So far we’ve looked at the infielders and outfielders who could be playing in Bradenton during the 2011 season. Today we’ll look at the starting pitchers who could potentially be in Bradenton this year:
The Bradenton rotation at the start of the year won’t have any standout prospects. None of the options that will be pitching in the rotation rank in the top 20 prospects in the system. There are a few in the 20-30 range who could make the jump up the list with a strong performance this year.
The likely starters at the beginning of the year should include Kyle McPherson, Quinton Miller, Nathan Baker, Phillip Irwin, and Brett Lorin. Tim Alderson could also factor in here if the Pirates decide to send him back to Bradenton for more work, although with the pitching prospects at the level, the Pirates might just decide to give him another shot at the AA level.
McPherson is the only player on the 40-man roster, added this off-season after putting up the best strikeout numbers of any starter in the system in 2010. He arrived in Bradenton for a few innings at the end of the 2010 season, and should get at least half a season this year, before moving up to Altoona. Now that he’s on the 40-man roster, he needs to be on a fast track, since the 2011 season will be his first of three option years.
Miller returns to Bradenton this year, after missing a lot of time due to injuries in 2010. He was drafted in the 20th round in the 2008 draft, and signed away from a commitment to UNC for $900 K. He would have been draft eligible this year, so this is the time for him to step up and show why he was worth the money as an over-slot prospect.
Baker and Irwin both came from the 2009 draft, and both were drafted out of the Ole Miss rotation. They both had strong numbers in West Virginia in 2010, and both appeared briefly in Bradenton, with Baker putting up a 3.02 ERA in 44.2 innings, while Irwin made an appearance in the post-season. Neither player projects as more than a back of the rotation starter, but they do have a chance to pitch in the majors, especially if they carry their success to Bradenton this year.
Finally, Lorin looked promising when he came to the Pirates in 2009 as part of the Jack Wilson trade, sporting a 2.44 ERA in 88.2 innings in low-A. Despite that success, combined with success in West Virginia after the trade, Lorin returned to low-A to start the 2010 season. He missed a ton of time due to injuries, and struggled this time around, with a 5.18 ERA in 41.2 innings. He did look good when I saw him at the end of the season, and will get a chance to put his career back on track in Bradenton this year.
Lorin and Miller are both returning from injury filled seasons, which means the Pirates could give them a reduced workload at the start of the season. The Pirates have a few pitching prospects who are formerly starters, but probably work best as relievers in Bradenton this year, each for different reasons.
Hunter Strickland was a starter last year, splitting time between West Virginia and Bradenton. He struggled in West Virginia, then moved up to Bradenton, where he saw better results. He gets his fastball up to 94 MPH, but hasn’t really produced dominant results so far in his career. Strickland should be pushed to the bullpen by the other talent in the rotation, but could crack the rotation in the event of injuries, or promotions.
Eliecer Navarro had a nice season between State College and West Virginia last year, although that could be due to being a left hander in the lower levels. Navarro only throws in the high-80s, with a nice curveball. He has good control, but his low fastball velocity limits his chances of succeeding in the higher levels.
Jeffrey Inman was drafted as a starting prospect, but didn’t pitch at all in 2010, missing the entire season due to injury issues. If he makes it to high-A this year, he will likely work in a reduced role, due to the extensive amount of time that he missed. He does have good stuff, with a 93-95 MPH fastball, and a solid curveball, so he’s not a guy to write off just yet.
Gabriel Alvarado and Matt McSwain could also enter the picture in the event of a lot of injuries or promotions.
The Big Prep Arms
The question has to be asked whether guys like Zack Von Rosenberg, Colton Cain, Zack Dodson, Jameson Taillon, and Stetson Allie will make it to high-A this season. The rotation in West Virginia is expected to include all of those players at some point this year, and they could all move up, depending on how their fastball command looks, and how their results turn out.
Of the 2009 prep pitchers, Von Rosenberg and Cain have the best chance of jumping to high-A this year. Dodson struggled with his control at times in 2010, and guys like Trent Stevenson, Brooks Pounders, and Zac Fuesser either didn’t pitch enough last year, won’t pitch initially in the West Virginia rotation this year, or have too much to work on to split the season between low and high-A.
Taillon will be starting the season in West Virginia, and despite coming from the prep ranks, is said to be a guy who could move quickly through the system. He needs to work on his secondary pitches, as he had little use for them when he was in high school. I don’t think the Pirates will rush him, so a quick promotion to Bradenton doesn’t seem likely. I think Taillon has a better chance than Allie of making it to Bradenton this year, since Allie has more to work on with his control and command.
If any of the options make it to high-A in 2011, it probably won’t be until around July. That will give enough time for prospects to advance from Bradenton to Altoona, and it will also provide enough time for the young pitchers in West Virginia to establish that they’re ready for a promotion.
Opening Day Projection
The estimated opening day starters:
SP1 – Quinton Miller
SP2 – Kyle McPherson
SP3 – Nathan Baker
SP4 – Phillip Irwin
SP5 – Brett Lorin
Candidates to join the rotation in May/June: Hunter Strickland
Could be a late season arrival: Zack Von Rosenberg, Colton Cain, Jameson Taillon
Could pitch in AA in 2011: Quinton Miller, Kyle McPherson, Nathan Baker, Phillip Irwin