The Pirates entered the year with a rotation and a lineup full of prospects in Indianapolis this year. Some of those guys were being counted on to emerge and give the team a mid-season boost. Others were there to provide depth, if and when it was needed. In some cases, you almost didn’t want to see those guys getting a call to the majors, just because of what it meant.
Take the rotation, for example. At the start of the year, the rotation was Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Jon Niese, Jeff Locke, and Juan Nicasio. The mid-season callups were expected to be Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon. It was possible that Chad Kuhl and/or Steven Brault could have made it to the majors as a starter, but it didn’t say good things about the state of the other seven starters (not to mention Ryan Vogelsong and other short-term options at the start of the year like Kyle Lobstein).
We are in that situation now. Gerrit Cole has been the only reliable starter this year, and he’s on the disabled list. Francisco Liriano has struggled, and really disappointed. Jon Niese, Jeff Locke, and Juan Nicasio have all struggled at times as well. Tyler Glasnow hasn’t looked ready yet. Jameson Taillon is ready, but is still somewhat limited on the season. Ryan Vogelsong got hit in the eye, and Kyle Lobstein isn’t a good starting option.
It wouldn’t have been a good situation to see Kuhl and Brault up in the situations they’re in right now, and it’s easy to see that now. On the other side of the coin, it’s outstanding that the Pirates have pitchers like Kuhl and Brault who they can turn to when so much goes wrong.
In watching Brault’s start tonight, I was reminded a lot of Kuhl’s first outing, and Taillon’s first outing before that. The overall results weren’t great, but you saw flashes of potential, and of the player being ready for the majors. In Brault’s case, the downside was that he only went four innings. This was in part due to a low pitch count, as he hasn’t been stretched out much this year, and was making his third start in a return from a hamstring injury. It was also due to not being able to put guys away early in the count, even in some situations where he went 0-2 right away.
Despite that, Brault showed some good tendencies, and what makes him a prospect. He showed a good fastball, using the four seam a bit more often, including blowing it by hitters for strike three on a few occasions. The slider looked good, with some nice movement, and better command of the pitch than I’ve seen in the past. He looked comfortable with the changeup, also getting good movement from the pitch. And he mixed everything up well, changing speeds often to keep hitters off-balance.
It might be coincidental, but the Pirates are now 9-2 and have won six in a row since they started calling up the prospects. Adam Frazier arrived on June 24th, when the streak started, and has been a spark off the bench ever since. Chad Kuhl joined the team two days later, and has done his part to put the team in position to win two games. Jameson Taillon, who was already up, had an outstanding start his last time out on June 29th. And now Brault comes up and continues the stretch.
It definitely helps that the bullpen has been outstanding during this stretch, and I think that could be in part due to the trickle down from the rotation. The addition of Chad Kuhl allowed the Pirates to move Juan Nicasio to the pen, and he has provided a big boost to the middle relief. We saw that impact tonight, when he was able to pick up Brault and go an extra two innings, handing things off to the rest of the relievers.
Of course, there are other factors at play here. Arquimedes Caminero looks like the guy we saw last year, rather than the guy who everyone was happy to see go to the disabled list earlier in the season. That has also boosted the middle relief. Tony Watson looks like he could be breaking out of his funk as well. The result is that the Pirates have a pretty dominant group with Mark Melancon, Watson, Neftali Feliz, Nicasio, and Caminero. We’re now seeing the results you hoped for this off-season, when the bullpen looked to be the strength of the pitching staff.
On the rotation side, there are other signs to point to, other than the prospects. However, during this stretch the rotation has included two prospects, and two of the other three guys haven’t been consistent with their success. Jeff Locke is the only non-prospect starter recently who has been putting up consistently good outings.
I think a big reason for the success overall is because the offense broke out of their slump from June. The offense ranked 14th in wOBA and 15th in wRC+ during the month of June. They rank 7th in each category so far in July, still falling below their early season totals, but well above their struggles last month.
I’m not going to say that the prospects are the reason the Pirates are having success lately. There are many reasons for that success, and the prospects are only part of that. But I do think they have provided a boost and a breath of fresh air when the team needed it, and I think you could objectively say that things probably wouldn’t be as good right now for the Pirates if they had the typical roster fillers, rather than Kuhl, Brault, and Frazier arriving in the last few weeks.
Hopefully we see more of that going forward. Glasnow had a strong outing this last time out. You’d want to see more of that from him going forward, to show it wasn’t just a fluke. He could make two more starts, and if all goes well, he could join the rotation in the second half. Fans are calling for Josh Bell more and more, and I’d love to see him up. I said it earlier in the season that I’d like to see him arrive in the second half, ease his way into the starting job, and provide a strong bench option when he’s not starting (with Jaso doing the same when he’s not starting). And once September rolls around, I think we could see the gates really open, with guys like Alen Hanson, Max Moroff, Trevor Williams, and others getting the call to the big leagues.
At the start of the season, the hope was that this would be the year where the farm system provided a boost for the Pirates, along with some depth, if needed. We’re seeing all of that happen right now.
**Signs Seem Positive After Gerrit Cole’s Rehab Outing. Brian Peloza covered Gerrit Cole’s rehab start with Indianapolis, and talked with him after the outing.
**The Book on Steven Brault. The full scouting report on Steve Brault. This series remains my favorite series to write on the site.
**Mark Melancon Named to NL All-Star Team. Starling Marte is on the final vote, and I’m surprised Gregory Polanco didn’t join him, or didn’t make the team outright.
**Prospect Watch: Gerrit Cole Looks Solid in Rehab Outing. Tonight’s reports throughout the system, with a live one from Indianapolis.
**Jung Ho Kang Under Investigation in Chicago For Sexual Assault. I’d rather not comment on this story in any way, instead just letting all of the details come out, and letting that add everything to the story.
**Austin Meadows Working Through a Slight Injury With Indianapolis. Brian Peloza talked with Dean Treanor about why Meadows has been out of the lineup recently, being told that it’s a minor injury.
**Minor Moves: Austin Meadows to the Disabled List. Meadows was later placed on the DL, and removed from the Future’s Game.
**Jameson Taillon to Disabled List, Steven Brault Called Up, Stallings DFA’d. I wouldn’t be surprised if they lose Stallings via waivers. I’d like to see him stick around, because it would help the Pirates with their catching depth. At the same time, I’d like to see him get claimed, just because I think he’d have a much better opportunity elsewhere, rather than being stuck behind Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, and Elias Diaz, with Reese McGuire right behind him.
**Morning Report: Thoughts on the Remaining Unsigned Draft Picks. John Dreker reviews the unsigned picks with about ten days before the deadline.