First Pitch: Mid-Season Promotions to Altoona For Pitchers Could Be a Thing of the Past

Today we continued the top 20 prospects countdown with our number 17 prospect, Clay Holmes. When Holmes returns from Tommy John surgery in 2015, he should go to Bradenton. That was where he was projected to start the year in 2014, prior to his injury in Spring Training. Heading into the off-season, it looked like the Pirates might have a shortage of rotation spots in High-A. Holmes is a guy who would have been guaranteed a spot, but the shortage of spots could have led to someone like Tyler Eppler going to West Virginia, rather than getting an aggressive push to Bradenton at the start of the 2015 season, which is where I’ve got him projected now.

The Pirates traded Shane Carle and Buddy Borden this off-season, reducing the amount of starting options they’ll have in Bradenton. I currently have Holmes, Luis Heredia, Eppler, and Cody Dickson as strong bets for the rotation. Other candidates could include Alex McRae, Austin Coley, Dovydas Neverauskas, Frank Duncan, Montana DuRapau, or John Sever. The guys from that list who won’t make the jump to Bradenton will likely fill out the West Virginia rotation.

In the last few years, it has been possible for players in Bradenton to get a push to Altoona by the end of the season. Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon did it in 2012. Nick Kingham did it in 2013. But that didn’t happen as much last year. The two guys who got a push to Altoona were Tom Harlan and Orlando Castro, with both projected to be lefty middle relievers at best in the majors. Meanwhile, Tyler Glasnow, Chad Kuhl, Jason Creasy, and John Kuchno all remained in Bradenton for the entire 2014 season, despite strong results from each pitcher.

It might be the same case for Holmes and the rest of the Bradenton rotation in 2015. I don’t know if the Pirates would want to push Holmes late in the year by sending him to Altoona following his Tommy John surgery. But it might not be an option. The candidates for the Altoona rotation are as follows:

Tyler Glasnow

Chad Kuhl

Jason Creasy

John Kuchno

Angel Sanchez

Zack Dodson

Tom Harlan

Orlando Castro

Some of those guys profile as relief options, and will probably get pushed to the bullpen in 2015, due to the lack of starting spots in the upper levels. I think Glasnow, Kuhl, and Creasy are safe for rotation spots. I’d favor Kuchno and Sanchez for the final two spots, just to get innings, although the final five players are guys who I see as having the upside of relievers.

It might even be difficult for some of the Altoona starters to move up to Indianapolis, allowing some of the bullpen options to get back in the rotation. The Triple-A rotation projects to have the following:

Jameson Taillon

Nick Kingham

Adrian Sampson

Clayton Richard

Brandon Cumpton

Casey Sadler

That doesn’t include current or future minor league free agents, such as Deolis Guerra. My guess is that Sadler moves to the bullpen, with the chance to start later in the season if/when someone gets called up from the rotation.

For the guys in Bradenton, in order to receive a promotion to Altoona mid-season, they need a mass domino effect. They need enough spots to clear in Triple-A to open a spot in Double-A. Then, they need to jump past the relief options in Double-A in order to crack that rotation mid-season. It’s not impossible, but it seems unlikely.

This isn’t a situation that looks to change going forward. The Pirates have loaded up on pitching talent through the draft, and a lot of that talent is reaching the upper levels. They’ve traded some away over the last few years, and will probably continue to deal from that depth going forward. But they’re getting to the point where they have too many prospects for rotation spots, which will result in two things — the lesser prospects being shifted to the bullpen and a lack of mid-season promotions in the upper levels due to a lack of space above them.

Links and Notes

**The 2015 Prospect Guide is now available on the products page. The book features our full top 50 prospects, plus profiles for every player in the system. I’m on vacation this week, which means all book orders placed will ship out on Monday morning, January 12th. All eBooks will be available for download immediately.

**Winter Leagues: Walk-Off Hit For Gustavo Nunez, Julio Vivass Shutdown…Possibly

**Update on Jung-Ho Kang’s Negotiations, Gaby Sanchez Headed to Japan

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospect: #17 – Clay Holmes

  • I think I said the same a few weeks ago.

    The Indy roster is going to be really, really strong
    both on the mound and in the field.

    Wow, could be another big season there.

    Can you say… “Road trip.”

    (I’ve done it several times before.
    Its a great time.)

  • Pirate Fan in MD
    January 9, 2015 9:20 am

    The Pirates and Cardinals have been so evenly matched for the past couple of years. The thought of the Cards acquiring Cole Hamels or a David Price is a little frightening although they’d have to definitely include Carlos Martinez in any deal for either of those two pitchers which negatively effects not only their rotation but also their bullpen. I don’t think they’d be adding a Max Scherzer at $200 million. IMO, the Pirates need another front line starter and not because of the Cardinals rumor. I just think that Burnett’s best days are behind him and more than likely he’s not the same pitcher he was 2 years ago. And I’m a little uncomfortable relying on Vance Worley or Jeff Locke. Should the Pirates look into Cole Hamels or David Price??? What would the cost look like for Hamels?? Would it be cost prohibitive? That type of acquisition would make a rotation of Cole, Hamels/Price, Liriano, Morton, Burnett. With depth of Worley, Locke, Clayton Richard, Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham. Now that’s a rotation I would take every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

    • If you think giving up Polanco, Glasnow and probably a Hanson is worth it. Because that is what the Phillies are going to want.

      • I think you could offer up Bell instead of Polanco. Bell, Glasnow and Locke plus 1 to 2 prospects ranking 20 thru 40. I think when you combine the asking price plus taking on Hamels salary that is too much to spend. On the flip side, if Hamels performs you could keep him for 2-3 years and then trade him with two years of control left and get prospects in return.

        • Pirate Fan in MD
          January 9, 2015 11:28 am

          The Phillies have to be realistic in their demands! They can get something valuable for him or they can continue to run him out there and still be stuck in mediocrity. Of course, that’s waaaaaaay to high a price to pay. But a package of Josh Bell, Nick Kingham and a Jeff Locke or Travis Snider could be doable.

          • Is that price tag high? I’m trying to recall the last time a team tried to trade a high priced veteran who was performing at or above the high contract he was being paid. The Phillies can afford to pay Hamels, so why trade him unless you can make your team better in the long run. The Phillies payroll was about 178m in 2014, in 2016 it could be under 100M with Hamels. The Phillies have probably tried to do what the Red Sox did with the Dodgers. Package Hamels good contract with Howards bad contract. The problem is there are few teams willing to take on 48.5M annually.

          • You might want to call Pat Gillick and RAJ and give them that advice. You might think that is ” doable “, but I guarantee you that it would get NH a polite ” thanks….but no thanks “.

        • They want a MLB ready position prospect, and Bell is not close enough. That is one reason that Grichuk’s name came up during the Cardinals/Hamels discussion. And they are interested more in position players outside of an ” A ” pitching prospect.

          • Pirate Fan in MD
            January 9, 2015 1:17 pm

            In other organizations, Bell could be ready by June. He’s plenty close enough especially as a right fielder and not a 1st baseman. I’m not sure what you mean as “A” pitching prospect but Nick Kingham is a top 5 prospect in a very rich Pirates farm system. He could easily profile as a middle rotation guy and could become a #2 starter (same as Cole Hamels) and who also could be ready by June. And Travis Snider had a semi-breakout year last year and should be seen as an everyday OF for a lot of MLB teams. If Amaro wants to continue to pay Hamels that kind of money while the rest of his team wastes away in mediocrity than my response would be….’thank you. I was just trying to make a good baseball move for both our teams!” Enjoy paying that extra $48.5M per year on a last place team.

            • You can maintain that dream in your world, but not in the world of MLB. And you want to compare Kingham’s ceiling with Glasnow’s ? No sense in carrying this conversation any further.

        • So you are offering a back end starter, a “potential” mid rotation starter and a “potential” 1B/RFer along with 2 throw in lottery tickets for a TOR arm. In reality, that doesnt actually give PHI much, particularly if they are down on Bell right now or not as high as you and i. PHI has no real reason to take a deal that doesnt include at least one big time prospect. Taillon or Polanco likely have to be included or they look elsewhere.

          • Pirate Fan in MD
            January 9, 2015 2:12 pm

            First, I disagree with the TOR sentiment. In my mind, he’s step below a King Felix, a Kershaw, a Lester, a Scherzer etc. etc. Further, the three pieces that I suggested could plug in to the Philadelphia lineup almost immediately and be more than successful. They are all cost controlled with each having high upsides a switch power hitting 1B/RF, a potential 200 innings #3 or #2 starter and a former top 10 overall prospect in Travis Snider who showed signs of life last year in an expanded role. The package is more than solid its the perception of Cole Hamels AND HIS CONTRACT that’s too inflated.

            • 7 years in a row with over 180 IPs and 3-4 WAR. Last year, he was 18th in WAR. So yeah, he isnt a top 5 pitcher in baseball. However if you have a fantasy draft in MLB, he gets picked by 1 team as their ace. He is, by definition, a top of the rotation arm. He has been a top 20 pitcher each year since 2011.

              Its also just not true that Josh Bell can be plugged into a ML lineup and be more than successful. Kid hasnt seen AAA pitching, and hasnt been amazing against AA. You drastically overestimate how easy itd be for him to jump 2 levels and be”more than successful”. You can use all their upsides and act like that is a great deal, or you could look at the middle ground and realize its a 1B/RF who is about a year away from ML ready, a middle relief (not 2) pitcher and a bench player who had a hot 2 months, and before that a bad 1.5 years. The contract is a lot, but the talent on the other end is far more than what you provide. You dont pay a possible bench player, a guy 1 year at least away from the bigs and a middle rotation starter for multiple years of control at a high price TOR arm. Pick Taillon or Polanco is what PHI will say, and we will rightly reject it.

              • I’ve seen on this site where there is a way to put dollar value on prospects to get an apples to apples comparison. It would be neat to see someone do that. What we’ve done here is have some fun speculating and debating. I might have over valued Bell a bit by saying he could be inter changed with Polanco. One other thing that dawned on me while reading other posts. If we expect AJ Burnett to improve by coming to Pirates shouldn’t we expect some incremental improvement by Hamels too? Or could Hamels go the other way, and drop some by playing in Pittsburgh. Maybe he goes from 18th to top 10, or higher???

                • Hamels would likely see a slight bump since PNC is a bit more pitcher friendly. Hamels does have decent GB rates, so that would be a big boost as PHI defense isnt as good in that area as PIT. Its likely he would look better in part due to those factors. If PHI would take Taillon, Hanson and a rojas type while eating a chunk of the salary each year, im tempted. Good years of control and keeps him away from STL (interest from STL is rumored). I’d even upgrade Rojas to a Sampson type.

    • After signing Kang the Pirates will be essentially out of cash for this season. I like Worley, but I am not so high on Locke except in a relief role as he seems to have only one half of a season in his arm.

  • Is it possible that the Bucs have Taillon pitch the month of April in Bradenton to avoid a colder climate following TJ surgery? I believe the team’s rehab facility is in Bradenton, so that makes sense to me to hold Jameson back temporarily to slowly increase innings in a less stressful environment. I would still expect Holmes to start in Bradenton because the rehab facility is there. However, the Pirates piggyback Holmes with another pitcher early in the season to gradually increase innings.

    • “Is it possible that the Bucs have Taillon pitch the month of April in Bradenton to avoid a colder climate following TJ surgery? I believe the team’s rehab facility is in Bradenton, so that makes sense to me to hold Jameson back temporarily to slowly increase innings in a less stressful environment. ”

      Sounds like a real good idea to me.

  • It’s not the results that determine the move to AA, its the development. AA is when they start having pitchers actually “pitch.” If you are still 95% working on fastball command, you aren’t moving up, regardless of how unhittable said fastball is. I’m not convinced mid-season promotions are a thing of the past, especially for college pitchers.

  • Wabbit_Season
    January 9, 2015 8:39 am

    Too much pitching simply means that, if the Bucs keep stockpiling pitching going forward, they are in a good position to trade pitchers with upside to improve the big league club and really never miss a beat.

    Sounds like a plan.
    ——————————————–
    “Uhhhh. Open Sasparilla? Open Sadle Soap? Open Sesame?”
    -Wabbit

  • I think there’s a pretty good chance Brandon Cumpton is in the Pirates bullpen to start the season. He doesn’t project to be a starter long-term due to the better options the Pirates have in the system. And he has pitched well enough so far in his short career that he deserves to be in the big leagues. I’d rather start the season with Cumpton in the bullpen as opposed to someone like Lincoln, Scahill, or even Pimentel.

    • It all comes down to options Ron. Pimentel doesn’t have any and neither do Locke or Worley. The bullpen in PIT is going to be pretty full, they actually have 1 too many if Morton is indeed healthy to start the season.
      Since Cumpton has options, he’s not making the club out of ST unless there are a couple of injuries. And before we diss this process too much, let’s not think Cumpton is that much better of an option than Pimentel or Liz.

      • Very true, I forgot about the logjam of pitchers that are out of options. Holdzkom has options, and I believe Jared Hughes is in his last year of options? Unless Pimentel has a great ST, I would DFA him before the season starts. Having a pen with Pimentel AND Liz sounds a little risky to me.

        • Fair point, Ron.

          Also think it would be a safe bet to keep a proverbial 6th and 7th starter ready in case of injuries. Until Taillon or Kingham show they’re ready, I’d say Cumpton is that last guy.

          Once one of the prospect jumps him, I do think you look to transition him to a bullpen role and see if he can get a few more swings and misses.

        • Can Pimental throw enough strikes to even merit being on an MLB roster ?

        • Key to note that they would both be the last men out of the pen until they showed something though. So its not as if we are expecting a ton from those two, as we have 5 guys we would trust and use much more than those two. I also expect them to not keep Liz long if he shows big signs of struggle.

      • I don’t know much about Liz, but I like Cumpton’s mental makeup and approach much better than Pimentel’s. Cumpton does need to develop another pitch though, as does Pimentel.

        • I don’t know much about Liz either, and I also like Cumpton’s makeup (and the movement on his fastball) and if he’s able to develop another pitch, he could be pretty good.
          But I don’t think they’ve given Stolmy enough of a shot. The makeup/approach evaluation on him is based on 32 IP spread out over about 3 months. I just don’t think we know what he is yet.

          • Maybe I’ve just watched Stolmy on all his worst days, but I just haven’t seen what others are so excited about. He did put up nice numbers in AAA two years ago. But last year was a waste as he didn’t merit much mound time (I assume he was only on the team because he was out of options). Here’s where there needs to be a new form of creativity, like maybe a two year swap with a Japanese team where they get Stolmy for a year or two years, while we develop one of their prospects in our minor league system, then we swap back.

  • Scott Kliesen
    January 9, 2015 5:33 am

    I think Tim just said Pirates have too many good Pitchers. Not possible! Kind of like being too rich or too healthy.

    • Scott: Yes, I think that is exactly the point he was dancing around. I think a part of the reasoning though could be viewed as a negative. When Gerrit Cole came up in 2013, that was supposed to be the start of the one per year young SP the Pirates wanted to keep adding to the Rotation. However, in 2014, Jameson Taillon ran into TJ Surgery and missed the whole year. Nick Kingham did well at AAA, but the excellence of the MLB Rotation down the stretch made it unnecessary for him to be pushed up faster. But this is now 2015 and IMO, the Pirates at the MLB Level need an infusion of at least one and possibly two new, young SP’s in 2015 – probably Kingham in June, and Taillon sometime later in the year.

      What do you think about the rumors about the Cardinals possibly going after Cole Hamels?

      • I can’t speak for Scott but I treat the rumors on Hamels about the same as I did the rumors that Russ Mart was going to Chicago. Until it actually happens, no need to waste time worrying about it.

      • With the average recovery time from TJ being 14 to 15 months, how much can you expect out of Jameson Taillon in 2015 at the Major League level ?

        • Assuming everyone is healthy, I think he will be a Sept call up at best, even that will depend on his innings pitched. I expect him or Kingham to take Burnett’s spot in 2016. I love the fact the Pirates are almost to the point where prospects and young MLBrs are going to have to earn their way on the roster. No more scholarships.

        • No reason to think they would rush him, so the “expectations” have to be a late season call up that doesnt mean he for sure plays. Almost for sure he is on a pitches count, so by the time he reaches PIT they likely wont want to use him a ton. Unless the rotation totally implodes health wise, i see him as arriving in Sept.

      • Scott Kliesen
        January 11, 2015 3:18 pm

        I think Cards need more Pitching. Hope they don’t get Hamels. He’s s stud.

    • While I’m not Tim, I can guarantee you that he wasn’t saying the Pirates have too many good pitchers because that isn’t possible and he has said that numerous times. There is no such thing as too many good pitchers in your system. No one in baseball history has ever had that problem in their farm system

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