You didn’t have to read between the lines much to know that the Pirates have no intention of calling up their Triple-A pitching prospects before the middle of the season. Comments today from Neal Huntington made that perfectly clear. For starters, there was this blatant quote, saying they weren’t comfortable bringing the guys up in April or May.
“We’re not as comfortable that any of the guys coming from Double-A to Triple-A, or getting a little bit of Triple-A experience last year are going to be able to help us in April or May.”
Then there was this one about being conservative with prospects:
“The longer we’ve given guys in the minor leagues, the smoother the transition has been,” Huntington said. “You look across the industry, there’s exceptions to every rule, but there’s a lot more guys that have been hurt by being pushed than guys that have been helped by being pushed. We need to be cognizant of that. We are now a playoff calibre team. There’s not as much room for growing pains at the Major League level, and that’s why we’re going to be as conservative as we can be.”
Then there’s this comment which makes it sound like Jameson Taillon might not be up until August or September, and even that might not be a guarantee:
“We want to be fair to him and put him in a position to be successful,” Huntington said. “That’s why he could have a lights out camp and still, in our minds, not be ready to help us win up here. There’s a bit of a unique circumstance, but we’re going to have to be cognizant of that, and build him up accordingly, and be patient with him, and see where we are in August and September. The challenge is you don’t want to leave innings that are available for him after the end of our season.”
And maybe that is just mis-reading the quote, and wasn’t what Huntington intended to mean, but there was also this quote:
“In a perfect world, Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow are given extra innings in Triple-A to continue to refine and grow and develop. But if we have a need because of injury, and/or someone struggles up here, as we look at them later in the season, they’re pretty good options to have.”
In short, you shouldn’t expect any of the pitching prospects to arrive early in the year. And whenever that is said, especially about the top guys, there is always an immediate topic to complain about: Super Two. But this is not for Super Two purposes. There are legitimate reasons for holding all five of these starters back at the beginning of the year, and the truth is that not all of them will be ready in mid-June when Super Two passes, even if the team needs them and calls them up.
Let’s do a quick rundown of each pitching prospect, taking a look at what they need to work on before they arrive.
What Makes Him Good: He’s got a plus-plus fastball that can hit 100 MPH, and works in the 94-96 range easily, with good downward movement. Also has a curveball that is a plus offering when it’s on. And he’s 6′ 8″, so the ball looks like it’s already at the plate when it comes out of his hand.
What He Needs to Work On: Right now he can’t throw the curve for strikes whenever he wants. He can use it in strikeout situations and other pitcher’s counts when the batter is a bit defensive and needs to expand his zone. He also needs to improve his changeup, trusting the pitch to do what it is supposed to do, rather than trying to manipulate it to generate movement and reduce velocity. His nerves also get the best of him sometimes, leading to a big blowup inning and a total lack of control.
Why This is Important? At the moment, MLB hitters could sit on Glasnow’s fastball, knowing that his changeup is inconsistent, and the curveball can’t be commanded that well to be thrown for a strike at-will. And while the fastball is outstanding and has been enough to hide his flaws throughout the minors, he will need the other two pitches to get MLB hitters out. Also, the nerves will come into play, leading to a big inning, which would probably lead to the bullpen getting blown up in some of his starts.
When Could He Arrive? I’d say mid-season, but that’s not when his issues will be gone. I think the nerves issue will be a factor when he first comes up. But he can counter that by improving his secondary pitches. He might show improvements with both pitches with a lot of focus in Indianapolis, but he will still need to work on the pitches once he reaches the majors. There’s still number one starter potential here, but don’t think that Glasnow is ready the moment he posts his first dominant start in Triple-A.
What Makes Him Good: A fastball that sits 94-96, touching 99, and now features downward movement with minimal effort in his delivery. Also, a power slurve that is a plus offering, and a changeup and two-seam fastball that are average pitches, and enough to keep hitters honest with the fastball/curve combo.
What He Needs to Work On: The biggest thing here is getting used to upper level hitters. Taillon pitched last year between extended Spring Training and instructs, but got very little time against upper level hitting. This makes it difficult to work on pitch sequencing, as you don’t need to worry about that when any pitch will blow rookie leaguers away.
Why This is Important? Right now Taillon is two years removed from having to actually pitch. The stuff looks great, but he hasn’t had to focus on hitters who can hit his stuff if it isn’t thrown in the right spot, or alternating his hold times with runners on base, or any of the other things that don’t involve just throwing a baseball to the catcher with no regard for who is in the batter’s box.
When Could He Arrive? This is tricky. From a stuff standpoint, I think he could arrive before Glasnow, and if he didn’t have the injury issues, this would be a case where Super Two might actually be the main thing holding him back. But the longer layoff could result in a more conservative schedule, putting his debut in July or August.
What Makes Him Good: A sinker that sits upper 80s, but has a ton of movement, with late cutting action. A four seam fastball which can hit 93 on a regular basis. Some of the best control in the system, along with a deceptive delivery.
What He Needs to Work On: He had a curve and a slider, but switched primarily to the slider after the curve wasn’t working. That’s improving, but he’ll need it to do better in order to have an out pitch. He also hasn’t had much experience with the changeup — always an important thing for lefty starters — and will need to improve that before he arrives.
Why This is Important? The changeup seems obvious. But overall, Brault needs a secondary pitch. He’s got so much control and movement on his fastball that he gets results, even without reliable secondary stuff.
When Could He Arrive? Brault might be bumped down to Altoona at the start of the season, but could still make it to the majors if they need him. They might not need him in 2016, which would give plenty of time to develop his off-speed stuff for future years. He projects as a strong number four starter, and maybe better if he becomes a “Jeff Locke with more consistency and better control”, which is totally possible for him.
What Makes Him Good: On a consistent basis he throws a sinker that can touch 96-97 MPH with good movement. He also has made good strides on his slider in the last year.
What He Needs to Work On: Kuhl needs to work on improving his changeup, and getting even more comfortable with the new grip he has, which involves a lighter touch while holding the ball.
Why This is Important? Sinkerball pitchers, especially those who rely on extreme ground ball rates, need a changeup because they traditionally struggle against lefties otherwise.
When Could He Arrive? I wouldn’t be surprised if he arrives earlier, rather than later, being the top guy of the non-Glasnow/Taillon group (can we call these three The NGT? Or maybe KBW?). The Pirates love his stuff, and with the slider development, he seems closer to the majors in terms of things to work on. In fact, I could see a scenario where he’s up before Glasnow and Taillon. The ceiling is lower, but there’s a chance for a solid fourth starter, or maybe a number three if the slider continues improving.
What Makes Him Good: He has a lot of movement on his pitches, along with a deceptive delivery that hides the ball longer, making his velocity play up. His sinker is 89-92 MPH and his primary pitch, but he can get his four seamer up to 95 MPH on a regular basis. He also has a good changeup and is very comfortable with the pitch.
What He Needs to Work On: Williams doesn’t have a strikeout pitch. He throws a curve and a slider, but the curve is more of another changeup. The slider isn’t a strikeout pitch, but the Pirates like it better than the curve, and have him focusing on that more of his two breaking pitches.
Why This is Important? If he doesn’t have an out pitch, then he’s going to have a hard time cracking this rotation, and might end up being a Jared Hughes type reliever instead.
When Could He Arrive? Just like Brault, Williams could end up in Altoona to start the year. And just like Brault, he could arrive in the majors this year, but odds are they’ll have enough guys in front of him that they’ll be able to give him a full year getting ready in the minors, with the upside of a fourth starter in the future.
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