Prospect Roundtable: Starting Pitchers in Pittsburgh

Mitch Keller and Roansy Contreras are the best long-term starting pitchers the Pittsburgh Pirates have in the upper levels.

Mike Burrows and Quinn Priester are the best starting pitching prospects the Pirates have in the upper levels.

For this edition of Prospect Roundtable, we're going to assume that all four of those pitchers reach their upsides, or at least give the Pirates a solid #1-4 in their rotation. That's a huge assumption, considering the attrition rates of pitching prospects. I told everyone this week to assume away on those four players, and pick the starting pitcher who could round out the MLB rotation.

The catch? You can only pick a pitcher from Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, or Altoona.
I really like this question because there's not an obviou...



Pirates Prospects has been independently covering the Pittsburgh Pirates and their farm system since 2009. All of our content on this site -- a site that features no advertisements and only our content -- is made possible from subscriptions. Your support allows this unique media company to continue doing what we do best -- and as an added bonus, you'll get to read the rest of this article. Learn more about a Pirates Prospects subscription.

If you're already a member, you can log in below. If you think you're receiving this message in error, please check your account page to verify your subscription status.

Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Right now Brubacker might be the best pirate starter. So I will give him the fifth spot in the rotation of the future. What the Pirates lack is an established player or two that are leaders. Someone who will challenge the kids when they make a stupid mistake. It is called leadership which they currently lack. The Pirates also need that from the manager, coaches, GM and ownership. It is truly unacceptable as to how bad this team has been over the last twenty plus years. Fingers are pointed but no one stands up and says it is my fault by what I failed to do. They were winners when they had A.J. Burnett who came from the Yankees a winning only organization. So why not try to repeat that approach?


Can anybody contact Tim on my behalf. My MasterCard was charged for premium service back in March. I lost access to premium content in May. My account doesn’t show any payment made, but I have my PayPal receipt/notification. I have tried to contact Tim that I don’t have access to premium content many times with no response. I have tried both direct email and through the website.


Same situation for me.


I’m not even sure the Bucs will ever have a decent starting rotation in my lifetime. Across MLB, the quality of starting pitching has dropped off a cliff since the last time Bucs were in the post-season. At that time the Pirates had a rotation of Cole, Burnett, Liriano, Happ, Morton, Locke. It was the 6th or 7th best rotation in MLB. That staff delivered quality starts 57% of the time, with an average game score of 54.

In 2015, the MLB average for quality starts was 50%, and the average game score was 52, so the Pirates’ staff was decently above average that year. Fast forward to 2022 and the percent of quality starts has dropped to 36% while the average game score remains at 52. And the Pirates’ staff is embarrassingly below those averages.

To put this in perspective, in 2015, that squad’s worst starter, Jeff Locke, had a higher % of quality starts than JT Brubaker has this season. In other words, the current club arguably doesn’t even have a solid #3 starter.

Using average game score Brubaker (50), Keller (48.2) and Thompson (44.4) are all below league average starters. At least Keller has slightly exceeded league average for QS% at 38%. Brubaker is at 30%, Thompson at 10%.

I’m using QS and game score for a purpose. Instead of looking at FIP or K/BB or velocity or other stats for “ceiling” or “potential”, I find QS/GS valuable indicators of guys you can rely on more often than not. Even if BC’s plan relies on short starting stints and a strong bullpen, you still need a starter or two to take the pressure off the pen on a fairly regular basis. Even the Rays are just below league average in QS% at 34% (mostly due to McClanahan), while the Bucs sit at 22%, ahead of only the Nats.

Maybe Priester will be the Bucs’ McClanahan. I hope so. But unless Keller becomes more consistent, the Bucs don’t have a reliable #2 . I don’t think anyone else, including Brubaker, Burrows and Contreras, are more than back end starters. History tells us that the guys who can eat innings while keeping the team in the game (e.g. delivering regular QS) are beyond Nutting’s pocketbook.

I’d like to be enthusiastic about the Pirates competing in this decade, but don’t see how this franchise is going to compete in the near future without signing at least one bonafide FA starter.


I’m seeing more and more people say they see Roansy as nothing more than a back of the rotation starter….I’m not sure where that’s coming from. Is it just b/c he got sent down so out of sight out of mind? He’s got 1-2 stuff with high velocity and movement and he seems to not be stubborn and wants to learn how to pitch.


I will say that I think the effects of the pandemic season have had a substantial effect on starting pitchers. Teams basically lost a whole season of innings, so that throws it all off kilter.

Of course the Bucs rotation is still dog crap, so that doesn’t have as much of an effect for them.


If we specify “rotation at the start of the season” then Contreras, Burrows, and Priester won’t be there in ’23 but possibly in ’24. However, then Keller and Brubaker are no longer locks. Both will be in their second arb year and both at ages (Brubaker 30, Keller 28) where we’d no longer expect development. I.e., the window for Priester, Brubaker, and Keller to be part of the same rotation is pretty narrow, unless we extend Brubaker and/or Keller (which isn’t a bad idea given the cost to acquire even mid-rotation starters).


Having read the article and all the comments, I notice there are no left-handed starting pitching prospects anywhere in the system except for Solometo. I know I’m ‘beating a dead horse’ with the left-handed/right-handed ‘schtick’ but it’s glaringly obvious. I recognize a few ‘lefties’ were added in this year’s draft, but it’s taken too long to fill that hole. It’s similar to the catching void finally addressed in 2021. The Pirates play 82 games each year in a ballpark whose layout favors left-handed hitters. To neutralize opponents from ‘loading-up’ their batting orders with lefties, left-handed pitchers are needed. Can we develop them … is a different matter. Note: This is a pitching conversation so I’m avoiding writing of the lack of right-handed hitting prospects needed to have a balanced offense, but then there’s the development issue with that too.


I never understood why the front office has not emphasized lefty starters more over the years. It’s clear that there is an advantage. The other thing I would kick around is moving the fences back and making pnc a true pitcher’s park. The Pirates will never get power hitters in free agency so why not neutralize opponents power. Baltimore did this and look what happened to their pitching staff. They have nearly 1 run difference at home.


As for lefty pitching, it seems important to sign or trade for a lefty starter this offseason. Maybe it will be Quintana, though I might need to root for him to struggle down the stretch so he doesn’t price himself out of our salary range. The ideal would be to trade a couple of our prospects from positions of depth for an MLB-ready lefty.


The lack of lefty hitters is one reason I liked the acquisition of Nunez. In fact that Altoona lineup offers hope for better balance in the future–Alvarez, Davis, Gonzales, Gorski, Nunez, Peguero, Rodriguez, and Triolo all look like future major leaguers.


I’d love to see this done with our batting, As of today, I see in two years(2024):
C – Endy
1b – Davis
2b – Bae (unless Nick G can fix his swing issues)
SS – Cruz ( not a huge Peguero fan at present)
3b – Hayes
LF – Swaggerty
CF – Reynolds
RF – Gorski / Suwinski platoon
DH – Mitchell.

Tbh, I am not bullish on any of my OF Picks (and DH) other than BRey nor am I sold on Cruz at this point, on being much more than a .225 hitter with some pop.

So, btwn this article and my little treatise on our batters, I find it hard to believe that we will be a .500 ball club in 2024. And we KNOW that McNutt ain’t shopping anywhere but the Thrift Store so forget about getting quality there.


It’s just so difficult to build an entire lineup from in-house players that we should assume a couple of those spots get filled via trades and/or FA signings. If there is any substance to Cherington’s comments about urgency, then we should see some upgrades to the lineup from outside the organization this offseason. And I agree with you, that the obvious place for those upgrades would be the OF.

Also, a DH platoon of Mitchell and Nunez might be pretty effective though either could earn their way to everyday status.


Newman is currently a better SS and hitter. With Cruz’s attitude that he does not need to keep learning and lack of focus at times, he needs to go AAA to learn these lessons. Reynolds is a LF, TSwags is the CF options. Otherwise, good evaluation.


Just like NH needed reclamation projects like AJ and Frankie, Ben is also going to need at least one or more. Like the rest say below, our development team has been underwhelming at best.

If only Ben was still in Boston and could go out and buy a few pitchers.

Last edited 1 month ago by leefieux

I think they can get Q back after the year by signing him as free agent for next year with 2 year contract.


Now that he has been in St Louis, THEY may want him back. And we won’t win THAT battle.


Brubaker is a lock to be in the rotation. It’s not even a discussion.

The discussion should be on how he broke out this year. Bru has a 3.68 FIP and will be over 2.5 fWAR. There’s quite a bit of value in a starter like Brubaker and it feels like he gets dismissed.

Rob Baran

Yeah everyone seems to think he’s a 5, yet the dude’s putting up stats like a #3 for months now. If Brubaker ends up being our 5th, gonna be a stacked rotation IMO.


The last paragraph captures my believe on this matter, we could only dream that Brubaker will be a 5th starter, but in reality he might be a 3 or better without much improvement.

Last edited 1 month ago by PirateRican21
Anthony Murphy

It’s no surprise that our first consensus roundtable pick is the 🐐 himself


Over the last few weeks, one thing has become painfully obvious: the early enthusiasm about the change in philosophy or personnel in the Pirates’ development of prospects has disappeared. Call it cynicism or call it looking at the pitiful statistics but all the air has been let out of the farm system balloon over the past couple months.

Can we only hope that this year has been an outlier and that the big names will generally turn it around? Or is this just the realization that failure to spend money on the big league roster has repercussions all down through the system?


I gave BC a few years to fix the development issues and all I’ve seen this year is the same problems we had with NH. Supposedly everything has be revamped and yet we see prospect after prospect come up and struggle. Some struggles of course are expected but these guys look lost.

Wilbur Miller

It’s more the growing realization that these guys are incompetent.

Spending two years watching hitters at Bradenton struggle severely with swing decisions, and watching pitchers with good stuff there and in the FCL make no progress with their control problems, has been sobering.


Then drink more beer. Or whatever they serve down there. I at least hope it is a fun atmosphere. The Charleston River Dogs at least provide a good time where I live.


I’m sure the elimination of lots of the complex leagues didn’t help. Do you think a lot of guys are in Bradenton who wouldn’t have been there before the elimination of those leagues? Not absolving this regime of anything, but I wonder if other teams have seen this issue too.

Wilbur Miller

The fact that we all agreed on Brubaker shows how few options this FO has managed to develop in three years.


I have always regretted that I can never find anything positive to say about the Pirates. Now I have finally found something positive.
This franchise positively stinks.

Most Voted Comments

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x