Williams: How Will the Pirates’ Roster Moves Impact the Prospects?

BRADENTON, Fla. – It’s hard to project the rosters for the upper levels of the minors. I go through the process every offseason, mostly to get a feel for where the Pirates have depth, and which players might be blocked. It’s hard to predict at that point, due to the fact that a lot of the upper level placements will be determined by the MLB roster, with the MLB roster having yet to take shape.

Now that Spring Training is underway, we’re getting a good feel for the shape of the roster. There are still a few position battles to be finalized, but it’s a bit easier to determine how the upper levels will play out.

To get a feel for the impact of the final MLB roster decisions, I wanted to take another look at the upper-level projected teams and see which assignments might be affected the most by the trickle down from the MLB moves.

The Rotation

When I wrote about the Indianapolis rotation back in November, it looked like a crowded group with up to ten possible starters. The group as I saw it would include guys from the following mix of pitchers:

Tyler Glasnow, Steven Brault, Clay Holmes, Nick Kingham, JT Brubaker, Brandon Waddell, Tyler Eppler, Alex McRae, Austin Coley, Tanner Anderson

It’s now looking like Glasnow and Brault will make the MLB bullpen at the least, which removes them from the mix. Tanner Anderson was questionable to make it as a starter, and his usage as an MLB extra in Spring Training signals that he is unlikely to pitch in a big role this year, since the Pirates typically don’t have their best prospects serving as regular extras.

Tyler Eppler made a start in the first Spring Training game, but told me that his next appearance will be in relief. He moved to the bullpen at the end of last year, and it looks like he will return to that role this year.

That leaves six pitchers for the Indianapolis rotation, and I could see all of them working into the mix. Clay Holmes and Nick Kingham are definitely in the rotation. I’d put Alex McRae in that group as well, considering that the Pirates thought enough of him to give him an invite to MLB Spring Training. JT Brubaker, Brandon Waddell, and Austin Coley would be the final candidates.

I anticipate Indianapolis to have six starters, with each starter getting skipped from time to time in order to pitch out of the bullpen. That process started last year, and I’ve been told it will continue and might increase this year.

There wouldn’t be a trickle down to Altoona or the lower levels with the MLB moves, especially now that the Indianapolis rotation is down to six candidates, rather than ten.

The Infield

This is going to be an interesting situation to watch. My original look at Indianapolis had Kevin Newman at shortstop and Kevin Kramer at second base. Altoona’s projection had Mitchell Tolman at second base and Cole Tucker at shortstop. I also figured Max Moroff would make the MLB roster.

At this point, I could see Moroff going back down to Indianapolis, with Bryce Brentz winning the final bench spot. That would create a few scenarios.

Moroff could go to third base and bounce around the infield to get time. However, the Pirates will have Jose Osuna getting time at third base, along with Eric Wood and Erich Weiss. One of those guys could move to first base or the outfield, but the Pirates would probably want regular playing time for Moroff. They’d also want regular time for Osuna, Newman, and Kramer, with Wood, Weiss, and Chris Bostick in the mix.

There could be a possibility that they have all of those guys playing the infield and DH spots, while getting regular playing time. But I think a more likely scenario would have Kevin Kramer remaining in Altoona at the start of the year, with Moroff playing second and Newman playing short. Then Kramer would move up when a spot opened up for him.

That wouldn’t have any implications on the Altoona roster, since Tolman is suspended for the first 50 games of the season.

The Outfield

The outfield didn’t have the same crunch as the infield, but does have some guys heading down due to recent moves. Austin Meadows was expected to go to Indianapolis, but Jordan Luplow is now expected to be there as well. Jose Osuna could also factor into the outfield mix, especially if the Pirates want Kevin Kramer in Triple-A. Chris Bostick, Todd Cunningham, Daniel Nava, and Barrett Barnes could also factor into the mix off the bench. Eric Wood has also received some playing time in the outfield, which could allow him to get extra at-bats if the infield is crowded.

The Altoona group won’t see much of an impact from the Spring Training moves, but could see some interesting decisions from the trades. Jason Martin and Bryan Reynolds were added to the organization in the Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen deals, and should both go to Altoona. They would join guys like Elvis Escobar, Logan Hill, Ty Moore, Jordan George, and a few other guys who project as bench options.

Reynolds and Martin would get priority, with Escobar, Hill, and Moore probably rotating between the final outfield spot, the DH spot, and the bench. There’s not much of a crunch in the Altoona infield, so the DH spot would be open to the outfielders.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Tim – Do you see a trade coming from the starting pitchers this year? I think the roster is about set (sorry Moroff, Osuna) for now. If Harrison goes in July, I could see one of Eppler/Kingham/Brault going too. What do you think? (I am highest on keeping Kingham)

David Lewis

One thing I think the Pirates should do more of is to stash “veteran MiL depth” guys (like Nava and Cunningham) in Altoona if they need to make space in AAA for guys who they want to face AAA competition for development. It doesn’t matter to Nava’s readiness to fill a ML vacancy whether he’s crushing AA pitching or facing slightly higher-quality AAA pitchers, but he shouldn’t be taking a single AAA PA away from guys like Meadows, Luplow, and maybe even Barnes or Bostick.

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