Nick Kingham has some of the best upside in the Pirates farm system (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Top 10 Pitchers: Do A.J. Morris and Nick Kingham Have a Shot at Pittsburgh This Year?

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 three “gems” this week. Nine of the top ten starters all had game scores of 60 or higher. Here are the top performers.

1. A.J. Morris – Morris had great numbers in Altoona this year, although they came with the disclaimer that he was 27 and had been at the level before. This is his first run through Triple-A, and so far he’s doing great. He tops the list this week after a complete game shutout, which was the first of his career, and is rare to see in the minors. He has a 1.20 ERA in 15 innings over two starts, along with a 12:4 K/BB ratio. I still wouldn’t call him a prospect or speculate on any specific MLB future, but he could have a shot at the majors by the end of the year if he keeps this up. His start this past week was enough to earn him the International League Pitcher of the Week award.

2. Nick Kingham – Kingham was promoted to Indianapolis this week, and made a strong debut. He went seven shutout innings, giving up five hits, one walk, and striking out eight. His issue earlier in the year with Altoona was that his control was struggling. In his final starts with Altoona, he fixed those control problems. This start with Indianapolis showed Kingham’s potential. If he can string together some more starts like this, he could have a shot at the majors by the end of the season, especially if the Pirates are in a playoff race and still having rotation issues.

3. Tyler Glasnow – He missed the first month of the season, and started slow in Bradenton his first few starts. Since then, Glasnow has been dominant, with an 0.70 ERA in 25.2 innings, along with a 33:13 K/BB ratio. In his last three starts, he has combined for 15.2 shutout innings, with six hits allowed, and a 23:8 K/BB ratio. The walks are still an issue, but Glasnow is starting to look like the dominant pitcher he was last year, only this time at a higher level. Because of the missed time, I’d expect him to get at least another month in Bradenton.

4. Jay Jackson – Jackson had one of the best starts and one of the worst starts this week. He gave up one run in six innings to get on the top ten list. He followed that up with five runs, two earned, in less than an inning. With all of the promotions to Pittsburgh, Jackson should have a rotation spot locked down in Triple-A.

5t. Adam Wilk – The Pirates had removed Wilk from the Triple-A rotation near the end of May, but put him back in after the promotions of Jeff Locke and Casey Sadler. Sadler is back, but with Vance Worley going up to Pittsburgh, Wilk should remain in the rotation.

5t. Joely Rodriguez – Rodriguez has had mixed results in Altoona this year. He has a 4.22 ERA in 70.1 innings, with some great starts, but some disaster starts mixed in.  He had two starts this week, one of each variety. The first one saw him giving up five earned runs on ten hits in six innings. The start that got him on this list saw two earned runs on four hits in seven innings. He isn’t striking out a lot of hitters, but also has been limiting the walks this year, which is a good sign.

7. John Kuchno – Kuchno has been on fire lately, and continued his hot streak this week. He gave up one earned run on six hits in seven innings. In his last three starts, he has given up four earned runs in 21 innings, throwing seven innings each outing. He doesn’t strike out a lot of guys, but has one of the best ground ball ratios in the system. He looks like a future power reliever, but will remain in the rotation to get innings for as long as possible. As a college guy drafted in 2012, he could be looking at a promotion to Altoona later this season.

8t. Tyler Waldron – Waldron has had some impressive numbers in Triple-A this year, with a 3.64 ERA in 29.2 innings, along with a 26:9 K/BB ratio. As a starter, he has a 2.37 ERA in 19 innings, with a 17:5 K/BB ratio. With a depleted rotation, he was asked to fill in as a starter again this week. He gave up one run in six innings, with a 4:2 K/BB ratio.

8t. Marek Minarik – The Pirates added Minarik as a minor league free agent this off-season. He’s a tall pitcher from the Czech Republic who sits 91-94 MPH with his fastball, but lacks control. In his first start with Jamestown, he threw four shutout innings, giving up one hit, walking three, and striking out three. The walks are going to be an issue for him, but the frame and the velocity are interesting, and should make him a guy to watch in the lower levels this year.

10. Tyler Eppler – Eppler was taken in the sixth round of the 2014 draft, and will be pitching out of the Jamestown rotation. His first start was impressive, with three perfect innings and two strikeouts. He should get more innings per start going forward, but will probably be built back up slowly, since his last start for Sam Houston State was at the end of May.

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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, 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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  • leadoff

    The Pirates are tripping over themselves with pitching talent, they seem to have it on all levels.

    • Spa City

      They seem to have an abundance of mediocre pitching talent. I am not sure there is any high-end pitching on the horizon. Hopefully Jameson Taillon picks up where he left off next spring, but for now the Bucs do not seem to have any All Stars in the making.

      • piraddict

        Besides Taillon; Kingham, Glasnow, Holmes, Sadler, Borden, Carle, Sampson, Castro and Kuhl could all have a future, not to mention the present draft class. They are hardly mediocre as a group.

        • Spa City

          I am not sure we disagree. My comment was that the Bucs have a lot of pitchers who seem to have futures as major league pitchers. But I believe they are all likely to be medocire at the major league level (i.e. we have a lot of future mid-rotation and back-end starters, but no apparent All Stars). But it does not matter what anybody predicts… we will know for sure soon enough.

  • Spa City

    If Tyler Glasnow continues to walk 15% of the batters he faces, he will never be a reliable starter. More likely he will be a short relief pitcher who can rely on his fastball. How many “top 2″ starters do you know of who post walk rates that horrible?

    The thing about prospects is that you can look at their strengths and imagine that they will eliminate their weaknesses. That has always been the allure of prospects. But the large majority of them never eliminate their weaknesses.

    Glasnow will wind up as a closer. His change is not a “plus” pitch, and his control is terrible. He will have a useful career striking out a ton of RH hitters and posting a lot of saves, along with a lot of blown saves when he can’t find the strike zone or faces too many lefties. Nothing wrong with that career – he will earn a lot more money than I make. But he will not be an All Star as a starter.

    • Gallatin

      Man I really disagree with you on Glasnow. Last season he had a higher strike out percentage than any pitcher – any League since Johnson in 2001. He cut way back on his walk rate at the end of last season, and is in the process of doing so again this year now that he’s in a groove. He may never get good enough control to be a top of the rotation starter, but make no mistake this guy has a shot at being just as good as Cole is likely to turn out.

      • Spa City

        I hope you are right and I wind up being wrong. But then again, Rocket Ron Necciai was Tyler Glasnow once. Hard throwing, 20 year old, can’t miss Pirate prospect with severe control problems. Struck out 27 batters in a 9 inning game once. But he never learned how to control where the ball crossed the plate. Most of these guys never will.

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