The big theme heading into this season was focused on the prospects who were set to make their pro debuts for the Pirates. I feel like I wrote about that daily in Spring Training, and at times it felt like I had two minor league camps to cover.
Around the mid-point of the season, we started seeing prospects getting the call to the big leagues. Jameson Taillon was the first one who arrived, followed soon by Chad Kuhl and other starters who haven’t made the impact those two have made. In the past month, Kuhl has become a regular member of the rotation, Adam Frazier has become a regular member of the bench, and Josh Bell has become the new starting first baseman.
I focused the main article in the 2016 Prospect Guide around this group of upper level prospects (called “The Next Wave” in the book). We spent a lot of time writing about them all year, to the point where it has been the biggest topic on this site. So with the minor league seasons wrapping up soon, and with several players locking up key roles in the majors lately, I wanted to revisit the prospects who have made an impact so far, checking on their progress.
I’m only going to include prospects who are currently in the majors. I feel that we will be discussing the guys in Triple-A over the next week, as the September roster expansion gets closer.
Jameson Taillon – Taillon is performing about as well as you could hope for any rookie to perform. So far, he has a 2.92 ERA, a 3.15 xFIP, a 54.9% ground ball rate, a 7.3 K/9, and a 1.2 BB/9 in 74 innings. Those are dominant numbers across the board. With Gerrit Cole struggling, you could argue that Taillon is stepping up as the top starter on the team right now, and that’s while considering that everyone else in the rotation is also pitching well.
If you’re worried about an innings limit, then you’ve missed every single thing I’ve written about Taillon’s workload this year. Back in May, I wrote that his workload is going to be more about pitches than innings, and stress pitches than pitch counts. There is no real definition of stress pitches, but they come when a pitcher has a long inning, or a high pressure situation. Fortunately, Taillon hasn’t gotten into many of those situations, even in the majors. The Pirates could give him some time off in September when rosters expand, but their goal the entire year has been allowing him to pitch into October, and it would seem he’s on track right now. The hope is that he’s still pitching this well throughout September and October.
Josh Bell – The Pirates held off on promoting Bell due to his defense, and Pirates fans are now getting a chance to see why they held him back. However, Bell right now, even with the defense, is better than Jaso with his struggling offense. It seemed like the Pirates wanted to give Jaso plenty of time to bounce back, while also not getting rid of him, which was the only option to bring Bell up before rosters expanded. This led to David Freese getting more starts at first, and continued until Jung Ho Kang went down. Once Kang went down, Bell came up and has basically taken over the first base position.
Tonight (Thursday) was his fifth start in a row, and he walked three times. He went 5-for-12 with a walk in his previous four starts, and as long as he keeps hitting and getting on base, he should keep getting starts. That should continue, as Bell has an advanced approach at the plate, which was on full display in tonight’s game. Kang could return in September when rosters expand, but I wouldn’t expect Bell to give up his starting job. He could be up for good at this point. The interesting thing is that our prospect cutoff is 130 at-bats. Bell might fall short of that, even if he starts every game, due to the fact that he walks so much, and is replaced for defense later in games.
Chad Kuhl – Tonight was a great outing for Kuhl. He gave up the home run in the seventh inning, but he allowed just two runs in 6.1 innings, with five strikeouts, two walks, and a 66.7% ground ball rate. When he first came up, he wasn’t getting his usual high ground ball rate, sitting in the 30-33% range. As Ed Giles wrote this past week, he changed his approach after those first three starts, and his ground ball rate has looked like what you’d expect from Kuhl going forward.
In his previous four starts, he had a 2.25 ERA, a 4.29 xFIP, and a 45.7% ground ball rate. That rate has actually gone up to 50% in August. His stats will only improve with tonight’s start added in. It looks like that change to his approach, which has allowed him to get the ball down more and get more ground balls, is working for him. If that continues working, the Pirates will have another solid starter for the remainder of the year.
Adam Frazier – It’s really easy to draw the Josh Harrison comparison with Frazier. Just like Harrison, Frazier is breaking in as a super utility player, putting up good numbers which probably won’t be his stats long-term, and definitely wouldn’t be his numbers as an everyday starter (his .381 BABIP won’t continue), but he’s performing well enough that you’d like to see him get more time. He’s not walking much, with a 3.8% rate, but he’s also not striking out much, at 16.3%. Most of his production comes from making contact and getting extra bases.
One of the things I love that Frazier does so well is the ability to hit the ball where the fielders aren’t standing. I’ve seen countless times where he takes a low and away pitch and puts an easy swing on it, slicing it into shallow left field. I don’t know if that’s a skill which can be repeated for the long-term, but it displays his advanced approach at the plate. Frazier seems like the type of guy who fans will want to see more of when he’s in a bench role, and less of when he’s in a starting role. Kind of like Josh Harrison, where he can be an average starter at best, but a really good bench player if he’s not starting.
Tyler Glasnow – I included Glasnow here, because technically he’s in the majors, just on the DL. I talked about Glasnow a bit in my interview with David Todd on Wednesday, and obviously have written a lot about him this year. The big theme has been that his fastball command struggles, he can’t command his curveball on a consistent basis, and he doesn’t have a changeup. That makes him a one pitch starter at the moment, with that one pitch lacking control at times.
The thing about Glasnow is that he’s young. He just turned 23, and if he didn’t come up this year (after his rehab), and didn’t return to the majors until the second half of next season, he’d still be up about a year and a half before Taillon arrived, from an age perspective. You’d like to see him up earlier because of the potential, but he’s nowhere near his upside right now. The disappointing thing is that this has almost been a lost year for him. He could have been spending all of this time working on a changeup, but he didn’t do much to develop the pitch. He’s worked on his command some more, but adding a changeup that he trusts is huge for his development, and he’s going to need that before he can get close to his upside at the big league level.
**Nick Kingham Promoted to Altoona. Kingham will take his rehab to a new level. Sean McCool will have a report on him this weekend.
**Prospect Watch: Solid Start for Tarpley; Barnes Homers in Third Straight Game. Barrett Barnes has been fantastic lately. Also, it’s good to see Tarpley continuing to put up strong results lately, as he’s had an up and down season so far this year.
**Stephen Alemais Shores Up Error-Prone West Virginia Infield. Abigail Miskowiec catches up with Stephen Alemais, who was recently promoted to West Virginia, adding a solid defender to their struggling infield.
**David Todd Podcast: Evaluating Tyler Glasnow’s 2016 Season. The podcast of my interview with David Todd.