The last two nights, I’ve written about the starting pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The articles probably haven’t been what you want to read if you’re looking for hope for the 2016 team and their chances of contending in the playoffs. It’s possible that the Pirates could reach the playoffs, but at that point, they would have too many question marks in the rotation to be a serious contender beyond the Wild Card game.
Their only reliable starter this year has been Gerrit Cole. Francisco Liriano continues his inconsistent ways. And the prospects show promise, but you can’t rely on them to carry a playoff team, and the best of the group — Jameson Taillon — will be reaching a point where his innings and workload raise questions about how he will hold up and perform.
That will all change in the future. No individual prospect is a guarantee to reach his upside, but the Pirates have so many pitching prospects in the upper levels that they’re almost certain to get a good rotation out of the group. Taillon right now is looking like Gerrit Cole looked in 2013 when he first arrived. He looks like he belongs from a stuff standpoint, and while he hasn’t been dominant in every start, the stats are there to back up the stuff. In fact, Taillon’s stats have been better than Cole so far, through their first seven starts.
Taillon: 40 IP, 3.83 ERA, 3.25 xFIP, 6.98 K/9, 1.13 BB/9
Cole: 41.2 IP, 3.89 ERA, 3.75 xFIP, 5.40 K/9, 1.94 BB/9
Taillon looks like a future top of the rotation starter, and that upside doesn’t seem to be a long ways away. We saw Cole make that jump last year in his second full season, after posting good numbers in 2014. This year he’s putting up more good numbers, although hasn’t quite been at his best. If Taillon can make the same progress, that starts the Pirates off with two top of the rotation guys for the next three seasons, beyond this year.
Then there’s Tyler Glasnow, who has the upside to be the best of the group, but isn’t ready yet. You hope that he will reach his upside sooner, than later, giving the Pirates three top of the rotation arms that much quicker. There’s obviously the risk that Glasnow won’t reach his upside, but with his talent, he’s a back of the rotation option at worst, and a guy who could settle in as a mid-rotation starter if he doesn’t reach his upside. And there’s no reason to count anything out with him at this point.
Following Glasnow, you’ve got Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, Trevor Williams, the rehabbing Nick Kingham, Frank Duncan, and then guys in Double-A like Clay Holmes, Tyler Eppler, and Brandon Waddell. Those guys all have back of the rotation upside, with a few of them possibly having a shot to be a mid-rotation starter. And there’s enough of those guys that the Pirates should have two guys step up who can jump in behind Cole, Taillon, and Glasnow.
I wouldn’t count on the prospects to all come together and reach their upsides this year. That would be an amazing story if it happened. But the future of the rotation looks bright, and I’m only talking about the guys who could come up in 2016-17. I’m not even getting to A-ball guys like Stephen Tarpley, Yeudy Garcia, Mitch Keller, or Gage Hinsz.
As I’ve mentioned many times, the best part about all of this is that the offense is basically set. Everyone in the current offense is under team control through at least 2018. The exception is John Jaso at first base, but he will be replaced by Josh Bell next year. The guys who are under team control through 2018 (Jordy Mercer, Andrew McCutchen) have replacements in the upper levels of the minors (Kevin Newman, Austin Meadows). The offense is set for the long-term, and soon the pitching will be set.
Last night we got a glimpse of how things could be when the Pirates pair this offense with a top pitcher. It was just a dominant game on both sides of the ball. The games in the future won’t all be that way, but there’s no reason to think that the Pirates can’t be a dominant team once their young rotation is ready. And I don’t think it’s out of the question to say that the Pirates could end up being one of the best teams in baseball when that happens, rivaling any team, including the Cubs.
**Gerrit Cole Goes the Distance, McCutchen and Kang Break Out Bats in Pirates Win. Alan Saunders has the game recap, looking at Cole’s big night.
**Prospect Watch: Travis MacGregor Throws Five Shutout Innings in Longest Pro Outing. MacGregor is off to a great start in his career.
**Pirates Notes: A Look at Rick Sofield’s Decision Process at 3B, and Injury Updates. Alan Saunders looks at the decision making that Rick Sofield has as the third base coach, plus the weekly injury updates.
**What is Preventing Alen Hanson From Reaching His Upside? Brian Peloza writes about Alen Hanson’s upside, and what is holding him back from reaching it.
**Morning Report: Pirates are Seeing Improvements from Players Sent to the AFL. John Dreker takes a look at the guys who were in the AFL last year.