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.

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37 COMMENTS

  1. It may not be time for Bell but it is time for Jaso to sit. Play Freese at 1b everyday and use Frazier and Kang at 3b.

  2. Jeff Passan IIRC threw out a trade item that might be interesting; Cutch and Glasnow for Sale. Might be an interesting topic for discussion.

  3. Big jump with Cole his rookie year was in crunch time – last month of the season. He absolutely dominated and exuded confidence on the mound. Will see how Taillon progresses – just hard for me to mentally separate Cole’s last month when comparing their rookie seasons! Taillon showing he’s definitely a tough cookie mentally thus far!

  4. The only nitpick with the offense is that three of our top 5 hitters are not signed for 2017 – Freese, Joyce, and S-Rod. Without them, you have a great OF (assuming Cutch rebounds), slightly below average middle INF, major legal question at 3B, rookie at 1B, and (besides 2015) a rely healthy C

    • It will be very hard to match this year’s bench production next year. However, even without resigning any of the three players above or bringing in anyone new, the Pirates could still have a decent bench with Diaz replacing Stewart as back up catcher and Jaso, Frazier or Harrison (depending on who is starting), Rodgers and either Hanson or Moroff.

  5. I most certainly agree with Tim on the premise of this article, the Pirates future rotation and lineup look very good for sure. However, I take exception to the claim this team can’t compete for a title.

    If the last couple years have shown us anything, it’s that the best regular season teams aren’t necessarily the best post-season teams. Just making it into October should be the focus. Once into the playoffs, who’s to say who will get hot and who will not? Cole, Liriano and Taillon may all be pitching at their peak performance level.

    I, for one, am not ready or willing to start looking towards the future yet. I’ve spent the better part of my adult life waiting till next year. I’m in the win now mode.

          • My point is that there was no way to know that the Mets would have had that much pitching strength in October either as of last July. Hindsight is 20/20. While it’s unlikely, the run they went on last year was equally unlikely.

            • This isn’t even true though about their pitching in July. By the end of July they had:

              deGrom: 2.05 ERA in 127.1 IP
              Harvey: 2.91 ERA in 133 IP
              Syndergaard: 2.70 ERA in 86.2 IP

              They also had Steven Matz make two starts with a 1.32 ERA in 13.2 innings, before the end of July. He came up and joined the rotation in September.

              They had three top of the rotation starters in July, and a top prospect who provided some hope as a number four starter.

              There is nothing involving hindsight here, and their pitching run wasn’t unlikely or unpredictable. The unlikely factor with them involved Yoenis Cespedes and their offense exploding the final two months, providing some support for their pitching.

              • yeah, its real likely that a rotation with 3 rookies is going to make a run down the stretch. Come on now Tim- you have said only a million times how you can’t rely on rookies to make a playoff run or take you deep into the playoffs, and here you say they were top of the rotation starters on the Mets….I suppose that neither of those things have to be mutually exclusive, but really? If that’s not hindsight, I really don’t know what it is. I do read every article you write, you know that right? Take a deep breath, see what you are saying, and try again.

                • deGrom pitched 140 innings in 2014.
                  Harvey had 237.2 innings in his career before 2015.

                  They weren’t rookies. Syndergaard was a rookie. But they had two guys who had already been through the big leagues as their number one and two guys.

                  Meanwhile, the Pirates have one reliable starter right now, and the rest of their hope relies on the rookies. And the Mets won their division, so they didn’t burn one starter in the WC game.

                  • I wasn’t talking about harvey…. I was talking about Matz/Wheeler, degrom and Syndergard…… so degrom had been through 1 full season at that point, sooooorry. matz was still in the minors, Wheeler has a blown out arm, you have Syndergard whom was a complete lottery ticket, Neise pitching like trash, and a 41 year old Bartolo Colon……yep, sounds great.

          • Neither you nor I know how their SP will be performing when October rolls around. Cole, Liriano and Taillon all have capability to pitch well enough to shut down a playoff caliber offense when they’re on their game.

  6. The Pirates need to to stay the course with this farm system.The days ahead look bright it might be so bright you will have to wear shades

  7. Regarding your 2nd to last paragraphs it should read: “John Jaso, who has -.6 WAR since the end of May will be replaced by Josh Bell any day now”

    • I hope so, but so far every indication is against it, Hurdles’ comments, Bell getting time in RF and just the simple fact that he is not up already and when he was he didn’t even play 1b for an inning might be telling.

      • If they are going to insist on not playing Bell because of his defense. Well, what can you do. But it is ludicrous to keep running John Jaso out there vs righties. Freese should be taking amost all those starts with Kang at 3b.

        Kang has struggled but has an elite ceiling.

        John Jaso pounds the ball into the ground at 85 mph

        • I’m hoping that all this talk about Bell needing to improve his defense is just a subterfuge to assist their efforts to trade Jaso. If they were to promote Bell and have him play first then Jaso would have no trade value whatsoever.

      • Hurdle’s comments are irrelevant. He’s just covering for his boss. Could you imagine him saying “His defense is fine, we need him now!” when NH is leaving him down? What else could he possibly say besides blame defense

  8. This is why i don’t want to see the Pirates sell other than excess prospects to help cover rule 5/free agency issues and pending free agents on the ML roster. Of course I would include Jaso on the available list. I wouldn’t trade Melancon unless I got a gaul for him.

    • Jaso is available. He is not going to be given away right now. More likely in the off season. If they would get a great offer for him he will be gone now. They really want Bell to play everyday and keep getting reps at AAA so he can learn the little things about 1st base and if he screws up it is not the end of the world. He will be your starting 1st baseman next season no doubt.

      What you said first, I agree with completely. With the quality that is on the cusp and you will have them for several years under control, they should not trade those guys. You will see guys like Niese and Locke go before these guys. Not making a splash this year will make them far better the next several years.

      • What about the small matter of THIS season. Jaso’s triple slash since the end of May: 208/298/288. (66 WRC+)

        And yet I fear there’s at least a 50% chance John Jaso will be your leadoff hitter tomorrow in Miller Park with a righty on the mound.

        And a month ago some people were saying “it’s silly to just assume Bell can produce like Jaso”

        • I think it is more of a case of the runs he could give up in the field as opposed to the runs he produces at the plate. I think they are fearing rushing him and he regresses to the point of Pedro. Can’t say that I blame them. Jaso will be gone by this off season latest. Bell will be up in September

          • go: Bell will be up – I hope it is with the Pirates, but they just can’t seem to be able to make a commitment to him. Jaso is a former part-time Catcher/DH who played parts of 8 games on defense in the OF in 2015 for the TB Rays. What he has learned about 1B has come in the majors as a starter with the Pirates, but they seem to be saying Bell has to stay in AAA to learn how to play 1B. Does that make any sense?

            Jaso is nowhere near the athlete that Bell is, but he has the maturity of a guy 9 years older than Bell. We got Jaso for his offense and we have gotten as much as we could get from him in 2016, and it is time to look to the future with Bell now, not in September or next year.

            • BTW, the defensive difference between the two is minimal –

              Jaso 78 G, 602 TC, 561 PO, 37 A, 4 E, .993 Fld%, 7.67 RF/9
              Bell 79 G, 794 TC, 736 PO, 47 A, 11 E, .986 Fld%, 9.91 RF/9

              The RF/9 tells the whole story, IMO. Bell gets to a lot more – 192 more total chances or 30% more times he handles the ball than Jaso. Bell’s 9.91 RF/9 would rate in the Top 5 in the majors in that category.

              • so if you extrapolated Bell’s numbers for almost a 162 season…he might have 22-23 errors for a whole season which is fairly high for a 1st Baseman no? or i can’t just double the errors to get 160+ games

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