There’s No Room in the Pen: Upper Minors Pitching is Crowded for the Pirates

ALTOONA, Pa. – On Tuesday afternoon, the Pirates made a very peculiar move in releasing Curve reliever Buddy Borden. The name might not jump off the paper to everyone, but Borden was in the middle of a fantastic season at Double-A, including a 2.37 ERA and .187 batting average against in 38 innings.

Borden was drafted by the Pirates in 2013 in the seventh round out of UNLV. He pitched extremely well in Jamestown and West Virginia in 2013 and 2014 before being sent to the Tampa Bay Rays as the player to be named later in the Sean Rodriguez deal. Borden struggled due to control problems in 2016, and the Rays released him in June. The Pirates signed him later in the month, and he continued to struggle; however, they moved him up to Altoona anyway.

This season, the results have been night and day. Yes, he still struggled with control, but his strikeout numbers were back, and his WHIP was manageable. Altogether, he had the fourth best BAA in the Eastern League and was a key part of the Curve bullpen.

That all came to a screeching halt on Tuesday afternoon when Yeudy Garcia was to be reinstated from the disabled list, and the Curve needed to make a corresponding move to make room. The Pirates decided to release Borden.

“He wasn’t going to get the innings that he was needing the rest of the way,” Manager Michael Ryan said.

The organization was deciding between putting Borden on the phantom disabled list or releasing him. Even if Borden did find a way to remain on the active roster, he would’ve been buried on the depth chart and only pitched if the team was “seven up or seven down.” As Ryan would call it, he would’ve been a part of the “touchdown club.”

“It wasn’t fair for Buddy Borden, for everything that he’s done for us, to sit on the phantom DL for the rest of the year,” Ryan said. “He probably wouldn’t have gotten off unless five or six pitchers got hurt. We wanted to give him to opportunity to go somewhere else and sign rather.”

So, how does an organization get to the point where they are releasing a Double-A pitcher with a 2.37 ERA and the fourth best BAA in the league? It’s easy how they get to that point, says Ryan.

“Because of the prospects that will be coming here that are priority bullpen guys that need to get those innings before Buddy Borden.”

Now is the time of year where you begin to see a lot of movement within a minor league system. There are at least four pitchers who are deserving of a promotion to Altoona from Bradenton, and those moves will begin in the very near future. The guys who highlight the Bradenton group right now are Mitch Keller and Pedro Vasquez from the rotation, and Daniel Zamora and Seth McGarry from the bullpen.

Those moves typically occur around the same time that players from Altoona are being sent to Triple-A; however, there isn’t much of that happening this year. There are some arms that are probably very deserving of a look in Indianapolis — Montana DuRapau, Miguel Rosario, and possibly a starter or two (Alex McRae or Austin Coley) — but the chances of multiple guys from Altoona moving to Indianapolis seem low based on the number of arms the Pirates currently have on their upper minor league teams.

This is all one big ripple effect that stems from the majors. Francisco Cervelli being activated from the disabled list from his concussion sent Edgar Santana back to Indianapolis. With Santana reporting, Casey Sadler was sent down from Indianapolis, as Brian Peloza reported yesterday, while detailing a similar issue in Indianapolis.

“He has to get more consistent work,” Indianapolis manager Andy Barkett said to Brian Peloza. “We’re loaded right now. We’re trying to find innings for guys and it’s difficult. A guy that is coming off Tommy John needs to pitch consistently and it’s hard to get him consistent innings in the spot we’re in right now.”

Other moves will need to be made to make additional room once Dan Runzler is activated from the disabled list for the Indians. You can also note that this situation was compounded due to the four pitchers who have recently returned from Tommy John surgery (Kingham, Cumpton, Sanchez, and Sadler) all coming back around the same time. In other words, there just simply aren’t enough innings to go around in Altoona or Indianapolis right now.

Of course, this all could change if the Pirates choose to look at the Triple-A club to strengthen their major league team. If, for example, Tony Watson is traded and Antonio Bastardo is sent far away, that opens up two spots for players to be brought up. There is also the chance that the Pirates could find a way to bring up Steven Brault, who is absolutely pitching lights out in Indy.

All of these scenarios are just thoughts and ideas, and we have no idea what the Pirates will ultimately decide to do. However, there is a real lack of innings for pitchers right now between Double-A and Triple-A. Under these current circumstances, it would not surprise me at all to see someone traded or another player released in the very near future. If it wasn’t for his injury, Mitch Keller would’ve already knocked down the door to be a staple in the Double-A rotation, and he isn’t far off right now anyway.

Current Triple-A Starters
Steven Brault
Drew Hutchison
Tyler Eppler
Nick Kingham
Tyler Glasnow
Clay Holmes

Current Triple-A Relievers
Johnny Barbato
Dovydas Neverauskas
Edgar Santana
A.J. Schugel
Josh Lindblom
Brett McKinney
Angel Sanchez

Current Double-A Starters
Alex McRae
Tanner Anderson
J.T. Brubaker
Austin Coley
Cody Dickson

Current Double-A Relievers
Montana DuRapau
Miguel Rosario
Tate Scioneaux
Sean Keselica
Jared Lakind
Luis Heredia
Yeudy Garcia
Brandon Cumpton
Jake Brentz

  • Would you “trade” Bastardo for Borden? I think I would. Release Bastardo and let the effects ripple and keep a promising young arm.

  • Yeah, that Altoona bullpen…ummm…seeing the names listed like that…I see the “problem!”

  • Keller may push into AA rotation but no one from AA rotation is pushing anyone from AAA rotation. It’s a pretty big step up into that group IMO.

  • justinblain1996
    July 6, 2017 2:05 pm

    If it was up to me, I wouldn’t release another minor league pitcher(like Borden) before seeing what you can do on the trade market first, if you can get a return for the major league players that frees up room for the minor leaguers to move up and open opportunities for others. I agree with others though, they should delay the inevitable and DFA Bastardo.

  • Pirates can go in one of a thousand different directions it seems this month. From having a fire sale of Cole, Cutch, JHay, etc. to holding onto those guys and just ridding themselves of FA’s to be who have trade value, to trading from SP depth to add ML ready bat(s) and/or bullpen arms.

    Regardless, this month will keep Tim and his staff working long hours and us fans very interested in how NH and his team navigate these waters.

    Shoul be fun. Guaranteed to be raucous!

    • The most productive thing that this club could do post-deadline is figure out what they actually have in all these arms.

      They clearly need massive bullpen help behind Rivero, and Brault/Hutch/Holmes/Glas/Kingham/Eppler/Sadler aren’t all going to be Major League starters. Hell, they’ll be luck to get 2 out of that bunch.

      • Scott Kliesen
        July 7, 2017 8:16 am

        No time like the present to get started. Promote either TG or SB and DFA Bastardo to get ball rolling.

  • Not to be “that guy”, but “per se” means “by itself”, or intrinsically. Pretty much the exact opposite of what you are trying to say about deals being interlocked. You wanted “for example”.

    It is puzzling that the MLB bullpen is so shallow, but there are all these guys in the minors who are too valuable to promote other guys past. I guess it ties into DK’s article the other day about the widening gap between AAA and MLB.

  • so in other words, the Pirates has trade pieces to potentially add to the MLB roster. Do a deal!!!!

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    July 6, 2017 11:50 am

    A very strange move – but, its the Pirates. Given his age and performance in AA, you would think the Pirates could move him to Indy and jettison Barbato or Schugel, who are both sub-par relievers with limited futures in Pittsburgh.

    • WillyMoGarcia33
      July 6, 2017 12:31 pm

      So, you want to ship out a soon to be 25 yr old in AAA (and some MLB experience) with control problems, for another 25 yr old in AA (never pitched above AA) with, arguably worse, control problems? How exactly would you figure that Borden’s future is any higher than Barbato’s to warrant such a move? Sounds to me that you just hate Barbato, to the point your hatred is above reason.

      • There are some who find fault with any and every move made by organization. Don’t try to fight em with logic and reason, it has no effect on them.

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD
        July 6, 2017 2:13 pm

        “Sounds to me that you just hate Barbato, to the point your hatred is above reason.”

        Are you serious? Unbelievable…..

    • A very strange comment – but it’s BuccosFanStuckinMD.

      Maybe not so strange after all.

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD
        July 6, 2017 2:15 pm

        You are so clever Scott…can’t argue on reason, so resort to junior high nonsense….grow up

  • Can’t include him in a single trade? So invaluable he is released.
    What the hell is wrong with this GM.
    Either Bordens stats are so irrelevant or his league is or the quality of our players is viewed as shit even when they excel.
    It’s crazy.

    • WillyMoGarcia33
      July 6, 2017 12:33 pm

      He’s a 25 yr old reliever in AA with control problems. Was released by the Rays just last year. Where would you conclude that his release is indicative of a weak system?

    • The antiquated use of ERA and BAA in this article was done to justify a point Sean was trying to make.

      Would anyone bat an eye if the article was about releasing a 25 yo reliever walking 15% of the batters he faces while posting an xFIP of 4.72 in his second turn through AA?

      • Ok mr Know shit as usual.
        Last year a level Lower Borden was tossing a 1.6 or so whip and an ERA about 6.
        A level higher this year a whip at 1.3 and and ERA at 2.
        ANY other player gets the improved this and that with recognition.
        25 is irrelevant when you just brought Sadler and Cumpton back to AA also.
        Sorry if I disagree on who is a release candidate but I’d have dumped/ attempted find crazy taker for Bastardo first – then bring the 25 yr old who is actually showing improvement this year up to AAA to take spot of an actual contributor like Brault or another who will actually help the major league club.
        Then he’s a level up and can prove if he can get the job done… nope released for nothing. Because dropping assets for nothing is how NH shows ineptitude. Again. Maybe it’s better he released him than trade away better prospects ala Liriano again.
        BMTIB strikes again.

        • WillyMoGarcia33
          July 6, 2017 3:12 pm

          That 5.9 BB/9 in AA, at 25 yrs old, must really have people salivating.

        • Sadler and Cumpton are still coming back from TJ surgery so getting innings for them is more important right now than what level they pitch at. Also Buddy Borden getting released isn’t more than footnote worthy to me. Too old for his level and putting up mediocre secondary numbers aka a dime a dozen.

      • Sean McCool
        July 6, 2017 8:23 pm

        I do agree that the use of those stats was about making a point. However, how often do you see an organization release a guy with those kinds of numbers, no matter how many walks he has thrown? The Pirates are all about their minor league teams contending and releasing a guy that has gotten results is not something I’ve seen. In my few years doing this, I honestly have not seen a similar move.

    • meatygettingsaucy
      July 6, 2017 2:09 pm

      I’ll be that guy.


  • why is the current Pirate bullpen holding these guys back? Oh year, I know clint won’t use them unless they have 3+ years of major league experience. Well we can all see what the result of that has been.

    • It’ll be worked out by the end of the month. Watson and Nicasio will be moved for B level prospects. Bastardo will be released or moved for a C level prospect with the Pirates eating some salary.

      • I don’t see what the holdup is. As you note, Bastardo likely will be released, so why delay the inevitable?
        IMO, Nicasio will bring more than Watson.

        • Nicasio more than likely will be the 2nd best piece they move at the deadline after Cutch.

    • How much experience does Rivero have ?

  • Why do I sense a Bastardo and Eppler for Drew Hutchison trade….

    • More than likely if they want rid of Bastardo’s salary they are going to have to pair an asset with him.

      • Eric Marshall
        July 6, 2017 3:20 pm

        Right. i believe Hop is saying including Eppler is the asset inclusion.

  • I know you guys will jump on me for this suggestion but Cole is NOT going to resign. Trade him for a right fielder, 3rd base, bottom line….BATS!!! that will get Steve Brault into the rotation!!

    • I don’t think trading Cole and Brault getting a rotation spot should be mutually exclusive. I honestly think he should get Kuhl’s spot now.

  • Time for some quantity for quality type trades with an organization with a relatively barren system.

  • Bastardo should be sent to the Kingdom of Far, Far Away. ASAP!

  • Those arms are currency, and there’s a lot of ML-ready/experienced pitchers in Indy that some contending team might want. They should be able to move a couple this month, maybe pick up a bat or two in exchange?

    • Contending teams generally want *good* players.

      • What do you mean “generally?”

      • If NH really believes Bucs are still in this thing, I’d like to see NH pry Todd Frazier away from CWS. The Pale Hose are loaded with arms at AAA and lower levels, but not much at AA. They don’t have much incentive to hold onto Frazier and other than the Red Sox, there’s not much of a market for 3b. They lose Swarzak to FA, so perhaps a package led by Santana and including some other “excess” arms might be interesting to them.

  • There is lots of room for relievers at the top of the organizational pyramid.

  • WillyMoGarcia33
    July 6, 2017 10:50 am

    I’d like to see them look to Nats or Rangers in moving Nicasio and Watson. I feel they could generate a solid return from the Nats (Rivero/Hearn 2.0?) for Nicasio. I could then see Eppler becoming a 1 for 1 swap like Sampson and Duncan, due to numbers game. Then, just do something with Bastardo. Eat his contract, or trade him for David Whitehead.

  • meatygettingsaucy
    July 6, 2017 10:45 am

    The one I’m excited about is Jake Brentz. Saw him a couple days ago and the fastball/off speed combo is electric. Control needs some work but kid has monster upside as a reliever.

  • If I were GM for a day I would release Lindblom, Runzler and Barbato. The former two will be minor league free agents at the end of the year and there is no reason why either should be called up ahead of younger players given how things are going this season in the majors. Barbato, meanwhile, seems very unlikely to stick on the 40 man roster through the off season. In AA both Lakind and Heredia are pending minor league free agents and both are having poor seasons as well. So that is another two spots to play with. And the log jam is no more. Now back to my normal role as a fan.

    • Sean McCool
      July 6, 2017 10:56 am

      I very highly doubt they release Heredia. That’s the one name in there that sticks…

      • Keslicia is missing from the AA relievers. Maybe he’s being converted to a PH? He was actually a good hitter in college.

      • You are probably correct, although he has already been given way more opportunities then he should have because of the big bonus he signed for.

      • Anyone who does not project to be protected in the upcoming rule 5 or is an impending free agent is a probably a candidate to be released. Seems to me that Heredia falls into that category.

      • Why? Because of the bonus they gave him way back when?

        • It’s easy to forget that Heredia is not even 23 y.o. yet. But, he has done very little to fulfill his potential. All in all, I don’t see any reason to keep him in the system.

          • Probably best for all parties if he was allowed to ply his trade elsewhere. With Pirates, he’ll never get out from under the cloud of his enormous signing bonus. And he has virtually zero chance of every producing any kind of return on that investment.

  • I would rather see Santana back with the Pirates than watch some of the current roster struggle. At least he looks like he has potential to be better.

  • This headline is so easy to pick at. I would think there are a lot of opportunities at the very top of the system thus eliminating some of the log jam but then again what do I know.

    • Sean McCool
      July 6, 2017 10:30 am

      There are a few options for movement, but there really is a log jam of arms, especially considering the pitchers who should be arriving from Bradenton soon.

      • Considering the Pirates could move 6 pitchers from Indy to the majors and probably be a better major league team, there probably isn’t as big of a log jam as the article suggest. Granted, there is one, but it is self inflicted.

    • IC Bob–

      Probably a lot more than the BMTIB, which isn’t.