First Pitch: Pirates Have Everything They Need For a Strong Rotation

The Pirates have had a starting pitching problem this year, but as I’ve written recently, they might be coming out of that mess and emerging with some good rotation options. This is largely in part due to the farm system producing a lot of good prospects, and that was on display again tonight.

Trevor Williams pitched eight shutout innings tonight, and you can read all about the start in Brian Peloza’s live report. This continues a strong recent stretch from Williams over his last few starts, which Brian also wrote about recently. In his last five starts, tonight included, Williams has given up three earned runs in 34 innings, with a 24:3 K/BB ratio.

And yet, you could make the argument that Williams is currently the fourth best starting pitching option out of Indianapolis. Tyler Glasnow isn’t going to come close to his upside this year, but looks like he could be a better option than the others. Chad Kuhl needs to get over his recent struggles with leaving the ball up in the zone, but he’s shown that he can do well in the majors, even without his best stuff. Steven Brault looked good in his one outing, and continues pitching well in Indianapolis.

As good as Williams is pitching, he might not even have a shot at the Pirates’ rotation this year. Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon are back from the DL. Francisco Liriano isn’t going anywhere, and you hope tonight was a sign of what’s to come for the lefty. Tyler Glasnow could be returning on Saturday, as he has been replaced in the Indianapolis rotation that day by Chad Kuhl, and the Pirates have an opening in their rotation that day. I wrote last night that Jeff Locke needs to be removed from the rotation. The Pirates don’t need a fifth starter until August 6th, so they could just go with the first four guys until then. At that point, they could turn to Kuhl, Brault, or Williams.

It’s possible the Pirates could make a trade to add another starter before the deadline, and it’s possible that the guy traded away could come from the Kuhl/Brault/Williams group. Looking at the situation short-term and long-term, at least two of those guys will be relegated to bullpen options, or starting depth out of Triple-A.

Furthermore, we’ve been working a lot this week on the mid-season prospect rankings, and I couldn’t help but notice that another wave of back of the rotation starters are coming up behind this group, with Stephen Tarpley, Brandon Waddell, Tyler Eppler, and Clay Holmes all potentially arriving in Indianapolis in the next year. And I haven’t even mentioned Frank Duncan, who looks more like a middle reliever in the majors, but could also provide some starting depth out of Triple-A. Then there are the high upside guys in the lower levels — Mitch Keller and Gage Hinsz.

The system still remains very rich with pitching, and the Pirates could afford to trade one of their upper level guys for immediate help in the big league rotation, while probably not feeling the loss in the long-term. But they also could just turn to those upper level guys, and churn through them until they’ve found a guy who can help.

Between Liriano’s potential to bounce back to the pitcher he was before this year, and the strong performances from the Indianapolis starters, the Pirates have everything they need to have a strong rotation down the stretch.

**All week I’ve been mentioning that our mid-season top 30 prospects list will come out by Friday at the latest. Unfortunately, we ran into a last second change of plans, and the mid-season top 30 won’t be happening at all. By that, I mean that we will instead be releasing our mid-season top 50 prospects tomorrow. We went through the process of ranking everyone in the system, and we got to the point where we could have just pushed on and finished the list, so we did. We will have some normal coverage in the morning, with the top 50 going up at noon.

You can only get the top 50 with a subscription to Pirates Prospects. The article will have a database of featured articles, with one piece of analysis for each prospect. So your subscription will give you plenty of articles to read this weekend, and information on every top prospect in the system. Subscribe today to get the rankings.

**Francisco Liriano Strikes Out 13 in Pirates Win Over the Brewers. Alan Saunders with the live report from Pittsburgh tonight.

**Prospect Watch: Trevor Williams Throws Eight Shutout Innings. Live reports tonight from Indianapolis, Altoona, and West Virginia.

**Pirates Notes: Brewers Intend to Make Liriano Throw Strikes Tonight. That kind of backfired on them.

**Casey Hughston Getting a Second Chance in West Virginia. Abigail Miskowiec writes about Casey Hughston’s added power, and his strikeout issues since returning to West Virginia.

**How a Home Run Derby Led to Eric Wood Switching From a Pitcher to Third Base. Sean McCool tells how Eric Wood turned into a position player, and what has led to his power emerging this year.

**Morning Report: Pirates Have Seen Struggles from Players Making the Jump to the States. John Dreker looks at players making the jump from the DSL to the GCL.

  • Damn Tim. This article was worse than a Sport’s Illustrated Cover jinx.

  • Naturally, Kuhl and Glasnow suffer pitcher’s injuries the day after this article appeared….

  • To be honest w everyone, I don’t care what the FO does w our rotation as long as he gets rid of those 2 crumbs they think are LH starters (Locke & Niese). The FO’s trade deadline plans obviously are in a logjam w these two. At this point I don’t care if one or both are part of a starter package or they were traded for a new batboy and waterboy.

    It’s obvious that its blocking up our bullpen and bullpen trades also. I have a bullpen prediction if they are gone. I predict we trade for FERNANDO ABAD. NH has been scouting the Twins hard.

    I have a 2nd prediction that crumb Niese will be pitching tomorrow against the Phillies. Get ready for it!

    • A lefty with a year-and-and-half of control remaining? Not saying it isn’t enticing…but it will be expensive at the deadline. My uneducated guess is, in today’s market, at least Brault…and maybe a lower level projectable guy on top of that like Polo.

      That’s one of those deals that, if it works out and the Pirates get deep into the playoffs…you call NH a genius…if they miss the WC and those guys develop…you call him the worst GM outside of Littlefield.

      Not saying it shouldn’t happen…but that’s why he’s got the job…to make those decisions…I wouldn’t be good at it ๐Ÿ™‚

      • I would love Brault in that role but then REALITY kicks in! It’s one thing that Brault kicks in w the occasional spot start here and there but to put him the bullpen speaks SERVICE TIME! We are talking Pittsburgh here! Unless someone goes down, Brault is meant for the rotation(next year)!

  • To be honest w everyone, I don’t care what the FO does w our rotation as long as he gets rid of those 2 crumbs they think are LH starters (Locke & Niese). The FO’s trade deadline plans obviously are in a logjam w these two. At this point I don’t care if one or both are part of a starter package or they were traded for a new batboy and waterboy.

    It’s obvious that its blocking up our bullpen and bullpen trades also. I have a bullpen prediction if they are gone. I predict we trade for FERNANDO ABAD. NH has been scouting the Twins hard.

    I have a 2nd prediction that crumb Niese will be pitching tomorrow against the Phillies. Get ready for it!

  • Bucs should throw together a package for Chris Sale. Give the ChiSox Kuhl, (Brault,Kingham or Holmes) Elias Diaz, and Harold Ramirez. 4 for 1 does seem alittle steep but I wanna win a world series now.

    • Rick Hahn laughs at that offer and hangs up immediately. For Sale, any package would have to start with both Meadows and Glasnow.

      • Also throw in your wildest dreams and that package still doesn’t get it done ๐Ÿ™

    • No way that remotely comes close to the value for Sale. Maybe Bell and Glasnow and they maybe start paying attention.

      • I agree with all of you guys. Pirates would be crazy to trade Glasnow and Bell/Meadows and others for 1 pitcher. You have 3 years of control of 1 great pitcher and you give up either your long term starter at 1b or a long term OF both with great bat skills, a pitcher who appears to be a star in the waiting and you would control for several years, and the opportunity to trade McCutcheon and Jaso to pick up additional pieces for players you will not need anymore because you have Meadows and/or Bell to take over plus a couple of other pitchers like Liriano, Niese and Locke. I would take my chances on keeping the young guys we have and trade the older guys we will not need then

        • I just think getting Sale is an impossibility even if we were willing to part with all of those guys. He is the best pitcher arguably right now in the game, young, face of the franchise and Hahn specifically said while they were willing to make some trades the Starting Rotation is off the table.

          • NH would have to knock his socks off. NH will not be that stupid to give up what it would take to get Sale. It would put us back to the mid 90’s again and NH would be unemployed. Thank goodness NH is not that stupid.

            • Actually reported now that TB is asking for Glasnow and Meadows as a “start” for aquiring Chris Archer. If that is the market then what the heck would get Sale. We are better off keeping all of our pitchers then having to trade away an entire rotation for one arm

    • Chris Sale has a 6.2 War last year. If the Pirates traded for him mid year, they would have 3.5 years of value. If War is valued at $6M/war, that’s a value of $126M. Reducing it by his contract value for those years ($44M) is a surplus value of around $82M. Looking up values of prospects, a top 10 minor leaguer is around $40M of value (Glasnow), a hitter ranked #38 by BA would be another $20M of value, Mitch Keller (ranked #52) would add another $9.4M, and Ke’Bryan Hays (#72) another $14.5M. Basically a push. None of the prospects you mentioned are on baseball America’s top 100 list. Lowest value for a top 100 guy is $9M.

      • The White Sox would be on the floor laughing at buccobrach2’s offer. It would take that offer and add your offer to it and then maybe they would consider parting with Sale. Prob not. Prob would take more.

        • I would agree…you’d have to start with Meadows and Bell…probably have to thrown in one of the bigs guns at AAA not named Glasnow, and then someone projectable…or take on a dead-weight salary.

      • I think WAR is pushing $8M/year.

        But, I also think that is highly overvalued and unrealistic standard…heck, look at Cutch coming into this season…if you consider his last 5 seasons, he had ~$120M in surplus value. I don’t think you would’ve seen him going for either 3 top tens (as if an org has that) or a top ten and 4 other top fifty prospects.

    • Actually, with the way Stewart trades in Arizona, the Pirates could probably get Greinke and $30M/year in salary relief for Stallings. If the team overpays by throwing in Luis Heredia and Jaso…might be able to get Goldschmidt back in return.

      Nah…Neal likes Jaso too much to deal that deal… ๐Ÿ™‚

    • You got to love dreamers!! TOO BAD our GM is not Billy Beane!

  • The only way I see 3 prospects staying in our rotation is if NH can’t get around trading for a vet w/o giving up top prospect(s). Its entirely possible the Pirates can survive w the young guns but I think it’s crazy to not believe NH isn’t going for a veteran. Kuhl had one great start and we are anointing him a spot. He still has groundball issues and keep in mind he went 2.1 innings the game before. Glasnow isnt where they thought he would be now so theres setbacks. With the deadline looming, I thinks its too late for tryouts. Get a vet bc the playoffs are tough for a rookie much less 3 if we get past the infamous wildcard.

    • Exactly. I don’t like Kuhl for the 5th spot in rotation or as the guy who replaces Locke. Brault may be the answer. But I think NH still tries to get a veteran to fill that slot.

    • What good vet is out there worth giving up prospects for?

      I don’t see any. Pomeranz is gone, Archer will cost a ton and Hill has a blister on his finger.

      Outside of them………………….

      • Yeah, That is why no huge move was made for any of the guys in the off season. People complained but it would have taken the guys that are starting to fill out the rotation now. I would not have wanted to block these guys with someone like Leake or Latos, names that were bantered around. The massive contract guys almost never come close to providing what you are paying for. Like what the Bucs are doing and they are now turning into how the Cards have been operating. Keep the minors well stocked, Trade off guys that are aging and fill the spots with guys from the system that are ready to go. Just hope they are not hacking other teams’ computer systems as well (tongue firmly in cheek)

      • I like the idea of Michael Pineda

      • I would say Hellickson or Cashner but this I new territory for NH. He got burned on the Niese trade and didn’t have an owner who would pony up the dough for Happ. We have seen him not make any trades before and he never made a splash. Maybe it motivates him to go big if he feels he needs to make up for it or maybe he sticks w the young guns. Keep in mind he went after a pitcher no one had on the radar (Happ) last year even though it was bc of injury.

        • I don’t know if not signing Happ was a matter of a cheap owner or more of a baseball decision of thinking Happ was over priced. Besides the end of last year with the Pirates, Happ never had great numbers. I think he is surprising many by what he is doing now.

          • Oh I agree but we won’t truly know till his contract expires who made the right move. I have faith in the NH and the FO. They might not get it right all the time but better than most. It sure would’ve been nice to have Happ and not worry about this #3 mess.

          • I think it was the latter…

            My opinion is that the price of adequate pitching jumped this off-season and Happ signed early enough that it looked like an overpay on Toronto’s part. The FO got caught with their pants down on this.

            I also don’t see this as a trend that will go away…year after year, due to extensions, there seem to be less pitchers coming to market…especially really good ones. So, I think, there are going to be bidding wars and, thus, higher prices, for even the middle of the road guys.

            Heck, just take a look at next season’s guaranteed FA class:

            Brett Anderson (29)
            Andrew Cashner (30)
            Jhoulys Chacin (29)
            Bartolo Colon (43)
            Jorge De La Rosa (36)
            R.A. Dickey (42)
            Doug Fister (33)
            Jeremy Hellickson (30)
            Rich Hill (37)
            Mat Latos (29)
            Colby Lewis (37)
            Ivan Nova (30)
            Jake Peavy (36)
            Alfredo Simon (36)
            Jered Weaver (34)
            C.J. Wilson (36)

            That market is so thin, I wouldn’t be shocked if, at least, two to three of those names aren’t able to grab 3/27 from a team desperate to plug a hole.

            The days of buying low on a guy like Volquez and Liriano are just about over.

      • Blisters heal.

        • For the most part, yeah. For a pitcher, it can be an on going issue with a pitcher in season. Keeps re-blistering

    • I don’t disagree except for the tryouts part…thankfully, the Pirates have a soft schedule for the next three weeks…if Cole, Liriano (I’m not hopeful), and Taillon (shaky on a rookie, too) can hold down the fort, this is the perfect time for auditions.

      • I got stuck on the tryout part. Haha! It made more sense than auditions at the time.

  • The only thing to worry about with the kids is running out of innings??

  • Jim Garland
    July 22, 2016 9:08 am

    The only valid reason to keep somebody back is if there are better options at the MLB level. And there aren’t as you’ve written on severaal occasions. Maybe the horrible market for starting pitching as the trading deadline approaches could work in our favor. I’d make Locke available now. I know we can’t expect much, but it’s addition by subtraction. And if the young guys continue to develop, I’d make Liriano available in the off-season. And I would have an open competition between all those young guys to fill out the rotation. Under no circumstances would I trade any of those guys for a marginal SP.

    • A) Depending on how Liriano finishes this year, he may well be available. You still need a veteran presence in the rotation. Cole will be one. I would rather keep Liriano 1 more year than trade for a more expensive guy. Liriano may bring more a year from now than in the offseason and gives you 4 months for the young guys to settle in and to hedge against injury.

      B) You made a “Duh” statement with regards to the open competition for the young guys and not trading any of them. They are already competing to start next year in the rotation. Will be great to know that the Bucs will have a great rotation in the majors and another great rotation in AAA backing them up. No big moves were made in the off season this year because they did not want to block any of these guys. It was rough to watch early on as things hashed out but glad the young guys are being eased into the majors. They all should be more than ready to go next year.

      • HartHighPirate
        July 22, 2016 3:26 pm

        I agree with A) & B)
        Might I had C)?
        Do not trade Kuhl/Brault/Williams group. Nor Glasnow, Bell, Diaz. Sale is not for sale.

  • Ronald Chess
    July 22, 2016 7:58 am

    Great article , absolutley right Cole,Liriano,Taillon , Glasnow ,Kuhl and lets go . Next year then watch some great things from that rotation. Brault and Williams will still be at Indianapolis for depth.

    • Add Kingham and Duncan too.

    • Ronald Chess
      July 22, 2016 10:23 am

      That’s Right, I forgot about Kingham and Duncan more depth , young arms that can all be part of organization for a while.

  • And hopefully we can soon add Kingham back to this group.

    • Who wasn’t even mentioned?

      • That is what makes the pitching depth for the Bucs scary good. Wonderful problem to have. Many more arms than needed. Hope they keep the cupboards full.

        • Agree………The pitching attrition tends to be high.

          • And pitching is the Gold Standard on the trade market. And, when you look at what other teams are willing to pay for pitching, the Pirates are truly in the catbird seat.

            When the Pirates were wandering around with Gaby Sanchez, Ike Davis, etc. Dan Vogelbach was a kid I wanted the Pirates to go after as our 1B of the future. Hope he does well for Seattle.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    July 22, 2016 7:20 am

    The sad thing is the headline of this article was true a month ago

  • gosteelers69
    July 22, 2016 5:37 am

    There’s certainly depth for back-of-the rotation arms, and that’s exactly what a good organization does in the end. We all get it – very few elite arms ever come out of the draft … even solid arms that become a part of the starting rotation. A true #1 that is among the best in baseball is simply rare. Every organization just hopes for an ace that is THEIR true #1. The Pirates are doing a good enough job in developing organizational pitching depth that the odds end up in their favor for future success at the ML level.

    • The Pirates are just notoriously slow to move guys up from AAA to the majors – pitchers and position players. The Cardinals were much the same, but injuries forced them to bring up Stephen Piscotty last year and Aledmys Diaz this year – these are now 2 of their team batting leaders even though neither had anywhere near the offensive numbers of Bell in the minors. I guess sometimes injuries can be beneficial.

      • When the Pirates play the Cards the one name that I was tired of hearing was the name Piscotty. He has done well vs the Pirates.

        • If not for injuries, Piscotty would not have been up last year. Glad that the kids came up when needed but better to not rush and have issues..See Grichuk for the Cards. The top guys will not be going anywhere. They are top of the rotation guys gosteelers69. Many are, Taillon, Glasnow, Keller, Williams, Kingham, Tarpley……..They have many depth arms for us becuase of those 5 guys. In other systems, they would not be back end guys. They would be middle to top guys. That is who you trade out of our stable.

  • Do you not see Yeudy in the same tier as Keller and Hinsz? Or are there just too many good prospects to mention them all? ๐Ÿ™‚

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD
      July 22, 2016 7:57 am

      Garcia is better than Hinsz as of now, and it’s a coin toss between him and Keller. But, Keller will likely surpass Garcia next year.

  • I dont want to see any of the pitching prospects we have go anywhere for and outside arm.. bring those guys up and let them show what they got.. i think that all could be starters in the majors..cole, frankie, glasnow, taillon,brault/williams/kuhl sounds like a good rotation with the others serving as bullpen guys.. please dont trade them away

    • Agreed.

    • No way are thy trading the big prospects now. They have not for several years so see no indication they will start now. You may see one of the higher rated but lower level guys go because they will need to move a couple guys to not lose them in rule 5 for nothing. Like last year with Keon Broxton and Jacoby Jones. They will not be able to protect all of them so some will be moved.

    • well here’s the issue- we only drafted and coached all these pitchers with the exact plan of having more than we need, thus allowing us to trade them when needed as a position of depth to fill other holes. You saying you don’t want us to do this, generally makes all the extra pitching talent- valueless in a sense. Right now we don’t need starting pitchers in 2018, we need other things now… you trade, intelligently of course, and fill those needs if you can. Hoarding them does nothing for us because only 3-4 of those 7-8 starting pitching prospects that will be ready in the next 2 years have a spot in the rotation. that means trading them. Notice neither Tim nor I- are saying to trade taillon, glasnow, to go along with Cole, that leaves only 2 spots through 2018. Williams, Brault, Kuhl, Holmes – do not want to be bullpen pitchers, and likely have more value to another team as a starter than they do for us as a reliever. So if you can get something back more valuable than what a 7th inning guy would be, why wouldn’t you take it?

      • One thing you gotta beware of is the idea that you “dont need” depth in 2 years.

        When it takes 6-9 arms per year to make it through a season, you do gotta be selective when deciding future depth isnt as important as short term needs.

        • Timothy Wolfe
          July 22, 2016 5:38 pm

          Luke- you make a very good point…..but we will continue to be picking up vets via free agency as always to provide depth, it’s how we do things. Besides, we will have 4 more kids ready by that time to provide that additional depth beyond the ones we already know we have. You can’t just keep 10 25 year olds rotting in the minors whom are ready and able to be productive major league starting pitchers. My thought is basically……..I wouldn’t trade any of them for a rental, which is what i see as a short term need. I would only trade those guys for players with at least a year of control and actually fill a need- otherwise, i don’t trade them

          • We dont have 10 25 year old rotting, and thats the point.

            We have depth, and yet we still dont have rot going on. Glasnow isnt polished, Kuhl needs work, etc etc.

            You need around 10 arms every year to work in the bigs, and that means an entire AAA rotation able to throw ML innings. So throwing away 1-2 of those guys and thinking “we have depth” is scary. Because longterm, prospects fail and you need a lot of them to ensure you arent looking at needing 3-4 FAs to cover depth.

      • Y2…I guess your reply is very good, because I totally agree. I said as much in a reply above, but your’s was more indepth and detailed.

    • Thay can’t all come up to the Pirates, too many of them. Another reason for a strong system, you can fill in you needs with your minor league excess. NH has to be smart and when giving up exces, get some good help. Giving up Broxton an Supak for a minor leaguer is not smart. I know, at the time it looked like a good move considering Kang’s injury and the need for a 3rd baseman. But Freese falling in our laps makes, in hind site, the trade, no so good.