Today, Mat Latos signed a one year, $3 M deal with the Chicago White Sox. The deal didn’t include any incentives, which makes it largely preferable to the deal the Pirates reached with Ryan Vogelsong (one year, $2 M, plus $3 M extra in possible incentives). I’ve written many times this off-season that Vogelsong wasn’t a good choice for the rotation, and someone like Latos looked like the better choice. There are potential attitude problems with Latos, but it’s hard to compare these two deals without feeling like the Pirates missed out on a great opportunity to upgrade the pitching talent in their rotation.
The good news is that they’re not going to be waiting long for their upgrade. The Pirates have a wave of pitching set to hit the majors this year, with a very talented prospect group in Triple-A. Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon are two of the top pitching prospects in the game. I wrote about Chad Kuhl this evening, noting that his sinker and slider really improved in 2015. There’s also Steven Brault, who is a very underrated guy, and Trevor Williams, who only adds to the depth with his control and deception approach.
The Pirates ran into a bad situation last year where almost every prospect they had in Triple-A went down with an injury. It was Tommy John for Brandon Cumpton, Casey Sadler, Nick Kingham, and Angel Sanchez. Jameson Taillon suffered a setback right as he was about to start pitching in real games. The only prospect who stayed healthy was Adrian Sampson, although he struggled and was traded for J.A. Happ.
It was kind of a worst case scenario last year with all of the injuries, but fortunately the Pirates have reloaded with their strong group this year. And they’ve got enough pitching in the pipeline, even behind the 2015 Indianapolis group, that they should be able to withstand the inevitable injuries that will come in the future.
Beyond the Triple-A group, the Pirates have Tyler Eppler and Clay Holmes set to start the year in Altoona. Both right-handers can hit 96 MPH with room for some additional velocity increase. They’ve got Yeudy Garcia and Stephen Tarpley both set to start in Bradenton, with a shot at Altoona in the second half. That could give Altoona up to four starters in the top 25 of the system at various times throughout the year. This group, along with the return of the guys injured in 2015, should help provide additional depth if anything goes wrong with the 2016 class of pitchers.
But going back to Vogelsong, the Pirates have a clear need for starting pitching from their farm system right now. They’re going to have to wait a bit, unfortunately. You can expect the replacements to arrive by mid-season. At that point, hopefully the strong wave of pitching depth will keep flowing into the majors, which will mean that the Pirates won’t be in a situation again where they have to rely on a starter like Vogelsong, even for a few months.
**With a Sinker That Hits Upper 90s, Chad Kuhl Has Become a Pitcher to Watch. Today’s article on Chad Kuhl. If I could go back and re-rank one player from the 2016 Prospect Guide, it would be him. Unfortunately, for him to make the majors in a big role this year, the Pirates would need something to go wrong with Jon Niese, or one of their big two pitching prospects. And none of those scenarios sound good for winning.