BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pirates essentially have one rotation spot up for grabs this spring, and four pitchers who are in competition for that spot. Drew Hutchison, Tyler Glasnow, Steven Brault, and Trevor Williams are all competing to make the rotation, with Chad Kuhl expected to be the number four starter. The problem here is that no one from the Hutchison/Glasnow/Brault/Williams group has stepped up to take their place as the favorite.
It’s difficult and unwise to make these types of decisions based on Spring Training stats, or at least the surface numbers like ERA. You need to also consider the career of work, what the player is working on in terms of adjustments right now, and the upside of the player in the short-term and the long-term.
I’ve had a chance to see all four of these guys this spring, and with the season now two weeks away, I wanted to weigh in on where I felt each player would end up, and why. Here is a rundown on where each player stands:
I think Hutchison has the inside track for the final rotation spot. A big reason for this would be his previous experience in the majors. Prior to the 2016 season, he had a 4.00 xFIP in 393.2 innings in the majors. He had a 3.82 xFIP in 2014 over 184.2 innings, leading to a 2.3 fWAR. He also had a 1.5 fWAR the following year. If Hutchison was just a free agent, and not a guy acquired in the Francisco Liriano trade, he’d probably be viewed as a nice bounce-back candidate for the final rotation spot.
From what I’ve seen this spring, Hutchison doesn’t have over-powering stuff, but is more a finesse guy. He gets some swings and misses with his off-speed, but when the command is off, he gets hit hard. The command was off in his last outing after the first inning, and he was hit around a lot, which inflated his overall numbers this spring.
Hutchison does have an option remaining, so he can go to Indianapolis at the start of the year if needed. But the Pirates like him, and he’s shown enough in his career to at least get a shot at the number five spot. That said, with so much competition, I’m not sure he’ll have a lot of room for error if he gets off to a slow start.
There is no question that Glasnow has the highest upside of the group in the battle for the fifth starter job. But his upside needs to be separated from where he is right now when evaluating whether he is ready for the majors on Opening Day. Glasnow is making some nice changes this spring, adjusting his delivery to aim for better command and more control of the running game, while also adding a new changeup grip. That addresses some of his biggest issues from last year.
The problem with these changes is that they will likely need some work at the start of the year. He’s not showing consistency with his command, and while his most recent start has people buzzing, it was only a week ago that he got hit around and had some command issues. He’s finally making the right changes to give him the best chance to reach his upside, and that is encouraging.
It’s important to remember here that Opening Day is a very arbitrary date. Expecting Glasnow to be ready, or close to ready, by that date is only focusing on the schedule of the season, and not his development schedule. The stuff he’s working on right now would be easier to work on in Triple-A, rather than the majors. I wouldn’t necessarily hold him down until mid-season if he’s ready early, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea to give him some work in Triple-A at the start of the year.
Brault had been cruising along this spring with the results until his last outing on Saturday. He does have the advantage here in that he made eight appearances in the majors last year, with 33.1 innings of work. The numbers weren’t great, with a 4.77 xFIP. He didn’t have his best command at the time, which led to a very high walk rate.
The main advantage for Brault is that he’s left-handed, which would make him the only left-hander in the Pirates’ rotation. The question is whether they need a lefty in the rotation. Brault would make a really strong depth option, but he doesn’t exactly stand out above everyone else in the current fifth starter battle, either in upside (Glasnow beats him) or experience (Hutchison).
Williams is in the same boat as Brault. I really can’t see him making the team as a starter without a few injuries ahead of him. I think he provides the Pirates with a really nice rotation depth option out of Triple-A, or a bullpen option for the majors later in the season. But he doesn’t have the upside that would come close to Glasnow, and probably isn’t going to be better than the other guys in this article at the start of the year.