Pirates Are Set to Rely More on Their Prospect Depth in 2016

BRADENTON, Fl. – There was no shortage of prospects on the McKechnie Field mound today for the Black and Gold game. Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon highlighted the game by going up against each other, and were followed by Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, Trevor Williams, and John Holdzkom. But the question is when might we see these guys on the mound in PNC Park?

It’s pretty much a guarantee that Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon will need to start the year in Indianapolis. Glasnow needs improvements on dropping his curveball in for strikes, and improving his changeup, while Taillon needs to get adjusted to upper level hitting again. As for the other three, they’ve all got stuff to work on as well. So will any of these guys come up to the majors early in the season?

“That’s where a Kyle Lobstein [comes in],” Neal Huntington said today before the game. “Was a small trade, he’s been a Major League starting pitcher. We feel like there was more in ’14 than ’15, and we feel like we can get him healthy. [Juan] Nicasio is being stretched out in Spring Training. Because we’re not as comfortable that any of the guys coming from Double-A to Triple-A, or getting a little bit of Triple-A experience last year are going to be able to help us in April or May. Hopefully we’re wrong. But again, it comes back to readiness compared to need, and if we have a need early, that’s when Nicasio or Lobstein or [Wilfredo] Boscan or some of the other guys that we’ve signed come into play.”

Odds are that the Pirates would use Lobstein and Boscan in the Triple-A rotation at the start of the season, which means Brault and Williams might be bumped back down to Altoona at the start of the year. But that hasn’t stopped pitchers in the past from making the jump to the big leagues in that same season, with Jeff Locke being an example of a guy who started the year in Altoona and finished pitching in Pittsburgh.

One challenge here is that the Pirates are now contenders, as opposed to their position in late 2011 when Locke originally came up. That might make it more difficult for them to bring certain guys up, especially when you’re talking about Kuhl, Brault, and Williams, who are all behind two elite prospects in Glasnow and Taillon. Huntington is actually comfortable with giving guys more time in the minors, in order to avoid some growing pains in the majors.

“The longer we’ve given guys in the minor leagues, the smoother the transition has been,” Huntington said. “You look across the industry, there’s exceptions to every rule, but there’s a lot more guys that have been hurt by being pushed than guys that have been helped by being pushed. We need to be cognizant of that. We are now a playoff calibre team. There’s not as much room for growing pains at the Major League level, and that’s why we’re going to be as conservative as we can be.”

One thing is for sure though, the 2016 team will have a lot of opportunities for prospects to arrive in the majors. The Pirates not only have a great prospect rotation in Triple-A, but they have a lot of talented prospects in the infield and outfield. The infield is overloaded with guys like Alen Hanson, Max Moroff, Adam Frazier, Dan Gamache, Gift Ngoepe, and others who could have a future in the Majors. There’s also Josh Bell, who is expected to make his debut this year. The outfield adds Willy Garcia to that prospect mix.

“As we look at that Indianapolis projected roster, it’s a fun roster,” Huntington said. “It’s Pirates, or it’s guys who came to us earlier in their career via trades. Youth in Triple-A doesn’t always translate into wins, and we tried to let our group in Indianapolis know that. But for us, it is an exciting group, and you can look out and see Pirates most everywhere, and see guys that our scouts and development staff have done a nice job with. It also leaves us with some youth, and some guys that may make their debuts this year.”

Huntington mentioned the success that the Cardinals have had, noting that they have had young players ready to step in right away after an injury and do a good job. The Pirates have mostly relied on veterans and minor league free agents in the past for their depth, but they’re changing that approach this year, focusing on bringing up and using the younger guys as depth.

“As we’ve always said, we’re not going to use 25 players this year. It would be ideal if we did, but it’s not going to happen that way,” Huntington said. “And to have some guys that have come through our system, be ready to be on the verge of helping this Major League team, versus some of the external guys that we’ve brought in, in the past, it’s a good spot to be in as an organization.”

Nicasio’s Move to the Bullpen Might Help His Ability to Start

Huntington mentioned Juan Nicasio as an early season depth option for the rotation. Nicasio had a lot of success last year in the bullpen, but hasn’t had the same success in the past in the rotation, even if you remove the Coors Field impact in Colorado.

“He felt the changeup, the breaking ball both improved out of the bullpen,” Huntington said. “His focus improved, his intensity improved in terms of the realization, the importance of getting hitters out quickly. And the ability of being able to do that on one pitch, two pitches, and the benefit of how that allows him to get deeper into games.”

The Pirates believed that Nicasio might be able to channel his bullpen success into his role in the rotation, finding a way to pitch as a starter with his reliever mentality.

“We talked to him about taking the reliever mentality, inning-by-inning, and instead of trying to pace himself for seven innings, go be a reliever for seven one inning stints consecutively,” Huntington said. “We’ll see where he comes out. We’re excited about Ryan [Vogelsong] and Jeff [Locke], but as we’ve unfortunately experienced, pretty much every year here we’re going to need a sixth starter. And hopefully not by the end of Spring Training, but certainly by the end of May the odds are we’re going to need a sixth starter.”

Nicasio isn’t the most comfortable option for a sixth starter, especially with his track record. But if he does find success, he wouldn’t be the first starter-turned reliever who took what he learned in the bullpen and carried it back to the rotation for a much better result the second time around.

Other Notes

**Huntington mentioned that they’d be able to move Josh Harrison to third, if needed if Jung-ho Kang couldn’t return by Opening Day. He also might have tipped off the time frame when Kang could return.

“We’ll need to see where Kang is, as he progresses through. Are we thinking it’s closer to Opening Day, or closer to May 1st, and how long are we going to ask Josh to play third? We’re working Josh at second. The primary focus right now, do everything to make sure he’s comfortable there, with the hope that Kang’s going to be ready sooner than later. If Kang is ready later than sooner, we could make the adjustment.”

Kang returning at some point in April isn’t a surprise, since the injury update last week had that information. But Huntington and Hurdle have been talking more and more about having a plan if he’s ready for Opening Day, and another plan if he isn’t. That’s a good sign, as they aren’t totally ruling out that he might return for the start of the season. And based on his progression so far, it seems that he might be ready by that point.

**With all of the injuries to left-handed pitchers so far in camp, it looks like Eric O’Flaherty might have the inside track for a job in the bullpen if the Pirates go with two left-handers. That’s not a guarantee, as Clint Hurdle has said many times, but the Pirates do seem to like O’Flaherty a lot, and his ability to get back to where he was before 2015.

“Obviously on the surface, a tough year for Eric,” Huntington said. “One year back from Tommy John. Even as you talk to Eric, 2014, very different usage than 2015. 2016, we believe that he’ll be able to get back into not only quality use, but quality of stuff. Our guys saw the breaking ball, they saw the fastball command, they saw the deception. And again, surface numbers were what they were, but we thought some indicators were there and some stuff was there to give him a shot to come in and compete to make our club and help our club this year if things go well.”

  • Love seeing the top prospects honing their skills. And always fun watching them in spring training. Should be a fun and exciting year. I have seen pictures of Sanguillen. But did Maz or Bill Virdon come down this year? Any other former players come down to help out?

  • Tim, do you plan on having any analysts from the game?

  • Is there anywhere one might find a boxscore for today’s scrimmage? I expected there would be an article on it with more than just pictures.

    • I second the request for the box score. I will check espn.com’s scoreboard and mlb.com’s as well, where I have found box scores from past spring training games over the years. The espn scoreboard has the best chance of having it, based on my past seaches over the years. Also usatoday’s scoreboard is worth a check.

    • Oh, I think P2 will have stuff all night man. Gotta type.

      • Hope you are right – so far I am not feeling like a happy camper…
        If I need to go to Twitter and Instagram to get game coverage why would I subscribe to PP?

        • The 24 hour news cycle has spoiled you.

        • It takes time to transcribe interviews, upload photos and videos, put them into an article.

          Check out the article here https://www.piratesprospects.com/2016/02/glasnow-and-taillon-show-what-they-need-to-work-on-full-black-and-gold-coverage.html

        • I’m not posting this to call you out specifically, but posting just in case anyone has similar thoughts. If today disappointed you in terms of the article schedule, then you’re going to be disappointed a lot this Spring. Here is a rough rundown of how the day went surrounding the game (and it’s like this daily):

          Pre-11:00 – I knew we were going to be meeting with Neal Huntington, so was saving the morning article for that. The interview ended up being 11:45.

          11:45 – Interview with Huntington, where I had five questions to set up today’s articles, plus two more articles for this week.

          12:00 – Interview ends. Rush out to the field, coordinate with Sean (who just arrived at the stadium from the airport), and head up to the press box.

          First four innings – Mix between transcribing Huntington stuff, shooting video, running down to the field level to help Sean with some stuff, and posting to Twitter and Instagram. The reason you only see stuff there is because that’s all I’ve got time for during a game. I’m never in one place the entire time, and working on six different things. So I’ve got my phone in my hand, and I’m giving quick updates, which hold people over until the big updates come (these also help promote the site and draw in future subscribers).

          Mid-fourth inning – Head down to the clubhouse. At this point I’ve stopped watching the game, although Sean is out there still, and I can watch the CF cam in the clubhouse. Wait for Taillon and Glasnow for interviews.

          End of the game – Taillon and Glasnow aren’t ready yet. The media meets with Clint Hurdle, then we go back to talk with Glasnow, then Taillon.

          Next hour after the game – Sean and I work on getting interviews. Sean talks to Kuhl, I talk to Williams, then we get Brault, Bell, and Moroff together, with Sean videoing the interviews. Most of the media by that point has left the stadium, only going with the Glasnow/Taillon stuff.

          2:30-3:30 range – Sean works on editing photos. I upload videos to my computer while transcribing the rest of the Huntington 15 minute interview. I then start working on an article based on those quotes, which is relevant to the game today.

          3:30-4:30 range – Sean posts a photo article and I post the Huntington article. We hit a problem where we forgot to re-size a few of the images, they load way too slowly, and the site briefly crashes. It takes about 15 minutes to get everything fixed.

          4:30-6:00 – Sean transcribes the interviews from the locker room. I edit videos and upload them to YouTube, which is a long process to find the best highlights from the day and overlay them in the interviews. Sean finishes transcribing, and starts working on the Kuhl and Brault sections.

          6:00-7:00 – I work on the main part of the article, while Sean finishes his sections and starts transcribing other interviews for later in the week.

          7:30 – The article is posted, and we’re the last ones to leave McKechnie, beating everyone else by a few hours.

          We could have gone with just Taillon/Glasnow, but we also wanted stuff from Kuhl/Brault/Williams/Bell/Moroff. And that’s just who we were able to get (we almost missed Brault).

          We could have just typed articles, but we wanted to add videos. And we could have just done a few simple videos, but we went with eight videos, including three of them which combined interviews and highlights.

          If we would have done fewer interviews, fewer videos, and easier videos, then we’d have an article up probably by 3:30 or 4:00, getting us out 3.5-4 hours earlier. It would have also gotten you the articles earlier. But it would have been the same article that every single media outlet wrote today, only focused on the top two pitchers, and not anyone else (seriously, I may have missed it, but I don’t think anyone talked to any prospects outside of Taillon and Glasnow).

          I have a feeling this isn’t what you’re paying for though. You’re not paying for a subscription for us to do the quick coverage and write our version of what everyone else wrote. You’re paying for us to work an extra 3-4 hours and provide video and interviews with players who absolutely matter, but who no one else cares to talk to. But this process of going the extra mile(s) and trying to put the best article out there that we can means you aren’t getting this quick.

          Going forward, with Spring Training games started, you’ll get a morning article, maybe an early afternoon article, depending on the day and content, and then the next articles will be around 4-5 (MLB notes) and 7:00 (minor league daily game notes and videos). And most of the day will be spent with free updates on Twitter and Instagram, just because that’s all I’ll have time for while I’m running around getting coverage. And all of this is aimed at getting you the best coverage possible, and not an article that is just good enough and goes up quicker.

          As for box scores, the only place they keep them are in actual MLB Spring Training games. The media leaves for interviews mid-game, and the scorekeeper today didn’t have a box score, mostly because it wasn’t a real game. There won’t be box scores for the minor league games for the same reason, although sometimes I’ll have pitching lines.

    • There will be more from this game very soon.

    • There’s no box score.

  • Trevor Anthony Williams.

  • I prefer Nicasio over Vogelsong. But, I am not comfortable with either.

    • If Vogelsong can pitch to a .500 record while he’s in the rotation I’ll be happy.

      • I don’t give a crap about record, I’m more concerned with him giving us quality starts. Book definition quality starts.

        • a .500 record would probably go hand in hand with quality starts. If he goes 5-5 and gives a couple more quality starts and the pen gets the win then that would make it worth it until one of the youngsters pushes him out of the rotation.

          • “probably” – would you like me to point out about 100 pitchers where that wasn’t the case?

    • I can’t believe i’m saying this, but out of the two- one has been a succesful starter and one hasn’t. I like Nicasio, but not more than 2 innings