Back in spring training, I pointed out how the Pittsburgh Pirates had legit pitching prospects for every spot in their full season minor league rotations. By “legit pitching prospects”, I mean guys who have some sort of shot of reaching the majors — whether that’s as a starter, reliever, or just a depth option. Since the spring, a lot has changed. Clay Holmes and Jameson Taillon had Tommy John surgery. Luis Heredia is currently out with a shoulder injury. There are other injuries or promotions which have led to organizational guys in the rotation.
Each month we announce a Pitcher of the Month award, and this year we’ll be focusing on the top pitcher at each level. While doing the early prep for that, I noticed that it would be a tough decision. It didn’t take long to figure out who the Player of the Month would be, but on the pitching side, there have been a lot of guys performing well at each level. I wanted to do a rundown of the early performances, while also pointing out which guys could see a promotion this year, and what kind of upside some of these guys have. Note that if I didn’t list an upside (mostly lower level guys), it’s because an upside isn’t really clear at this point.
Brandon Cumpton – 1.42 ERA, 19 IP, 11:3 K/BB, 1.41 GO/AO
It didn’t take long for Cumpton to get promoted to the majors. Wandy Rodriguez went down with an injury, and Cumpton pitched well in his place. He will make at least one more start before Rodriguez returns, and that will create an interesting debate as to what the Pirates should do with the rotation spot. Personally, I think Cumpton deserves a shot.
Casey Sadler – 1.67 ERA, 27 IP, 16:6 K/BB, 1.44 GO/AO
Sadler is also in the majors, serving as emergency depth. However, he might not be needed, especially after two days off. The only way I could see him getting used in the majors is if Francisco Liriano’s nose bleed issue returns for his next start. Or the Pirates could use Sadler as a spot starter on Thursday if Wednesday’s game gets rained out. That would create a double-header on Thursday, and using Sadler would allow the rest of the rotation to remain on a five-day schedule going forward.
Jeff Locke – 5.29 ERA, 17 IP, 16:4 K/BB, 1.50 GO/AO
Locke hasn’t gotten off to the best start, which is evident by the fact that Cumpton and Sadler have both passed him up on the depth chart. Some of that has to do with timing, as Locke had already thrown when the Pirates turned to Cumpton. However, all things equal, it would be hard to go with Locke, or any pitcher not named Cumpton or Sadler, just because of what those two are doing. Locke isn’t giving up a lot of walks, but is allowing too many hits, along with four home runs in his first two starts in Triple-A.
Adam Wilk – 4.03 ERA, 29 IP, 24:9 K/BB, 0.63 GO/AO
Wilk could end up being this year’s version of Kris Johnson. The lefty is putting up decent results in the rotation, going five innings every time, and reaching the sixth inning in four of his five starts. He’s also putting up some nice strikeout numbers in the process. He probably won’t see the majors as a starter, but could help out in relief, if needed. For now, his innings will help to save the bullpen, especially with so many guys getting injured or called up to the majors.
Jake Brigham – 4.64 ERA, 21.1 IP, 24:9 K/BB, 0.67 GO/AO
Brigham had a good start to the season, but faded quickly after that first outing. He’s putting up nice ratios, but also giving up too many homers. At this point his main value is providing innings in Triple-A to help save the rest of the staff.
The Pirates moved Phil Irwin to the bullpen, where he has been pitching long-relief. Jay Jackson has made a few starts since Cumpton went to the majors. Tyler Waldron stepped in to the rotation when Sadler was promoted. Andy Oliver has been getting stretched out recently, and could be another starting option. At this point, the depth options look to be Cumpton, Sadler, Locke, and possibly Wilk.
Nick Kingham – 3.46 ERA, 26 IP, 20:12 K/BB, 0.96 GO/AO
Kingham had a rough night tonight, which inflated his ERA. That could have been weather related, as reports from the game said there were strong winds. He has had issues with his control, which is normally a strong point in his game. Once he’s ready, there’s nothing holding him back from Indianapolis. However, it doesn’t look like he’s ready yet, and it doesn’t look like he could be a mid-summer depth option.
Adrian Sampson – 1.82 ERA, 24.2 IP, 23:8 K/BB, 0.92 GO/AO
Sampson is off to a great start in Altoona, putting up some dominant numbers, which even withstood his shortened 1.2 inning start his last time out. He’s got a 91-94 MPH fastball, and a curveball that has the potential to be a strikeout pitch. Sampson will probably be a candidate to remain in Altoona most of the season, much like Casey Sadler did last year. He won’t be an option for the majors until 2015, assuming he keeps up this performance.
Joely Rodriguez – 5.12 ERA, 19.1 IP, 6:6 K/BB, 2.62 GO/AO
Rodriguez isn’t having the best time in Altoona. He’s got an inflated ERA, and isn’t striking out a lot of hitters. One thing to note here is that he has an extreme ground ball ratio, and with the lack of strikeouts, he is relying heavily on his infield defense. The infield defense in Altoona isn’t strong, which means an extreme ground ball pitcher who isn’t striking anyone out is going to have trouble. I’m less concerned with the added hits, and more concerned with the strikeouts. He will probably need some time to adjust to Double-A, and most likely will spend the entire season at the level. Eventually he will need to increase the strikeout totals, so he’s not relying entirely on the defense.
Tyler Sample – 1.00 ERA, 18 IP, 18:16 K/BB, 0.78 GO/AO
Sample, taken in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft this past year, has been surprising. He probably won’t keep up these numbers with almost a walk per inning, although he did walk two in six innings in his last start. At the start of the year, it seemed like his spot in the rotation would be at risk if someone was promoted early from Bradenton. At this point, he looks safe, unless two people are promoted. I don’t think you could call him a prospect that could reach the majors, as the control problems are pretty serious.
Zack Dodson – 2.53 ERA, 10.2 IP, 6:6 K/BB, 0.58 GO/AO
Dodson recently went down with an oblique injury, and has been replaced by Brandon Mann and A.J. Morris. Both replacements pitched well, so Altoona isn’t in desperate need of a starter from Bradenton. However, the starters in Bradenton have more upside than Mann or Morris. If someone gets promoted before June, I could see them taking this spot in the rotation, assuming Dodson isn’t back by then.
Tyler Glasnow – 0.00 ERA, 5 IP, 6:3 K/BB, 0.33 GO/AO
Glasnow has made just one start in Bradenton, but he’s going to be in the rotation for at least a few months. It’s very possible that he could wind up in Altoona in the second half, especially if he does a good job limiting his control issues. Prior to Glasnow joining the rotation, Bradenton had five starters who were all performing well. They now have six guys for five rotation spots, including a few guys who could be candidates to be promoted before June.
Chad Kuhl – 3.09 ERA, 23.1 IP, 16:2 K/BB, 1.68 GO/AO
He’s had a good start so far in Bradenton, working heavily with his sinker and pounding the strike zone. I could see Kuhl taking the same route as Sampson, spending the entire year in Bradenton, then moving up to Altoona next year. Then again, Sampson didn’t have this type of success, so there’s a chance Kuhl could move up early.
Jason Creasy – 3.16 ERA, 25.2 IP, 13:8 K/BB, 0.90 GO/AO
Another sinkerball pitcher, although his sinker hasn’t been effective the last few outings. He’s putting up good numbers, minus one bad start recently. This is Creasy’s first full year in the rotation, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him spend the entire year in Bradenton, getting used to pitching every five days for a full season.
Orlando Castro – 3.29 ERA, 27.1 IP, 21:4 K/BB, 1.70 GO/AO
Castro has struggled at each level in A-ball initially, then went on to have success the following year in the rotation. It happened in West Virginia, and it looks like it’s happening now in Bradenton. I don’t give him a strong chance of making it past Double-A, but I do think he’ll get a shot at that level in the second half of this season.
John Kuchno – 4.64 ERA, 21.1 IP, 10:10 K/BB, 2.92 GO/AO
Long-term, I see Kuchno as a reliever. In the short-term, he’ll get a lot of opportunities in the rotation. His future opportunities might be limited, especially with a talented group of pitchers behind him in West Virginia. He’s getting a ton of ground balls so far, but also sees lapses in control and command of his fastball. I’d expect him to spend most of the year in Bradenton.
Pat Ludwig – 0.86 ERA, 21 IP, 19:6 K/BB, 2.00 GO/AO
He’s the odd man out right now, pitching in long relief now that Glasnow is starting. I expected him to open the season in Altoona, since he got a lot of spring training work with the Double-A club, up until the final week of the Spring. Ludwig doesn’t have a lot of upside, but he’s a sinkerball guy who has gotten results the last two years, and he doesn’t look like he has much left to prove in A-ball.
Buddy Borden – 1.37 ERA, 19.2 IP, 19:9 K/BB, 0.83 GO/AO
Borden is off to a great start, with the only downside to his early season work being his walk rate. He deals with control issues at times, although not in every start. Tonight he went six innings with no walks. In the last two starts he walked six people in 4.2 innings. However, in those three starts combined he has given up four hits, and struck out ten in 10.2 innings. He’s got a lot of upside, and a great mid-90s fastball. The control issues are going to be a big focus for him this year.
Cody Dickson – 5.12 ERA, 19.1 IP, 15:4 K/BB, 1.60 GO/AO
Dickson has a great fastball for a lefty, touching the mid-90s at times. He also has a nice breaking ball, which has generated a lot of strikeouts so far. He lacks a good changeup, and has trouble commanding the fastball at times. Fortunately, those are two things that the Pirates stress at this level. He’s got the upside to be a number three starter in the majors if he can develop the changeup and fix the command issues. So far his control has been good, but he’s been hit around a lot, with three homers on the season and a .329 BAA.
Shane Carle – 4.09 ERA, 22 IP, 20:2 K/BB, 1.59 GO/AO
Carle is another sinkerball pitcher who has also managed to get a lot of strikeouts this year. He doesn’t have a lot of upside, although it’s hard to tell with sinkerball guys in this system. Casey Sadler, for example, was a 25th round pick who was a long-reliever in West Virginia. Now he looks like a guy who could be a back of the rotation starter in the majors. Carle could get a shot to move up to Bradenton in the second half. He’s a college pitcher, like Borden and Dickson, but he doesn’t have the fastball issues to work on like those two guys.
Dovydas Neverauskas – 5.29 ERA, 17 IP, 14:8 K/BB, 1.43 GO/AO
Neverauskas has a nice fastball, which consistently hits 95 MPH. He also has poor control, and has been getting hit hard this year. He’s an intriguing prospect to follow, but he’s also probably the most raw of this group, and will definitely need a full season in the West Virginia rotation before having a shot at moving up.
Felipe Gonzalez – 2.61 ERA, 20.2 IP, 19:8 K/BB, 0.73 GO/AO
Right now he’s in the rotation, replacing the injured Luis Heredia. It’s unknown how long Heredia will be out, so expect Gonzalez and Justin Topa to get starts in the rotation until he returns. Gonzalez is a lower level organizational guy, and probably won’t move up this year. If he does, he won’t be moving up as a starter.
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