BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pirates essentially have one rotation spot up for grabs this spring, and four pitchers who are in competition for that spot. Drew Hutchison, Tyler Glasnow, Steven Brault, and Trevor Williams are all competing to make the rotation, with Chad Kuhl expected to be the number four starter. The problem here is that no one from the Hutchison/Glasnow/Brault/Williams group has stepped up to take their place as the favorite.

It’s difficult and unwise to make these types of decisions based on Spring Training stats, or at least the surface numbers like ERA. You need to also consider the career of work, what the player is working on in terms of adjustments right now, and the upside of the player in the short-term and the long-term.

I’ve had a chance to see all four of these guys this spring, and with the season now two weeks away, I wanted to weigh in on where I felt each player would end up, and why. Here is a rundown on where each player stands:

Drew Hutchison

I think Hutchison has the inside track for the final rotation spot. A big reason for this would be his previous experience in the majors. Prior to the 2016 season, he had a 4.00 xFIP in 393.2 innings in the majors. He had a 3.82 xFIP in 2014 over 184.2 innings, leading to a 2.3 fWAR. He also had a 1.5 fWAR the following year. If Hutchison was just a free agent, and not a guy acquired in the Francisco Liriano trade, he’d probably be viewed as a nice bounce-back candidate for the final rotation spot.

From what I’ve seen this spring, Hutchison doesn’t have over-powering stuff, but is more a finesse guy. He gets some swings and misses with his off-speed, but when the command is off, he gets hit hard. The command was off in his last outing after the first inning, and he was hit around a lot, which inflated his overall numbers this spring.

Hutchison does have an option remaining, so he can go to Indianapolis at the start of the year if needed. But the Pirates like him, and he’s shown enough in his career to at least get a shot at the number five spot. That said, with so much competition, I’m not sure he’ll have a lot of room for error if he gets off to a slow start.

Tyler Glasnow

There is no question that Glasnow has the highest upside of the group in the battle for the fifth starter job. But his upside needs to be separated from where he is right now when evaluating whether he is ready for the majors on Opening Day. Glasnow is making some nice changes this spring, adjusting his delivery to aim for better command and more control of the running game, while also adding a new changeup grip. That addresses some of his biggest issues from last year.

The problem with these changes is that they will likely need some work at the start of the year. He’s not showing consistency with his command, and while his most recent start has people buzzing, it was only a week ago that he got hit around and had some command issues. He’s finally making the right changes to give him the best chance to reach his upside, and that is encouraging.

It’s important to remember here that Opening Day is a very arbitrary date. Expecting Glasnow to be ready, or close to ready, by that date is only focusing on the schedule of the season, and not his development schedule. The stuff he’s working on right now would be easier to work on in Triple-A, rather than the majors. I wouldn’t necessarily hold him down until mid-season if he’s ready early, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea to give him some work in Triple-A at the start of the year.

Steven Brault

Brault had been cruising along this spring with the results until his last outing on Saturday. He does have the advantage here in that he made eight appearances in the majors last year, with 33.1 innings of work. The numbers weren’t great, with a 4.77 xFIP. He didn’t have his best command at the time, which led to a very high walk rate.

The main advantage for Brault is that he’s left-handed, which would make him the only left-hander in the Pirates’ rotation. The question is whether they need a lefty in the rotation. Brault would make a really strong depth option, but he doesn’t exactly stand out above everyone else in the current fifth starter battle, either in upside (Glasnow beats him) or experience (Hutchison).

Trevor Williams

Williams is in the same boat as Brault. I really can’t see him making the team as a starter without a few injuries ahead of him. I think he provides the Pirates with a really nice rotation depth option out of Triple-A, or a bullpen option for the majors later in the season. But he doesn’t have the upside that would come close to Glasnow, and probably isn’t going to be better than the other guys in this article at the start of the year.

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  1. Hutch makes more money, therefore, he will get the 5th spot. I think he has the inside track anyways.

  2. Off topic a bit, but…..

    If the Pirates do not come north with Frazier and Osuna on the 25 man, they are even more incompetent than I thought. Not only are those kids hitting, but they are hitting top flight MLB pitchers – including Snell and Cobb from TB. They aren’t feasting on the journeymen pitchers still on a lot of rosters at this time.

    Frazier is dynamite in that lead-off spot – he gets on base, he’s a threat to run – I’d plug him in at second base and see how he handles the position defensively. Harrison and Freese could hold down third base, until Kang’s future is determined…

    Osuna could spell different players at multiple positions – first base, right field (in PNC), and possibly third base…..he’s not a gold glover, but he’s not Pedro either.

    I’d be looking to see what the team could get for Jaso and possibly even Harrison.

  3. Even with his 1-2 bad performances this Spring, Glasgow has by far (and not even close) the higher ceiling, upside, and better overall stuff of this group. He just needs to be more consistent. If he is our #5, he will likely be the best #5 in all of MLB – with the potential to move up 2-3 spots in that pecking order. Although inconsistent, he has the kind of stuff where he’s a threat to dominate a lineup – none of the other guys above fit that description. I’d put him in there, give him a few starts this April and May, and see how he does with the opportunity.

    I like Brault, but still not convinced he’s a quality MLB starter. We need LH arms, so he will be given high consideration. I’m on the fence with him.

    In my opinion, Hutchinson and Williams are AAAA starters at best – although Williams could have a future as a bullpen arm.

  4. My list of who I think the Pirates will choose (most likely to least likely):

    1. Hutch
    2. Brault
    3. Williams
    4. TG

    Who I would choose:

    1. TG
    2. Brault
    3. Hutch
    4. Williams

    I believe Pirates want to let TG continue to refine his FB and changeup in Indy. If prospects were steaks, the Pirates prefer their’s well done.

    I personally see TG as best choice since he’s the only one of the four listed who has potential to be great on any given night. The others are going to likely perform in the above average to below average vicinity night in and night out.

    • I agree with who you would choose, although I may even slide Williams to 3 because I see nothing with Hutchinson. Nice list though, and I agree with your idea of where they’re at, too.

  5. i would love to see Glasnow sew this up with a dominant finish to the spring. That said he will work a lot more in Indy than up here in April so I really don’t care too much. You know it’s going to rain half the schedule so I’d just as rather see Brault warming up between nonexistent starts as anyone. Because he is a southpaw I do want him to at least stay in the mix.

  6. DL Watson. Go with four starters until mid April. That should prevent anyone from the bullpen/bench from being put on waivers.

  7. I’d trade all four for Quintana.

    Kingham becomes your sixth starter. Hope Sadler, Holmes, or others are not needed as fill emergency injury replacements.

    • I’m going to just assume this comment is sarcastic, as you’ve had to not paid attention to the Pirates, let along all of baseball, to think they’d get through the season with all 5 starting pitchers remaining healthy. As well as minimal slumps. And then relying on 3 pitchers in varying stages of TJ recovery. Holmes being only one with a full season since surgery, and not having pitched above AA.

      • Any GM who wouldn’t trade high-risk/high-reward Glasnow and three marginal arms with #5 upside for Jose Quintana should be fired on the spot.

        • I understand the sentiment. Quintana in the rotation would be legit on paper. It’d be lights out on MLB the Show, but to essentially reason a complete lack of pitching depth is lunacy. Pirates had 14 different pitchers start a game last year. Even in a best case scenario, you’re probably using at least 8 starters in a year. So after; Cole, Nova, Taillon, Quintana, & Kuhl, your depth is weak. I’m a huge Kingham fan, but he pitched only 46 innings last year. Sadler, Sanchez, and Cumpton are all entering their first seasons since TJ. Cumpton having had shoulder surgery as well. You could possibly use Nicasio for a spot start here and there. After that, you’re looking at Eppler (167.2 innings in AA), Waddell (118 innings in AA), Holmes (this will be his first full season back from TJ) & Dickson (140 innings in AA). And you could fit Lindblom probably in there. There would be cause for major concern if one starter, let alone 2, goes down with an injury.

          Now, if you said Glasnow, 1 of the other pitchers, and pieces. Sure. Not 4 currently healthy starting options.

  8. Hutch should not be elevated because he has previously pitched in the bigs. He does not seem to possess the stuff to get batters out when he is not perfect with his pitchers. This leaves Glasnow as the obvious choice here. Even if he has a bad outing now and again, he has the stuff to win games at the big league level. Will he be perfect, surely not, but his stuff is undeniable. What does he have to learn by going back to AAA which he already dominated? If you want to win, Glasnow needs to be the 5th starter and not Huch.

  9. I’d rather include Glasnow in a trade for Quintana..

    I actually mentioned that to Gary Varsho last Monday at the Braves game half jokingly and he said, “Anything is possible, but they’re not cooperating.”

  10. I think Hutchinson is going to get the spot for a variety of reasons but who knows how long he keeps it. Brault gets the nest shot if Hutch doesn’t perform while Glasnow works the rough edges off and Kingham builds up innings. Glasnow, Williams,Brault and Kingham go to Indy, along with Holmes. Williams ultimately will end up being a long man in someone’s bullpen.
    It’s a long season, with injuries and bad performances they’re all going to get a chance.

  11. Your description of Hutchinson sounds a lot like Jeff Locke. I hope that Hutchinson can be a decent pitcher –forgetting all the Liriano trade stuff. But the Hutch with the Pirates looks like the same Hutch that couldn’t make it with the Jays. For some reason, I prefer Brault. Reasonable minds could differ but I like the lefty; I like his athleticism; I like that he’s a gamer. Hopefully though they are in it in July and trade for a stronger starter to really give us a chance to compete.

    • In 2014 Drew Hutchison looked to have considerably better stuff in starts I saw. People we look at FG and not see a huge difference in average velocity but he seemed to average at least 93-93.5 and could easily touch 95 and would touch 96 as well.

      In spring it seems he is generally around 92 and maybe the gun is off and he regains velocity as the weather warms. One of my hopes was Searage could tweak his mechanics to gain a tick back on his fastball.

      Just one arbitrary snapshot but in his start against the Reds last year Brooks had him averaging 91.8 and the highest he touched was 94 mph

    • I thought the same as well. Although if they can get pre 2016 Jeff locke out of the 5th spot, that is palatable. I’d take around a 4.00 ERA and some eaten innings at 2.2 million any day…my and most of our worries is that we get the version of Jeff locke from last season…

      • An ERA around 4.00 is all that should reasonably be expected of Chad Kuhl, let alone Hutch. We’d be ecstatic to get that kind of performance out of any of the 5th starters right now.

  12. Hmmmmmmmm….no mention of the $2.2 million that is owed Hutch which, to this cynical man, will be the overriding factor that will keep him in the majors. 🙂

          • And Wandy. They dropped that $8m like a rock.

            The only real argument I see for them not making reasonable sunk-cost decisions was with Niese last year. His legacy still haunts them in the form of square-peg-in-round-hole Antonio Bastardo instead of being free and clear this season with more payroll space and a better bullpen.

            That being said, of course cost is a factor in this decision. Not the only factor, but without a clear and significant separation between Hutch and the rest they’ll prefer the $2.2m player producing for Pittsburgh than Indianapolis.

            Not addressing this as part of the discussion only makes it a bigger deal, as we see here.

  13. I’d rater have Glasnow smooth out his problems in Indianapolis instead of getting banged around in the bigs working on them.

  14. It’s going to be Hutch, might as well take that to the bank. TG just isn’t ready yet. Hopefully he will be soon and they bring him up at that time and not wait until June but its all up to TG, he has to force the hand of the front office with his play.

      • I just don’t see this as a reasonable factor for Hutch as a starter. They’re going to pay everyone wherever they pitch. Putting him in the bigs won’t make him a better performer. We need the performance. If anything, the front office might favor him to save face. I don’t see Hutch as a money issue at all. Paradoxically, they’d save more face with serious fans by sending Hutch down if his performance doesn’t merit a starting position.

        • If they send Hutch down, then will they finally be admitting that they gave away McGuire and Ramirez just to dump Liriano’s salary? Btw, Frankie has been lights out this ST.

          • Maybe we’ll trade for Frankie mid-season. Now wouldn’t that be a hoot?! We had buyers remorse with Neise so it wouldn’t be w/o precedent.

  15. I believe you can make a case that Trevor Williams is one of best options for the bullpen. He has the depth of innings to be the long man, and that with upside that he could lock it down not just finish it.
    Also he’s got some filthy stuff! 95 as a starter could play up out of the pen, and he’s got good ground ball #’s… he’s better than Bastardo, and Hughes isn’t he?

  16. Hutchison doesn’t sound very promising, sounds like the second coming Morton and Locke. Do we really need a No. 5 who gets clobbered with regularity and can’t last through 4 innings? I’d rather see Brault!

    • That is kind of the definition of a #5 starter. Someone that is going to get hit around on occasion, but someone you hope to get 5 innings out of.

  17. I would like on lefty starter but with so many in the bullpen I would be fine with an all righty starting 5. Kinda worried about Watson’s struggles from what I read

  18. Brault and Williams need to have the type of year in AAA this year that Kuhl had last year to merit serious consideration for the starting roster. Same could be said for Kingham, but Kingham seems more likely to achieve it.

  19. As much as we are dying to see Glasnow in the rotation, I like the idea of Hutchinson getting a chance to start the season. As long as Tyler is up within the first couple months of the year, not June/July (if he’s ready).

    • If Glasnow proves he is MLB ready in AAA, and the club can improve if he is elevated there is no loss to the club by sending Hutch down to AAA when Glasnow is promoted.

  20. Trevor Williams’ Twitter game should give him the inside track.

    If nothing else, I would keep all 4 in AAA to start the year so that they can all get into a routine of pitching every 5th day. In the majors, they would likely only see 3 starts in April. It’s hard to stay sharp like that.

    I’m going to go far out on a limb and say Nick Kingham will provide more value to the Pirates this year than any of the 4 in this article, unless one or more of them are traded for a major league starter.

    • Kingham will likely be a September call up. His opportunity won’t come until an injury, Kuhl faltering, or a trade of Nova or Cole.

      • I don’t see it that way, but you could be correct. I see Kingham as a guy that will be available around the All Star break, possibly sooner. IMO he has the highest floor of anyone in the article, and Glasnow is the only one with a higher ceiling.

        • I agree with your assessment of Kingham’s potential. I thought he performed better than Taillon prior to both of their injuries/ surgeries. However who is Kingham going to replace? Glasnow is ahead of him in the development cycle, and will replace Hutch by mid season. After that who does Kingham replace? Cole, Taillon, Nova, Kuhl? Kuhl maybe, if he slumps. Otherwise Kingham has to wait for September or an injury or trade.

          • Nick Kingham has to get some innings – 10 games, 46 IP in rehab mode in 2016 and 6 games and 24 IP were in the GCL. No need to rush him. TG cannot be rushed either.

            Clay Holmes is my darkhorse off of his 26 starts, 136 IP with AA Altoona in his full rehab year coming off TJ. Rough start, and then 4 high quality months of starts and impressive so far in ST.

            Or, do the Pirates look at this group and pick one or two who could be traded? Could a quality AAA+ SP be the essential add to possibly trade Josh Harrison?

            • I agree with the exact type trade you suggested, I’ve been saying since last August that Frazier should be starting at 2B & hitting 1st. Hanson, Osuna & unfortunately for 1 more year Jaso as bench until Kang situation gets settled

            • JT pitched 162 competitive innings last season after pitching 0 the previous 2 seasons. The fact that Kingham threw 46 innings last season would lead me to believe he wouldn’t have many limitations this year. Like Taillon, they may need to limit his innings early, and get creative with his rest days, but 160 innings shouldn’t be out of the question for him.

              Holmes could be another option, but I don’t believe he is quite on the same level as Kingham.

          • Kuhl, honestly, slots more favorably as mid to long reliever than he does a s a starter. I would think that by the ASG break you’ll see both Glasnow and kingham, and Hutch will be a depth guy in AAA until he goes elsewhere.

            I have absolutely NO CONFIDENCE at all in Hutch, Brault or Williams, so they’d better hope Glasnow and Kingham get it together by the break.

    • If you think that the four candidates Tim mentions are the four best starting pitchers after Cole, Taillon, Nova, and Kuhl, and you keep all of them in AAA to get into the routine of pitching every 5th day, then you’re basically giving those three starts in April to your 9th-best starting pitcher. I don’t see the wisdom in that.

      • Not exactly what I was saying. You can bring any of the 4 up to make the start on their scheduled day. I just thought it would be wise to keep them all on a 5 day cycle instead of having them be on a long reliever schedule for a month.

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