Pirates Prospects 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year

Jeff Locke is the Pirates Prospects 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

In previous years it wasn’t difficult to pick the Pitcher of the Year in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor league system. Kyle McPherson was clearly the winner last year, posting a 2.96 ERA and a 142:27 K/BB ratio in 161 innings. Rudy Owens ran away with it in 2010, posting a 2.46 ERA in 150 innings at the Double-A level, with a 132:23 K/BB ratio. This year there was a little more competition, which led to a tougher decision.

The group this year was led by three starting pitchers who all posted good strikeout numbers, and ERAs under 3.00. Those three starters were Gerrit Cole, Phil Irwin, and Jeff Locke. Vic Black also gained some consideration for his work out of the bullpen in Altoona, although the starters had more of an advantage since they posted their numbers while having more than twice the innings Black had. Luis Heredia, Clay Holmes, and Tyler Glasnow all had great numbers in the lower levels, but the fact that they were pitching in the lower levels, plus their lack of innings, eliminated them from consideration. It came down to Cole, Irwin, and Locke, and the winner of the Pirates Prospects 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year award goes to Jeff Locke.

Locke made 24 starts in Triple-A, putting up a 2.48 ERA in 141.2 innings. He had an 8.3 K/9, a 2.7 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 ratio in those innings. Locke gained points over Cole and Irwin since all of his innings came in the upper levels of the minors. Cole spent some time in high-A, and Irwin spent most of his time in Double-A. The numbers from Locke were more than deserving on their own. His 2.48 ERA was the best mark of all pitchers in the minor league system with 80 or more innings. He finished with the third most strikeouts in the system, behind Justin Wilson and Cole. He moved on to the majors, where he put up a 5.50 ERA in 34.1 innings, although his time in the majors didn’t factor into this award. His FIP of 3.24 in Triple-A was higher than his ERA, which is what brought him closer to Cole and Irwin. However, Irwin also had a higher FIP in Double-A, and Cole spending half the season in high-A hurt the value of his ERA and FIP.

Cole showed why he was the top prospect in the system this year, putting up a combined 2.80 ERA in 132 innings between the top three levels. He had a 136:45 K/BB ratio, with his strikeouts rating second in the system. The right-hander had a 2.69 ERA in 67 innings in high-A, then moved up to Double-A where he posted a 2.90 ERA in 59 innings. Cole made one regular season start in Triple-A, giving up three runs in six innings. Prospect-wise, there’s nothing wrong with Cole’s path this year. For the purposes of this award, he loses points simply because he was pitching at a lower level, and there was a guy in the upper levels with better numbers.

For the second year in a row, Phil Irwin was a darkhorse candidate. Irwin is rarely talked about among the top prospects in the system, but his numbers have ranked at the top for the last two years. Last year he was the only pitcher with comparable numbers to McPherson, but McPherson had better numbers in Double-A to give him an edge. This year he had comparable numbers to Cole, posting a 2.83 ERA in 130.1 innings, along with a 117:24 K/BB ratio. Irwin’s 1.7 BB/9 ratio was the second lowest among starters in the system, falling behind Kyle McPherson’s 1.2 BB/9. The right-hander spent most of his time in Double-A, where he had a 2.93 ERA in 104.1 innings. Irwin moved up to Triple-A for a few starts, posting a 2.57 ERA in 21 innings, along with an impressive 28:7 K/BB ratio. He fell behind Locke due to pitching most of the year in Double-A, and because of his 3.40 FIP at the lower level. His FIP in Triple-A was 2.30, which was lower than his ERA. Had he spent more time in Triple-A with those numbers, he could have won the award.

  • I would have went with Heredia. A solid ERA and just 18 years old.

  • We saw Locke as a 2011 fill-in with very little experience in AAA because many of the pitchers of the Pirates and in AAA had tired arms. Then last year we saw him after pitching almost 150 innings at AAA and posting excellent numbers. I would definitely like to see this kid without a tired arm, right out of ST, and see what he has. I think that Kyle McPherson could use at least a half of a year at AAA. In addition to Locke, I want to see Justin Wilson and Bryan Morris both in the Pirates bullpen in 2013.

  • Given your criteria, I think I agree with this pick. The simple fact is, he had a great season at a high level. What I think people take exception to is that this is by no means a sexy pick. Locke isn’t one of the highest upside guys the Pirates have; he isn’t a Heredia or a Taillon or a Cole. What’s really great is that there were actually some decisions to be made in regards to the respective players of the year. I think that’s a good sign for the organization.

    • This is all about the numbers, and not about how the prospect rates. It’s difficult to separate the two sometimes. For example, you could argue that Phil Irwin had just as good of a season as Gerrit Cole. But I think most people would pick Cole over Irwin, simply because Cole is the better prospect. But if you’re just picking based on numbers this year, they’re both equal.

      • ‘This is all about the numbers’

        Somewhere Rick Vanden Hurk silently weeps because he wasn’t even mentioned.

        • I don’t factor in guys who have lost their prospect eligibility. VanenHurk had a great season, but it was his sixth year in Triple-A, and Locke’s numbers were better at the same level. So even if he did qualify, he wouldn’t have won.

  • Sorry, but I gotta disagree on this. To me, Luis Heredia is the clear winner. Sure he’s in a lower level, but he’s also only 18 years old, and dominated college age hitters for the majority of his innings. Don’t forget how much crap people gave the organization for “throwing him to the wolves at such a young age!”

    • That was a great thing to see out of Heredia. At the same time he was pitching in one of the lowest levels of the minors, in a very pitcher friendly league, and if you look at his strikeout numbers, he didn’t exactly dominate hitters. He had a great season for an 18 year old in a college level league, but I don’t think his season compares to the season Locke put up at the highest levels of the minors.

  • Now, let’s just hope Locke can translate his AAA year into a winning Major League Career.



  • Tim, this is a great site and I enjoy the analysis. What’s your take about Locke and McPherson being in the rotation out of camp next year? Both have more upside than Bedard type of veterans. And if you throw Kartens in the mix this appears to be a solid rotation.

    • I wouldn’t mind both of those guys starting in the rotation from day one. The problem I see is that you need more than five starters. You’ll have Gerrit Cole coming up by mid-season, but what happens if you have an injury before then? The Pirates would need some additional options. They won’t find any good options who will wait behind Locke and McPherson. Therefore, it might be best to hold one of those two back as a reserve, and try to add a better starter over the off-season.

      • Frankly, I wouldn’t mind seeing them turn Locke or McPherson into a long relief/higher leverage type of reliever, similar to how the Giants used Lincecum, and how the Bucs used Lincoln in a few outings prior to him getting traded.