A few weeks ago I wrote about the blocked hitting prospects in the Pirates’ minor league system, noting that Keon Broxton, Jose Osuna, and Chase Simpson all looked like guys who should be moved up a level. Since that article, two of those three have moved up, with Simpson being the only one left behind (it’s still hard to picture a spot for him in Bradenton, at least until Jin-De Jhang moves to Altoona).
There is a similar situation going on right now with the pitchers throughout the system. There are guys who might be deserving of a call-up to the next level, but the amount of pitching depth the Pirates have is currently preventing that from happening. Let’s look at each rotation, and see what is holding them back.
Rotation: Wilfredo Boscan, Clayton Richard, Casey Sadler, Adrian Sampson, Chris Volstad
Complicating Matters: Jameson Taillon should join this mix by the end of the month.
Guys Deserving of a Promotion: All of them could be used for MLB depth throughout the year, and the first four look like they’re ready now.
What’s Holding Them Back? The third-best rotation in baseball. And before you suggest replacing Jeff Locke, that’s not happening, and it’s unlikely any of these guys would provide an immediate upgrade over Locke’s xFIP. Taillon could eventually, but he’s not ready yet. An injury would need to take place, or continued struggles from Locke, in order to see a call up.
Rotation: Matt Benedict, Jason Creasy, Zack Dodson, Chad Kuhl, Angel Sanchez
Complicating Matters: Tyler Glasnow will eventually return and take back his spot from Benedict. We posted an update on his status today.
Guys Deserving of a Promotion: The Pirates typically give their starters a full season in Altoona before a promotion. So I doubt Creasy and Kuhl would be moving up this year, unless it’s the end of the year and Indianapolis is in the playoffs, with Altoona sitting at home. Angel Sanchez and Zack Dodson would be the leading candidates, since they’ve spent time at the Double-A level over multiple seasons, and both are putting up good numbers this year.
What’s Holding Them Back? Even if an injury takes place in the majors, the Altoona starters would need another long-term spot opening up in Indianapolis, since Taillon will be giving the Indians a sixth starter soon. At some point during the season the Pirates could move someone like Volstad or Boscan to the bullpen to create an extra rotation spot for a prospect to move up and get his feet wet at the Triple-A level.
Rotation: Jayson Aquino, Steven Brault, Cody Dickson, Frank Duncan, Luis Heredia
Complicating Matters: Tyler Eppler and Clay Holmes will be joining the level in the next few weeks.
Guys Deserving of a Promotion: The Pirates have given some promotions mid-season, but that usually comes with their top pitching prospects. Last year they didn’t promote anyone from the Glasnow/Creasy/Kuhl/Kuchno group, although part of that might have been due to the team making a playoff run, which currently isn’t happening with this Bradenton team in the first half. I could see Aquino moving up, as he’s spent some time at the level before this year. I could also see him as a candidate to lose his rotation spot when Eppler and Holmes arrive. Steven Brault would be the other candidate to move up. He had a rough start to the season, but put up a 2.06 ERA in 39.1 innings through his last appearance before tonight’s start.
What’s Holding Them Back? Most of the Altoona guys aren’t moving up, either because they are getting experience at the level, or because they’re blocked by the guys ahead of them. It was a similar case last year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if these guys go a level per year, just like Creasy and Kuhl.
West Virginia Power
Rotation: Colten Brewer, Austin Coley, Yeudy Garcia, Alex McRae, Stephen Tarpley
Complicating Matters: There are several piggyback candidates, such as Dovydas Neverauskas, Jose Regalado, and John Sever.
Guys Deserving of a Promotion: I wrote earlier today that Austin Coley looks like a guy who should be pitching in Bradenton right now, although he’s currently blocked. Yeudy Garcia has been fantastic, and is older for the level, although I could see him sticking around in a more familiar environment all year, giving him a chance to adjust to the U.S. Stephen Tarpley has had limited time at the level, but has looked fantastic. I could see him staying all year, then having a shot at a mid-season promotion next year if he does well in Bradenton.
What’s Holding Them Back? None of the guys in Bradenton have a shot at moving up right now, and they’re about to add two starters.
The Overall “Problem”
The Pirates have a lot of pitching prospects, and quality pitching in the majors. I think any team in baseball would take this “problem”. Any team would take the current production from the MLB rotation, even without the pitching prospects in the minors.
The result here is that the Pirates don’t really have anyone who can move up until an injury takes place at a level. And even then, it would have to be long-term, since they’re not going to promote a bunch of pitchers for a few weeks. That’s not a scenario that you wish will play out.
To simplify this, the MLB team is blocking the guys in Triple-A, which is blocking some of the guys in Double-A. The Pirates usually keep their starters in Altoona for about 150 innings, so not all of the starters have a realistic shot to move up, which is blocking the guys in Bradenton. And since Bradenton will be adding two starters this month, the guys in West Virginia will remain blocked.
The Easy Solution
I wrote earlier this week about the prospects that the Pirates could afford to trade, noting that their biggest depth comes from their right-handed starting pitching prospects with back of the rotation upside. They will probably be adding to that in next week’s draft. You’re not likely to get a big upgrade by trading these types of guys, but you can get some key pieces.
The Pirates already got bullpen help for this year in a similar trade when they dealt Shane Carle for Rob Scahill. Last year they sent Kyle Haynes for Chris Stewart, who has been a very good backup catcher since joining the Pirates. The Antonio Bastardo trade hasn’t worked out as expected, although that’s another situation where a back of the rotation starter was traded (only that was a lefty, Joely Rodriguez). They traded Buddy Borden to get Sean Rodriguez, and while I felt Borden had a chance to be more than a back of the rotation guy, the Pirates aren’t exactly missing him due to all of their depth this year.
Granted, the Pirates got two lefties for Travis Snider, so you can’t say that the price of any addition is just one minor league starter. I really like the upside of Stephen Tarpley, and think Steven Brault has some interesting stuff, to the point where he could be a future starter in the majors. You could argue that the Pirates sold high on Snider to get that return, and I think you’d be right. But you’re probably not going to see many discounts at the trade deadline, so you could expect the same prices. Even if the Pirates had to trade two of their minor league starters for a bench or bullpen upgrade, it’s a move that would make sense.
Don’t get me wrong. The Pirates don’t need to fix this “problem”. The depth of minor league pitchers isn’t really hurting anything, and no one significant is losing innings. The guys who need to move up will eventually move up, even if that happens next year. And the goal here shouldn’t be struggling to finding a way to get a promotion for Pitcher A.
That said, if the Pirates have a chance to upgrade their active roster this summer, they have a great pool of pitching talent to trade from. It’s not going to land them Cole Hamels, but it might provide an upgrade to the bullpen or bench. That’s not going to provide a huge impact, but every little bit helps, especially when the Pirates wouldn’t miss any of the guys they’d be trading away in this scenario.