First Pitch: The Next Wave Has Arrived For the Pirates

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.

  • It is good to see the changing of the guard but it happened in my opinion to late to matter. Bell should have been up much sooner with Jaso’s struggles and others such as Hanson and Brault should arrive in September and play, not sit in the dugout, but Hurdle will sit them as he likes the established vets even if they are not producing. I am not egger to sing Nova, pirates could have and should have extended Volquez and or Happ. Nova is not as good as them and don’t let a good start here and there fool you.

  • The Cubs ave money and management to be really good for a long time. The Pirates have to match them talent for talent and can do that to a degree. The Pitching with the emphasis in the system is the great equalizer. Tallion, Cole, Nova? Kuhl, Glasnow? Kingham, certainly is a good mix to have. I do expect Cutch to be gone after next year to make room for Meadows. Even a better year 2017, the Pirates have the option to exercise and trade. Agree that J Hay was a contract that was to rich for a non power hitting position. Cervelli as to health and quite frankly hitting was a extension that was done to early. His offense is a black hole right now and hope he can return to health next year. If not 33 million is a problem for a small market revenue franchise. Great locker room guys is fine, but one has to produce.

    • Cervelli’s greatest value will be calling the game for the young pitchers. It is entirely possible that he will be backing up Diaz by the end of his contract extension, which wouldn’t be bad given that Diaz will be cheap.

      • No accident NH targeted Nova. Cervelli knew his arm and compete level. Cervelli is a AL east Yankee who helps in being that bridge for Nova. I expect the Pirates to make a concerted attempt to sign him to an extension.

        • If Nova keeps pitching like he has so far for the Pirates that could be a very good idea. AJ Burnett’s Yankee stats were unimpressive, but the change of League/ division/ ball parks worked wonders for him. Could be the same for Nova.

  • The Pirates held Bell back for his defense? Bullshit! His defense did not get better the month he was held back after the ASB. The reason he was held back is they didn’t want to DFA Jaso…I find it pretty funny that Bell’s defense is still shaky, but he’s starting every night, while Jaso sits. If Kang doesn’t get “injured” Bell would still be in AAA.

    • Bell go another month+ playing everyday where it did not matter if he made a mistake while still learning. Even though you were being sarcastic, if Kang did not get hurt, Bell would still be down at Indy.That is actually a true statement. Thank goodness Bell is getting on base since he has come back to Pgh as he was not hitting much when he went back down to Indy.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    August 26, 2016 10:28 am

    Too bad the FO decided a month or more too late that the “new wave” was an upgrade to some of the pieces that they had in Pittsburgh. If the “new wave” would have been brought up in June, when it was obvious that they were needed, the Pirates would probably already have a wild card berth in hand…….think of all those early season losses directly attributed to terrible starting pitching….and how many more runs would this team have scored with Bell in the lineup, instead of very limited John Jaso?
    Total mis-management of the roster, starting in the off-season. Will they repeat the same mistakes again in 2017, by insisting that Hutchison is a major league caliber starter, regardless of his past and present performance?

    • Aren’t you the guy that was screaming Glasnow was ready this time last season????

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD
        August 26, 2016 1:50 pm

        Yeah, and he was – he was already better than Locke – and he may have been enough of a difference to win the division instead of settling for the wild card. It would have been a bold move, and NH is incapable of bold moves….

        • You are child-like with some of your theories.

        • Win the division? Have you had a look at the Cubs’ record? They probably weren’t beating them this year even if they had repeated 98 wins!

    • Not only was the SP below adequate, but so was the BP until midseason. The SP is still patchwwork but performing well. The BP has melded together nicely. But still too many nights from the Slumber Company.

  • Misc. thoughts/responses to prior posts…..

    Too early to think about extending Nova.

    From what I’ve seen of Bell, he is far advanced offensively right now. I do wonder how in some 200 games at 1st that he hasn’t gotten the hang of it yet. But, he’s a hard worker and willing to learn, unlike the last year’s 1B.

    How could anyone not mention Meadows in the next wave.

    Save the money with Harrison and gamble on Frazier and Hanson. No need to extend either.

    Diaz up, Stewart out.

    Next year’s bench. Kang/Freese, Diaz, SRod (multi positions and better than average D),Hanson/Frazier and Joyce.

    • I find it very unlikely that Joyce or Rodriguez will be returning for 2017. Joyce can probably find a platoon/starting role on an AL team, and SRod has priced himself out of the Pirates price range I would think.

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD
      August 26, 2016 10:38 am

      Joyce and SRod will both likely be gone next year, although both exceeded expectations this season – especially SRod, who’s had a career year.
      Harrison has peaked – I don’t think he is going to give you much more than what you already see. That isn’t bad, but can the team do better – especially defensively?
      Stewart – I sure hope he is gone….why they extended him to begin with, only NH can explain.
      Jaso? He needs to go, as he has no position other than first base and is mostly just a .260-.270 singles/doubles hitter. Maybe they can get a B/C prospect for him…
      Kang’s future will be decided in court….I suspect the worst….just a gut feeling…I could be wrong….
      The idea of trading Cutch sickens me, because he is the one guy who truly started turning this franchise around. Yet, I do realize we have better options defensively in CF and he had a bad year hitting wise. He is still only 29/30, so hardly beyond his prime. But him in LF, and switch with Marte. If he continues to flounder in 2017, you have Barnes and Meadows as available inhouse options…
      Regarding Nova…he’s had 3 out of 4 good starts. But, his career history indicates he is not this effective over the long run….lets see how he finishes out. I still can’t believe we traded for a rental however….he may have zero interest in re-signing with Pittsburgh….

      • In my mind the Bucs make every effort to sign SRod. Jaso can be moved pretty easily. But with Bell and his D and the need to a backup ss and a guy who can play solid d everywhere I think the $4-5m needed perhaps to sign SRod will be made available. And as they get younger the vets are important in clubhouse as well.

        • Exactly how do you move Jaso? below replacement level singles hitting first baseman? Owed $4M next year. If they DFA him he won’t be aimed.

          • When somebody needs a first baseman because of injury. 4 million for a veteran is not that bad of a salary. He is not a bad bench bat with Bell playing. See the game winning run he scored last night as a pinch hitter. He is a 0.3 War so not below replacement but basically at replacement level.

          • They managed to move Tabata, they can move Jaso.

      • I think Stewart will likely stay on, they are paying him already. That makes catcher a 3 deep position for the team, with Diaz in AAA. I don’t think the team will want Jhang, or Stallings, as the third catcher next year. Hansen will also be on this team next year, as he’s out of options. Assuming Kang returns, there’s 3 of a bench of 5 spoken for. Put Frazier on the team, be unable to trade Jaso and thats it, there’s your bench. I can’t see Sean Rodriguez coming back, simply because there are already two (three counting J-Hay) utility guys on the team. You might be able to squeeze a FA onto the bench, but barring a trade, the position player roster is pretty much full up. Team needs to take its available dollars and basically put them all toward pitching.

        • If next year goes as this year Jhang and Stallings will both suit up for the Bucs. Stallings and Kratz both were behind the plate for the Bucs this year. Hopefully we will not need them.

  • I’m open to trading Glasnow for a solid #3 pitcher if we don’t extend Nova. I’m not sold on the guy’s head.

    Much as I love his professionalism, I’m not sold on a 40 year old Vogey. I think if he ends this year on a high note, he’ll probably hang ’em up. Or he should.

    • If you’re aren’t sold on Glasnows head what say you about Cole’s?

      • Cole has had 4 bad starts after a short career of being one of the best pitchers in the league. He’ll get it together

        • BuccosFanStuckinMD
          August 26, 2016 1:54 pm

          he’s had a lot more than 4 bad starts this year alone….

          • He was pretty good till he went on the DL. I am just guessing but thinking he is not near 100% and that is why he is getting hit. Not enough movement and that could be attributed to his arm injury that put him on the DL.

    • I’m also concerned about his head and why hasn’t this kid figured out that he needs to develop a Change-Up?

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD
      August 26, 2016 1:54 pm

      You are certifiably insane to make such a suggestion. Glasnow, if given the opportunity by the team (big if), will be the team’s #1 starter by July 2017.
      The guy I would consider trading, if I could sell high and really fleece someone, would be Cole. I don’t think he will ever re-sign with Pittsburgh and he lacks the bulldog mentality needed to be a big game pitcher.

  • I never thought I would say this, but with Bell’s bat and lack of ability to play 1st base it might not be a bad idea for the NL to add the DH. We have so many major league hitters we don’t have the space for them all. What a great problem to have.

    • “We have so many major league hitters we do not have space for them” Who are all these guys. Get the feeling we have plenty of space for them. if they exist. This team struggles in so many facets of hitting and at this moment outside of Neuman I don’t see anyone from the MLs that looks like a hit first type of player (please please don’t give me Hanson).

    • Please no.

      Bell will get better. It’s just going to take more time than anyone would like.

      Ban the DH.

  • Sitting Taillon, the Pirates most reliable SP the last month, during a playoff chase, in the name of injury prevention, would be viewed even worse than sending their Closer to a NL contender in my book. And that’s saying something.

    • How would overusing him and having him suffer a serious arm injury be viewed? As for dealing Melancon, most serious fans view that as a very good trade.

      • Scott Kliesen
        August 26, 2016 12:21 pm

        Ask Nats fans how they feel now about sitting Strasburg and costing their team a chance at a WS Title, and having Strasburg still have arm injuries even though he was treated like a fragile family heirloom. Sitting a Pitcher nearly two full seasons after TJ surgery due to nothing more than fear makes zero sense to me.

        As for the MM trade, I don’t doubt the trade had long-term benefit for Pirates. My issue is it weakened our team this season and strengthened one of the Pirates competitors, too. It signaled to me, and based on Cutch’s comments, some of the players as well, that the FO has no faith in this year’s teams ability to win.

        • Maybe Cutch should keep his mouth shut. If he wasn’t a dog all year maybe the FO would’ve treated the deadline differently. The MM trade was a great trade.
          4 years of a power lefty plus a prospect for 2 months of a closer. I’d make that trade everytime. MM had a 6+ ERA when we got him for a rental closer. I can’t believe teams keep letting NH fleece them for rental closers

        • Maybe the performance so far this year indicates the Pirates are not a playoff team!

        • If they sit him it will not be due to fear but rather due to having pitched zero innings of regular season ball in two years. Some teams would already have shut him down.

    • Scott, we got a better pitcher back who will be under control for several seasons and will be the closer in the next year or so. On top of that, they got a huge upside starter that will make this deal look golden in a year or so. If the Nats would have offered this same deal in the off season, Mark would never have been the closer for the Bucs this year. That is the plan. BTW, how many blown saves has Tony had since the trade?? None. What harm has this trade had since it was made?

      • Scott Kliesen
        August 26, 2016 12:28 pm

        As I said to Ken, my issue with this trade is the short-term effect, not the long-term. And the fact it strengthened a team the Pirates may face in the playoffs.

        Trades made in the winter aren’t viewed the same as those made in the summer. Especially when the team is in the heat of a playoff chase.

        Watson has performed well in his role since being named the Closer. I believe he coughed up one 1-run lead in a game Serpico hit a game winning HR in the bottom of the 9th, but otherwise has been solid, if not spectacular.

        However, with MM the team had a proven Closer who had been the best in the business for a couple of years. One good month does not equate to two great years in my book.

        • So, you would rather have kept Mark, lose him for nothing after the season instead of trading him for 1 major league pitcher that the Nationals wish they had not traded as they are down to Oliver Perez as the lefty in the pen before they got Scrabble from the A’s as a rental. and a kid who looks like the real deal as another lefty starter? They still have the same guy closing who was supposed to close going into the year. The move has not cost them a game. If we have the lead against Washington in any playoff game, Melancon makes no difference. This deal was a win for the Bucs as they have a long term closer in Rivero. Watson is a similar pitcher to Melancon and Rivero is as good as Feliz and Watson was a a setup man right now and will be superior. very soon.

          • No team that is serious about winning a championship trades its closer away. Good chance that the trade is a positive for the Pirates in the long term, but for this season it was the equivalent of waving a white flag. And the players know it.

            • Again, how are the Pirates worse off? No losses from having Watson as the closer. The players knew from last off season, Watson would be the closer this season. Watson and Melancon are the same pitcher except one is a right hander and the other is a lefty. Rivero is a more talented pitcher and has been lights out since going to the Pirates pen. If the Pirates did not have Watson ready to go as the closer you and Scott have a point about trading Melancon. Since Watson was their already their and the players all knew that that was the plan, there is no issue. The bullpen is actually better with Rivero in it now.

            • The players have produced middle of the league offense and defense as well as a slightly above .500 record, not management. Cutch has no leg to stand on.

          • Scott Kliesen
            August 26, 2016 6:10 pm

            Glad your crystal ball is in such good working order. I’d have tried to keep MM for the next 2-3 years. Pitchers who generate a high % of weak contact over several seasons are a rare commodity, and worth paying.

            • The Pirates can always bid for him this off season. They are in no worse position to sign him than if they had kept him, but they have two good additions to the mix.

        • The Pirates aren’t really contenders this year. NH’s trading of Melancon is the equivalent of him acknowledging his offseason mistakes. It’s not as though the Pirates had a tremendous drop-off in the bullpen following the trade, either.

          • Scott Kliesen
            August 26, 2016 6:12 pm

            I distinctly remember my friend who’s a Giants fan saying the same thing a couple years ago, and low and behold they got on a run and won the whole damn thing. Shit happens in baseball…and sometimes it happens in your favor!

            • I agree, there is still a chance. But, the “plan” was to make a transition this year in Jun. The FO stutter-stepped and that was a big mistake! The team played to a 9-19 record in Jun due to being 30th in MLB in hitting with a .230 avg and 28th in MLB in pitching with a 5.31 ERA. Thankfully, they started promoting – the hitting still lags, but the Team ERA in Jul fell to 3.64 and is now at 3.17 in Aug.

              This team needed a change and hopefully it will continue.

  • If only Glasnow could reach his potential, wow! Talk about a future rotation. But I have my doubts with Glasnow, I just do. Tim just mentioned those very reasons above (without being negative at all about his continued development). And while he just turned 23 and is young, we’ll learn a lot more about him next season when he turns 24. After all, aren’t most of the top prospects supposed to make the majors by the age of 24?

    Regardless, I keep dreaming of a top-of-the-rotation starter in Glasnow. But right now I see the upside of a future closer. Time will tell, and nobody wants to be more wrong than me. At the very worst scenario, I still believe that Glasnow will be contributing at the major league level in some capacity.

    On another note, the next wave of talent gives us all a lot of excitement and hope for the future. And you know what? I personally feel that Frank Duncan will be another guy that ends up being better than advertised. Just like Chad Kuhl emerged and surprised (this site definitely spoke of his talent and upside). Duncan will be the next guy to follow him.

    • As soon as Tyler gets comfortable with a 3rd pitch, look out. Throw Nick Kingham into the mix as well. If not for the injury and the TJ surgury, he would have been in the rotation at the start of this season.

  • Now that the next wave is arriving maybe they can use that financial flexibility to extend some of them when the right time arrives – Bell, Taillon and Glasnow, Diaz, Kuhl and Frazier? They’ve shown they can do it – Cutch, Marte, Polanco, Harrison, Cervelli and Freese!

  • Bell has the tools and polish both to turn into Joey Votto with the bat. I don’t think he’ll ever be Joey Votto with the glove, but he could very well end up being a similar hitter to Votto, and that would be beautiful.

    • Bell shows very well with the bat and I can live with the glove as he develops. In fact, this team is a lot better with he, Taillon and Kuhl, all very mature prospects who will only get better from the experience.

      From your previous, I doubt the Pirates want to get into the market for a #2/3 SP. The better option might be to try to extend Nova and/or Vogey and wait on TG, Nick Kingham or another one of the very solid pitchers at AAA. Jaso may be worthwhile as a bench player, but if somebody in the AL was interested in making a trade, I would make that trade right now.

      The only position I see that needs changing would be at 2B. JHay is a VG Fielding 2B, but his OPS of .673 is 22nd out of 22 qualified MLB 2B. Hanson is as good or better with the glove, and his ability to step in as the leadoff hitter would help this team a lot. JHay’s inability to take Walks and his 5/1 K/W Ratio are killers, especially for a non-power guy with 5+ years of MLB experience. If the Bucs can get out from under that contract that will pay him $17.5 mil over 2017 and 2018, they would be well served to do so.

  • Due to all the extensions and “next wave”, backup shortstop seems to be the only spot to shore up this offseason from the position player side.

    • Newman will probably be ready by midseason, so they don’t even have to go crazy on that position.

      Adding a proven #2 or #3 type starting pitcher and stabilizing the bullpen, though, should be the bigger impact priorities. And obviously we’ll have to fill two bench spots. (I think Jaso is a perfectly reasonable bench bat at his contract, and Stewart or Diaz and Frazier will be on the team, too.) Bringing back SeanRod would be ideal, I think. Even if he regresses, he’s so good defensively everywhere he’s worth keeping around.

  • piraterican21
    August 26, 2016 1:20 am

    So they can draft! The Pirates could field an all home grown team if they decide to do so once Diaz and Hanson are up.