Top 10 Pitchers: Edinson Volquez Has Several Indianapolis Starters Gunning For His Spot

Below are the pitching Game Scores* in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system from the last week. The top ten scores are highlighted in the write-up below. The rankings include every pitcher who made a start for a Pirates’ minor league affiliate, with no limitations on whether the starting pitcher has prospect eligibility.

*Game Score is a stat created by Bill James used to determine how good a pitcher’s outing really was. The formula for game score is simple: Start with 50 points, add one point for every out recorded, add two for each inning completed after the fourth, add one point for each strikeout. Subtract two points for each hit, four points for each earned run, two points for each unearned run and one point for each walk. There tends to be an advantage for pitchers who can go longer in the game, as they have more time to pile up strikeouts, while getting bonus points for extra innings beyond the fourth frame.

In terms of pitching game scores, anything that scores a 65 or better is considered a “gem”. The Pirates farm system had five “gems” this week. Nine of the top ten starters all had game scores of 60 or higher. This was much better than recent weeks in the organization. Here are the top performers.

1. Jeff Locke – Locke had an outstanding start this week, throwing seven shutout innings, with just one hit, three walks, and five strikeouts. In his two starts since going up to the majors, he has given up two runs in 14 innings on seven hits, with five walks and ten strikeouts. After a rough start to the season, Locke is slowly making his way back. I’ve advocated for Brandon Cumpton to get a rotation spot over Wandy Rodriguez, and that’s still my stance, despite the good outing from Rodriguez this week (although more good outings from Rodriguez could change that opinion). As for Locke, if Edinson Volquez continues his struggles, then Locke would be the guy I’d turn to. Volquez had four good starts at the beginning of the year, and has since been plagued by the long ball. If that trend continues, then the Pirates might want to consider a switch by mid-season. Or sooner, if the struggles continue to be as extreme as we’ve seen recently.

2. Buddy Borden – I don’t want to call him a breakout prospect just yet, although he is one of the guys I highlighted last week as having a mini-breakout. Borden’s numbers have been fantastic this year, with a 2.23 ERA in 36.1 innings, along with a 34:16 K/BB ratio. He could use a drop in the walks, but on the other side of that, he’s been very hard to hit. Borden threw six no-hit innings this week, giving up four walks and striking out seven. Borden could be a nice sleeper. Last year he was the Mountain West Conference co-pitcher of the year, sharing the honors with Braden Shipley. While Shipley went 15th overall in the 2013 draft, Borden went in the seventh round. The award doesn’t tell the big story, as Shipley has better overall stuff than Borden. Borden needs to further develop his changeup and curveball, with the curve being the pitch that is currently further along. He’s got an electric fastball that tops out at 96. So far, he’s making himself the pitcher to watch in the lower levels this year.

3. Casey Sadler – Sadler’s first start back to Indianapolis didn’t go so well. He gave up four runs on 12 hits in 4.2 innings on May 9th, which was his first start since April 22nd. This time around he did much better, looking like the Casey Sadler who dominated for a 1.67 ERA over four starts in April, before getting called up to the majors for two weeks. Sadler threw six innings with one hit and one unearned run, walking three and striking out seven. On the season, he has a 2.15 ERA in 37.2 innings, with a 28:9 K/BB ratio. That’s even better when you consider that the one bad outing was after a long layoff spent barely pitching in relief. I mentioned Cumpton and Locke as short-term options for the MLB rotation. Sadler could definitely be an option this year.

4. A.J. Morris – Morris joined the Altoona rotation when Zack Dodson went down with an oblique injury. Dodson returned this week, but Morris remained in the rotation. That’s probably because he keeps putting up impressive starts. Last week he was on top of this list for his six shutout innings. This week he came back with seven shutout innings, allowing six hits, one walk, and striking out four. Morris is a little old for Double-A, at age 27, but he’s filling in nicely in Altoona.

5. Orlando Castro – Buddy Borden was near the top of this list for throwing six no-hit innings. On the same night, Orlando Castro threw six perfect innings. The problem was that he came out for the seventh and struggled. Castro led off the inning with a walk, then gave up a single to the next batter, breaking up the no hitter. After a wild pitch and an RBI groundout, Castro was pulled. He was credited for one more run, but his overall performance was excellent.

6. Adrian Sampson – Sampson continues to impress in Altoona, with a 2.32 ERA in 42.2 innings on the season, along with a 33:13 K/BB ratio. This week he threw seven innings, giving up two runs on five hits, with one walk and six strikeouts. We’ve got a feature on Sampson going up on the site tomorrow from Altoona writer, John Kokales.

7. Vance Worley – Worley has been impressive since joining the Indianapolis rotation. He has a 2.84 ERA in 19 innings over his first three starts, with no walks and 14 strikeouts. This week he made the top ten with seven innings of two run ball, giving up six hits and striking out six. Ryan Palencer wrote about Worley last weekend, noting that he feels back on track as a starter after some work with Jim Benedict. Considering Worley’s history in the majors, and his strong 2011-12 seasons, it wouldn’t be out of the question to view him as a potential bounce back guy, and possible rotation depth this year. With Cumpton, Locke, and Sadler, the Pirates wouldn’t have an urgent need for him any time soon, but they could turn to him later in the year.

8. Dovydas Neverauskas – Neverauskas has always been on the prospect radar due to his ability to consistently hit 95 MPH at a young age. And also, because of the awesome name. This week he had two good outings. The first start missed the top ten, but was one of the top 15 starts of the week. The second start was five innings of shutout ball, with four hits, no walks, and two strikeouts. Scott Sypien had a writeup of the stuff he saw from Neverauskas, noting that he was working mostly with the fastball, but that the fastball was a plus offering.

9. Justin Topa – West Virginia has seen some interesting relief pitching prospects turn into interesting starting pitchers the last few years. Last year they saw several guys make that jump, including Jason Creasy, Orlando Castro, and Pat Ludwig. This year, Topa is the first to make the jump to the rotation. He hasn’t been dominating as a starter, but did have a nice outing this week. He’s a hard thrower, and if he has any future, it would be as a reliever. He’s in the rotation right now due to the injury to Luis Heredia, but the fact that he was a long reliever before this shows that the Pirates like him more than just a lower level organizational arm.

10. Tyler Glasnow – I’ve seen the last two starts from Glasnow, and the most recent outing was definitely stronger. He did walk three batters in six innings, but he only gave up one run on five hits, with four strikeouts. Glasnow has mostly been working with the fastball, throwing the pitch 73/82 times in the first start I saw, and 66/83 times the second start. He has also struggled holding runners, going 1-for-8 in caught stealing attempts in those two starts, and that’s entirely on his slow delivery to the plate. You can read my reports from each start here: Game 1, Game 2.

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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  • Sean Epstein

    Tim. Would I be correct that Glasnow’s numbers a little skewed by that fact that he is basically just throwing fastballs. I take it this is the typical organization approach that one must master fastball command before being given back some other pitches. Is that what we are seeing here?

    • deacs

      I would think so but I’m sure John or Tim would have a much better idea. Once you can keep them off balance with some offspeed stuff I think the K numbers would increase. That’s just my guess. Fastball command has always been their MO so the numbers don’t always match the talent. Just my two cents.

  • clemo83

    I used to worry that Jeff Locke didn’t have the stuff to be a major leaguer- but his biggest problem seems to be his control. His 91-94 fastball and his good change up is more than adequate for an mlb left-hander. Even with the good game score, three walks is still a bit worrisome. Is there any chance he regains that control from his scouting report days? Or with a growing sample size of outings, is this pretty much the Jeff Locke we can expect?

    • piraddict

      I am more concerned that Locke is trying to nibble and induce swinging strikes. I think he would be better served to throw the ball in the strike zone more often and gain deception through varying his speeds the way Karstens used to do.

  • Lee Young

    Unfortunately we are stuck with both Volquez and Wandy until we are out of it and they are traded before the deadline.

    • derekbellstutu

      No one would deal anything significant for Volquez or Wandy. The Pirates would be better off cutting their losses with these two and plugging Cumpton and Sadler into their spots in the rotation. But it’s safe to say that the vet loving managers won’t let that happen.

      • piraddict

        I agree 100%. Cumpton and Sadler will give at least the same performance in 2014 as Wandy and Volquez. And the MLB exposure sets Cumpton and Sadler up better for 2015.

    • Y2JGQ2

      what contender would want either of those pitchers?

  • Y2JGQ2

    Is it sad to say that i was excited that Tabata hurt his hamstring knowing it could mean we call up lambo when comes off the minor league DL?

    • piraddict

      They’ll probably send Lambo to Altoona for a rehab instead of directly to the Pirates.

  • bucsws2014

    I don’t know if I’d call a 65 a “gem”. A 50 is generally indicative of a QS. 51-65 would imply a professional outing, with 66-75 being a very good start, usually requiring 7 IP and a decent # of Ks or few baserunners. But 75+ is where you get into “gem” territory. That’s 7+ IP, usually 5 baserunners or less.

    Anyway, I don’t trust Locke for as far as a could throw him. And actually less than that as he’s a lightweight. Cumpton for Volquez ASAP, then you can bring up Locke for Wandy if Wandy falls down again.

  • piraddict

    Thanks to Tim for writing this article about who could contend for the #5 starter role, but the saddest thing is that it isn’t possible to write an article about what Pirates pitchers or prospects who could legitimately contend for a #1 or #2 role in 2014. The designations below are a bit arbitrary but let’s assign an expected ERA for each pitching slot, a put down the number of NL starters with at least 7 starts at each level and also assign the Pirates to their appropriate level:

    Picthing Level # NL Reg Starters ERA Range Average ERA Pirates Who Qualify

    #1 12 sub 2.75 2.50 none

    #2 13 2.75 to 3.25 3.00 none

    #3 13 3.25 to 3.75 3.50 Morton

    #4 9 3.75 to 4.25 4.00 Cole, Liriano

    #5 9 4.25 to 4.75 4.50 Volquez

    Wandy doesn’t qualify as a #5.

    I am not disappointed with Morton’s performance, a #3 is about what he is, it’s unrealistic to expect more.
    I am not disappointed with Cole, he’ll do better, eventually reaching a #2 upside in my estimation, but he is young. He’s actually doing fine given his age.
    I am disappointed with Liriano. Last year he was a #2. This year, so far he has regressed to his norm.
    I have always thought the Volquez signing was a mistake, no strong evidence to date to think otherwise.

    The major point here is that other NL teams have #1 and #2 starters whereas we have none. As much as we have a right to complain about the underperforming offense and lackluster defense and disappointing bullpen the true truth is that until the Pirates obtain legitimate #1 and #2 starters they really have no shot at succeeding in the playoffs should they be so fortunate as to recover from the hole they have dug for themselves and manage to obtain a playoff position.

    Much has been said about the salary that will be freed up at the end of 2014. In my opinion as much as $20 to 25MM of that $35 MM should be dedicated to obtaining a #1 starter. One could make an argument that Cole can grow into a #2 in 2015, maybe. Morton can hold down #3. I am confident that from Cumpton, Sadler, Taillon, and maybe Pimental, Wilson, or Locke capable #4 and #5 pitchers can be found at minimal salary expense. But the Pirates need to find a #1.

    Don’t bother to bring up AJ. He is pitching like a #2 so far this year, but he’s ancient, could fall apart at any moment, and has no real long term future. The pitcher we need is in his late 20’s to early 30’s.

    Does anyone know who will be available on the FA market next winter? If there isn’t a likely candidate I would be happy to trade Pedro and a suitable added value to obtain a potential #1.

    • stickyweb

      Jon lester and Max Scherzer are the only #1 free agents after the season. Considering what scherzer turned down already, there is a zero chance the bucs land either of them. But the good news is they could trade pedro for several of the #1s currently in your rankings. Jonathan niese, dillon gee, tom koehler, andrew cashner, alfredo simon. Come to think of it, maybe these guys aren’t actually #1s, but have just had a nice stretch of games at the beginning of the season. Do you really think the Mets have 2 #1s with Harvey out for the year? I think you fell into a SSS trap there.

      • piraddict

        You raise an interesting and valid point there Sticky. A pitcher can perform like a #1 for awhile, then lose it. Sustained performance over more than a year is really necessary to be sure a pitcher is a #1. On the otherhand, can you not make the argument that your best pitchers are the ones that are pitching the best? Who really heard of Max Scherzer before he started putting up dynamite numbers? He proved out over time that he is one of the best. If you are lucky enough to get ahold of one at the beginning of their run you’ve hit gold.

        The guy I would be looking for in the FA market is either a Yu Darvish like character from the International market or a Johnny Cueto like pitcher but who is just reaching their first big free agent contract negotiation. Like Gerrit Cole will be in five years.

        A guy like Tom Koehler looks interesting. I have never seen him pitch. What kind of stuff does he have?