should be back in action later this year after TJ and 2015 could be his make or break year.

  • Kozy21

    I think Liriano sees what he has here and loves pitching in Pittsburgh and realizes the benefit Ray Searage has done to his career. I honestly think he’ll resign with the Pirates and stay in Pittsburgh. I also think that NH is finally going to land a big gun at the deadline this year. Either David Price, Jeff Samardzija, or Cliff Lee will be a Pirate in 2015. I also think Pimental and Kingham both have plenty of upside.

    • stickyweb

      I hope you’re right about Liriano, Kozy, but I’m not gonna hold my breath. It’d be great to see the Bucs get such a talent for a few more years and also see a player appreciate a great situation for them instead of the most money. I also agree about Stolmy and Kingham’s upside. We may have to suffer with just one ace until Taillon is ready to go full bore in 2016. But they can be solid #2s

    • Y2JGQ2

      That sounds like exactly what was said about Burnett last year- except Liriano is younger and left handed. No way he is still here unless he is afraid of the QO trap as was said above

  • sweetleb

    volquez could be a guy to lock up this yr if he pitches well in his first 10 -15 starts, maybe 2yrs 14-16 million.

    • Y2JGQ2

      Don’t smoke stink weed…..its bad for you :)

  • piraddict

    I don’t think it’s too earlier to discuss the 2015 rotation. A GM always needs to be working on three different plans: this season, a three year plan, and a six year plan which influences the draft. Talking about 2015 is just talking about the three year plan, which is always timely. And playing the role of ersatz GM’s is what’s fun about blogging, no?
    I still think of Wilson as a potential starter. He has great stuff. If he can get his command back in line he should be put in the mix to be considered as a starter as well.

  • jaygray007

    wouldn’t it be crazy if they saved Vance Worley and he started putting up 3 ERAs again?

  • http://www.facebook.com/sean.epstein1 Sean

    Tim. Has the team decided that Justin Wilson is destined to be a reliever? I always felt he had the ability to start if his command came around.

    • bmcferren

      I like WIlson returned to a starting role

      Also remember that we acquired Wandy midseason with the intention of keeping him for a few years

  • HankAgain

    Why did my post disappear?

  • dallen_71

    After 2 years in the bullpen, I would think that Justin Wilson would be viable candidate for the 2015 rotation.

  • moose7195

    This article makes me sad not seeing Taillon in the locks column

  • CalipariFan506

    I’m starting the countdown until Wandy leaves in my mind pretty soon. I’m really skeptical on how he will fare this season after these first two starts. He flat out does not look good. I think he’s washed up.

  • Y2JGQ2

    agreed- but Grilli is gone next year, he will likely become a main setup option with Melancon closing