The Pittsburgh Pirates entered the off-season with a need for two starting pitchers. They filled those needs with A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano, who both join Gerrit Cole to give the Pirates a good trio at the top of the rotation. Charlie Morton is right behind those three, and could be healthy by Opening Day. Finally, they’ll have Jeff Locke and Vance Worley fighting it out for the final spot.
Beyond those six pitchers, the Pirates have Clayton Richard, Brandon Cumpton, and Casey Sadler as early season depth. The top prospects who could join the team by mid-season include Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, and Adrian Sampson. That gives the Pirates 12 starting options throughout the year, without even considering the potential for future additions this off-season.
But what about beyond the 2015 season? Not only did the Pirates need two starters in 2015, they also needed starters for the future. A lot of those starters were projected to come from within. The addition of Liriano means that they only have to focus on two rotation spots for the 2016-17 seasons, with Cole and Morton also under control during those years. Technically they have Locke and Worley under control through the 2018 seasons, although the focus here would be upgrading on those spots eventually.
Taillon, Kingham, and Sampson could arrive in 2015. As with any prospect, there’s no guarantee that those guys work out. The Pirates do benefit here by having several quality pitching prospects, increasing the chance that they’ll get a quality MLB starter. Tyler Glasnow is expected to join that group in 2016. A best case scenario has the mid-2016 rotation including Cole, Liriano, Taillon, Glasnow, and Kingham, with Sampson and Morton as backup plans.
Then you get to the 2017 season, and the Pirates could have a strong group all year. And the prospects could keep coming. The Bradenton rotation in 2015 should include Cody Dickson, Clay Holmes, and Luis Heredia. One or more could be options in 2017. All three have breakout potential, and the Pirates could end up getting at least one middle of the rotation guy from that group, which would only strengthen their future depth.
The good thing is that the Pirates will only need two of their prospects to work out for the 2016-17 seasons. A third prospect reaching his potential would mean they could trade Morton early. If they’re very fortunate, and have a rotation of Cole, Glasnow, Taillon, Kingham, and Sampson all reaching their potential (or some other pitching prospect or starting pitching option we’re not talking about now), then they could end up dealing Liriano before his final year.
In short, the Pirates have spent a lot of money in the draft on pitching. They’ve done a great job finding value on the free agent market. All of that is starting to come together, to the point where the Pirates are starting to get into an enviable position with their pitching depth. That opens up a lot of favorable possibilities, with number one being the potential for a great rotation that could have more strong candidates than spots.
Links and Notes
**The 2015 Prospect Guide is complete, and has been sent to the publisher. I’ll be checking the proof copy tomorrow, and will have an update on the shipping and release times at some point during the day. If you haven’t placed your order yet, you can do so here.