First Pitch: The Biggest Articles You Missed From The Last Week

Every week, we post almost three dozen articles on the Pirates and their minor league system. We have a daily Prospect Watch, which breaks down the games and prospect performances each night, including live reports. We have the Morning Report each day, looking at what to expect for that day’s games, while also tackling a new subject each day. First Pitch provides additional analysis on the system.

Then we’ve got analysis on individual prospects, which are the most in-depth articles we have on the site. These combine years of interviews, live reports, conversations with players, coaches, scouts, and front office officials. They’ve got information you can’t find anywhere else, and information that other sites simply can’t get, just because no one covers the minors to the extent and for the length of time as we do.

One of the downsides to having so much content is that it’s really easy to miss an article. If you don’t check the site for one day, you might miss half a dozen articles, with another half-dozen coming your way when you return to the site the following day. You could even check the site every day, but check early one day and later the following day, and totally miss a few featured articles.

Because of this problem, I’m going to run an article every Sunday night, counting down the ten biggest prospect features that you may have missed. Occasionally I will include an MLB article in there, but for the most part, I want to highlight the bread and butter of the site. Here are the big featured articles you may have missed this week:

10. We had Brandon Waddell ranked relatively high for a guy who came out of college in the fifth round last year, and who hadn’t pitched above short-season ball. He was ranked 21st overall, which is really good in this strong system. By mid-season, that ranking might look low. Waddell is off to a great start in his first five outings, putting up an 0.93 ERA in 29 innings, with a 26:2 K/BB ratio. I wrote about how he compares to fellow left-hander Steven Brault, and how he could be on the same path this year. Then, shortly after that article, he got promoted to Altoona.

9. Clay Holmes is returning from Tommy John surgery, and the results have been mixed so far. He had a rough outing last night, but a good outing earlier in the week. In the first outing, Sean McCool noticed that he was throwing a new pitch, a two-seam fastball. Here is a breakdown of that new pitch and why Holmes added it this year.

8. Steven Brault was one of the best stories last year in the minors, going from being a player to be named later in the Travis Snider deal, to making the Triple-A rotation this year and knocking on the door to the majors. Brault is one of the most athletic pitchers in the system, being a former two-way player in college. Ryan Palencer looked at how that athleticism helps him on the mound.

7. The early pick for breakout prospect of the year is Mitch Keller. He’s got an 0.86 ERA in 21 innings, with a 28:1 K/BB ratio in his first four outings in West Virginia. Keller has a fastball that sits 92-95, touching 96. He also has a curveball that is a plus offering when it’s on. I wrote about what led to his improved command this year, along with his improved changeup. I will say that the Keller article was one of my favorite articles to write this week, and is an example of how years of conversations with one player can lead to information that other sites just can’t get by reading a stat line or doing one interview for a pre-planned generic article on the player. Other sites are going to “introduce” you to Mitch Keller this year. We’re walking you through the details of the mechanical change which led to improved control, along with the evolution on the different grips he has used with his changeup, until he finally found one he was comfortable with.

6. Kevin Newman has been hitting everything in Bradenton this year, but hasn’t been hitting for a lot of power. That’s actually by design, as Newman ignores hitting for power in order to get more hits, focusing on low line drives to the gaps. I wrote about how this approach fits in with the Pirates’ focus on hitting in the minors. In the article, Neal Huntington said that if Newman hits a home run, it’s a mistake. Sure enough, Newman made his first “mistake” last night.

5. It’s not a prospect article, but I really liked this feature from Sean McCool, looking at how John Jaso’s defense has been going this year at first base. Jaso is now to the point where he’s letting instincts take over, and the overall results so far have been better than anyone expected back in Spring Training.

4. Related to the Jaso article, Josh Bell is also doing a good job in Triple-A, but is completely blocked by Jaso. I talked with Neal Huntington about how Jaso’s success impacts Bell’s arrival. There was some good discussion about how much time a prospect should spend in Triple-A, along with the revelation that the Pirates could still use Bell in the outfield (although first base is the main focus and the priority).

3. Austin Meadows returned this week to Altoona, after missing the start of the season with surgery to repair an orbital bone fracture. Sean McCool caught up to Meadows after his first game, and broke down what to expect for his season. He also found out that Meadows will be getting time at the corner outfield spots this year, preparing him for the possibility of breaking into the majors at a spot other than center field.

2/1. Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow both had good outings this week, which we broke down in detail in the Prospect Watch (Glasnow here and Taillon here, plus look for Glasnow’s next start this afternoon). Of course, this started the Super Two talk, which I dove into here. More important to their development, I talked with Neal Huntington about Taillon’s innings this year, along with Glasnow’s changeup, after he threw the pitch 15 times in his last outing.

If you aren’t a subscriber, then that means you missed all of these articles. Fix that now by subscribing to the site, and read up on all of the great analysis from last week.

  • Tim, Great idea to post this stuff on Sunday nights as a recap. You’re quite right about missing some articles. It’s like pitching, ie, some days you feel like coming in and doing the work, that is, reading everything and, some days………………………you don’t.

  • I can proudly say I didn’t miss any of these articles.

    Now, onto the fun part of the comment. With, barring injury, JTTG sure to be promoted this season…let’s say they both do well and are good enough for the 2017 rotation…

    Cole and those two are set, but…what next? With Brault and Kuhl knocking on the door (and Williams hopefully pitching well and…again, barring injury or player implosion)…do the Pirates not exercise Niese? Maybe trade Liriano going into his walk year?

    Oh, the possibilities that arise when the farm system is producing legitimate options…

    • I say no way their Plan A is Cole and 4 rookie SP’s! If I had to venture a guess, their going to have Cole, Liriano, Niese, Glasnow and Taillon break camp as the staff next Spring.

      • For a Rotation starting in 2017 I can buy Cole and Taillon, but all the rest are question marks. Liriano will stay unless the Pirates get overwhelmed with an offer during the off-season. Niese has been pretty decent and the price is right, so if he pitches better than average the rest of the season, he stays. I like Taillon and Kuhl to come up in June with RV sent down, and Locke and Nicasio going to the BP.

        Tyler Glasnow has the big arm, but he is young. Do the Pirates see him as a near-finished product right now who just needs a few minor tweaks in his next 6 starts between now and mid-June?

      • No, I wasn’t suggesting Cole, JTTG, and two rookies. Cole and JTTG? Yes, so there’s three spots. With all the pitching remaining at AAA, I would find it very difficult to believe (barring injury, horrible performance, or trades) the Pirates would feel compelled to keep both Niese and Liriano. Locke and Nicasio may still be around…so there’s a potential inexpensive #5 that only has to stick around until the Super 2 deadline passes.

        So, between Niese and Liriano…I’m thinking one of them may end up being excess.

        • Scott Kliesen
          May 2, 2016 7:21 pm

          Way too early to even think about who will stay and who will go. I can see your point though.

    • Since pretty much everyone agrees you need 7-9 arms for a year, you could roll with Cole-Liriano-Taillon-Niese-Glasnow and keep the rest of the depth at AAA. You’d have a fine top 5, with 2-3 decent options in case of injury. Only real question would be do you trust the depth enough to move Kuhl to the pen.

      • Scott Kliesen
        May 2, 2016 10:45 am

        Another factor to consider is how Glasnow’s change up plays at ML level. If he has 2 ++ pitches and 1 below average pitch, do Pirates make him the closer next year to replace Melancon?

        I am of the opinion they really want Glasnow to be a successful SP, but I also believe they’re realistic about limitations of a fastball/curve only SP.

        He could be a world-class Closer for sure.

        • No. He won’t be a closer.

        • If the Pittsburgh Pirates move Tyler Glasnow to closer, im not sure how best to express how utterly livid i would be.

          Im as “he needs time” as anyone and think he should get 3-5 more starts at least in AAA, but my lanta what a loss of value it’d be to throw him in the pen. He’s a SP, even with his current issues.

      • Meh, I’m not getting your math.

        2017:

        ML: Cole, Liriano, Niese, JTTG.

        AAA: Kuhl, Williams, Brault, then the maybes: Tarpley, Waddell, Holmes, Eppler.

        And this doesn’t address Locke and Nicasio. Yeah, I know, everyone assumes they’d be the first to go, but they’re serviceable, cheap arms that wouldn’t kill you as a #5 starter.

        Obviously, it’s waaaaaaaaaay too soon to take the issue seriously…somebody (and probably more than one) of that group is going to get injured, there may be performance dips and a player or three might take themselves out of contention, and, if the Pirates keep playing well, the upper level ranks may get thinned out with a deadline trade.

        But my point is, if the Pirates can somehow avoid those things, there will be some interesting decisions to be made.

        • Im not totally assuming Kingham+Sadler+Cumpton all are useless. You can get 1, and maybe 2, decent depth guys right there.

          If you go pretty negative and say 2 of those 3 dont ever come back to form, you’d still add in 1 more guy to the 3 AAA arms already. Meaning a 5 man rotation plus 3-4 more arms in AAA that can spot start well enough. 7-9 arms right there before any offseason fixer uppers.

          • Ah, you got me on Kingham…didn’t even think about him at AAA next season. Sadler and Cumpton I’m not holding out any hope for…even when they were healthy they weren’t strong rotation options.

            So, yeah…if we include Kingham, there could turn out to be a whole lot more than 7-9 for 2017. I think the current tally is…15 between AAA and ML?

            Barring any setbacks, the Pirates may be about to reach that point where grabbing guys off the scrap heap isn’t necessary.

            It’s a nice problem to, hopefully, have 🙂

            • It’ll be nice to have it not be needed and simply a luxury when it happens.

              Or, a luxury when we move Kuhl to the bullpen and just sign someone to replace him as depth.

              • I know the Kuhl to the BP scenario has been tossed around, but I’m not sure that I like it.

                He’s 23, has stepped up a level every season, has never really had a stumble in his development, and consistently eats innings. Hughes and Watson, the two guys in the Pirates BP who transitioned from starter to reliever, hit walls in the low minors and made the move before AAA. Kuhl has carried over his success into the uppermost level flawlessly so far.

                So, I’m not seeing, talent-wise, that that’s a move Kuhl should have to make. Heck, coming into the season he was ranked #16 in the system and I’m inclined to believe he’s done enough to leapfrog Tarpley, Garcia, and Kingham.

                Obviously just my opinion, but, if Kuhl does end up in the pen, it’ll have nothing to do with his ability to start…just that there may be too many others in front of him.

                • Without a doubt that move would be less about his ability to start, and more about getting him to the majors quicker and in a role he is likely to play longterm for the team. He’d help fill a need once Melancon leaves and not be blocked for at least 1-2 years.

                  Honestly, until Liriano left he’d be either trade bait or depth, and id rather use his talents in the pen through no fault of his own.

                  • For that reason I could see it…but…damn…I’d hate to relegate that arm to the BP for a final season of Liriano or Niese. It might seem outlandish, but if Kuhl can keep progressing, I’d rather see next season with Cole, JTTG, Liriano, and either Locke or Nicasio holding down the 5 spot until the Super Two date passes and Kuhl could take over the back end of the rotation.

                    Williams? I really like him, but I see him being a much better fit for the BP than Kuhl.

                    • Nicasio could be a guy who gets me to thinking we keep Kuhl as the 5th man.

                      You move Nicasio to the 7th or 8th inning and (gasp) retain a guy like Feliz and im a bit more comfortable overall.

                      Say there is a world where we pay for Feliz (since he’s a non elite investment type but can be an 8th inning arm) and move Nicasio to the 7th or flip those roles or whatever. If Watson isnt totally a broken toy like he has been thus far, i think you can build a decent bullpen without Kuhl in that scenario and have Kuhl up on after the first week or so next year.

                      Or, use Kuhl in the pen mid year this year and have him stretched back out and on the OD roster. A Carlos Martinez situation.

                    • “Or, use Kuhl in the pen mid year this year and have him stretched back out and on the OD roster. A Carlos Martinez situation.”

                      That, I can live with…the only drawback in my mind is if stretching him out would be enough. I don’t recall that he’s developed an out-pitch yet and I wonder putting him in the pen could stunt his development in that area.

                      If that’s not an issue, then, yeah…because this BP needs all the help it can get.

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