The Indianapolis Pitching Prospects Impacted the Pirates Off-Season Approach

This is a free article, and part of our daily live Spring Training coverage. Pirates Prospects will be covering Spring Training in Bradenton all year, in both the big league camp and the minor league camp. We will have multiple updates per day, keeping track of everything through the end of camp. If you enjoy this article, sign up for a subscription to the site, with rates lower than $2.25 per month. We also have our 2016 Prospect Guide available, which has profiles on every prospect in the system, along with an exclusive look at our top 50 rankings. Subscribers get this year’s book at a discount, with a free book for Top Prospect subscribers. I really have nothing else to say to promote the site. You’re probably ready to read the article. Maybe you didn’t even get this far. Anyway, I’m really excited about Chad Kuhl’s future, especially after hearing great things about him for the last year from basically everyone, and seeing great things from him live. That includes the video below. By now I’m almost certain you skipped over all of this for the article, but I’m hoping you don’t skip over his video, because it was pretty impressive. Enjoy the article! I’m going to go find more people to interview for future articles.

BRADENTON, Fl. – You probably could have guessed that the approach the Pirates took this off-season with their starting pitchers was influenced by their prospects in Indianapolis. The addition of Jon Niese could give the Pirates a pitcher for up to three seasons, but the addition of Ryan Vogelsong looked like a short-term rental, adding a guy who would only be a rotation option for the first half.

The latter move is questionable, and I’ve written many times that the Pirates should have gone for someone with higher upside than Vogelsong. But the Pirates do have a talented group in Triple-A, and that should make the second half rotation very interesting. As for impacting the off-season plans, Clint Hurdle pretty much confirmed that theory today.

“We do have depth, and it’s real,” Hurdle said. “I think one of the reasons that we’ve worked through our off-season as we have is knowing that there’s Taillon getting better, there’s Glasnow getting better, there’s Chad Kuhl getting better.”

Taillon and Glasnow are obvious guys who could help this year. When they’re ready, the Pirates will almost certainly make room for them in the rotation. Chad Kuhl seems to be separating himself from the other group and getting closer to the Pirates’ group. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but every time Hurdle or Neal Huntington talk about that Triple-A group, they group Kuhl with Taillon and Glasnow as guys who can help this year, could start with Indianapolis at the beginning of the year, or as guys who have stood out and improved in general. And I heard last summer that the Pirates refused to deal Kuhl when other teams were asking about him, while also getting some pretty strong reviews about Kuhl from opposing scouts who saw him.

That’s not to say that Williams and Brault have no shot, as they’re both very talented pitchers. The first three guys are more power options, while Williams (right-handed) and Brault (left-handed) rely more on deception and command of their pitches, using almost an identical approach from different sides.

“Like the acquisition of Trevor Williams,” Hurdle said. “Like what we’ve heard from the people that had scouted him. Our guy got a hand on him, Justin Meccage got a hand on him in the Fall League for a couple of weeks. Like what we saw the first year from Brault. Like it a lot. His development.”

It might be difficult for those two to make it to Pittsburgh this year in the rotation. That would actually be an alarming situation if they did make it up, as this would mean that the Pirates saw some major struggles and/or injuries from the rest of the rotation options, including some of their long-term guys. But those two are definitely in the plans for the future.

“At some particular point in time, opportunities may present themselves, whether it’s through health, through performance,” Hurdle said on the guys behind Glasnow and Taillon. “There are certain things they are going to be able to control when they go down. One of them is not when they get called up, and we share that with each and every one of them in the entrance interviews.”

The Pirates had to find some short-term options for their rotation this off-season, but the group in Indianapolis this year will prevent that from being an issue in the future.

“We definitely feel good about the progression of our guys, putting themselves in place to be the next tier.”

Bullpen Sessions

Here is video of Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, and Trevor Williams throwing bullpen sessions today at Pirate City.

Kuhl has a sinker that can hit upper 90s, and has a lot of movement. Most of his pitches looked good today, but I loved that last one. I wrote about Kuhl a few weeks ago.

Brault has so much cutting action to his sinker, and it looks like his slider is coming along. I wrote earlier this week about his progression.

Williams has a ton of movement on his pitches, and to the naked eye, it looks like he’s got some good separation from his fastball to his changeup, which is good, as the sinker only sits in the 89-92 MPH range. I haven’t written about Williams yet this Spring, but really liked how the article I did on him turned out in the AFL this off-season.

Replacing Jim Benedict

Along with the Pirates’ pitching prospects getting some attention for their success, the pitching coaches are also getting some attention. There was a lot of concern that losing Jim Benedict would be a massive blow to the organization in the future, and losing Benedict definitely hurts, especially when it comes to special projects in extended Spring Training like Vance Worley or Clayton Richard. But the organization is set up so that other pitching coaches carry the same philosophy and approach as Benedict.

“It’s almost like a mentality of what we have from the position player pool and the pitching pool, next man up,” Hurdle said of replacing Benedict’s impact. “Justin Meccage has every skill to become a very good Major League pitching coach. Scott Mitchell has put himself in a position to be a very good Major League pitching coach. The seamlessness we have of our coaching and teaching abilities, wherever our players go, it’s so like-minded. It’s the Pirate way. It’s not Ray’s way. It’s not Mitch’s way. We’re all actually connected to it. And the player actually has ownership of it as well. And I think the refreshing thing for them is when they move, there’s not a different pitching coach philosophy, or a different pitching philosophy.”

When Benedict left, I profiled several coaches who would be able to step up and replace his coaching. Mitchell and Meccage were two of the guys I profiled. Mitchell is the Minor League Pitching Coordinator, was brought in under Benedict, and actually pitched under Benedict in the Expos system in the mid-90s. Meccage was also brought in under Benedict, and now appears to be Mitchell’s right-hand man, along with coaching in Altoona and Bradenton the last two years, which is where Tyler Glasnow and Chad Kuhl spent their time.

Hurdle also highlighted the Triple-A pitching coach, Stan Kyles, who interviewed for the Arizona Diamondbacks’ bullpen coach job this off-season.

“Stan Kyles has come and done a wonderful job at the Triple-A level,” Hurdle said. “He actually interviewed for a Major League job this off-season. And I know people have asked about Mitchell. We’ve had so many numerous hits, not just on the pitching side, but our organization over the winter. Our programs are cohesive. They’re complete and connected, and I think the players are getting the benefit of it, as well as us.”

Kyles will have a big role this year with that Triple-A group, but with the way this system works, he will just be continuing the development that they’ve already been receiving at every level prior to this.

  • Zararte in the Williams video looks interesting

  • Am I the only one that thinks Brault’s windup is similar to Kershaw’s?

  • Great stuff Tim. I’m no pitching coach, but you can watch Kuhl and just by how quickly he brings the leg up and moves towards home plate, you can tell before the pitch is thrown whether it is going to be high or low. When he is quick to the plate, the arm lags behind and all his pitches are up. The ones where he seems to take maybe .1-.2 more seconds to bring the leg up and drive forward are all down in the zone. I’m assuming Uncle Ray has been over this about 100 times with him.

    Brault, I think he has a great future as an excellent #5 which will be great. Apparently he is an amazing defender and hitter as well. Sounds a lot like Jon Niese no?

    I thought Williams looked really good and loved the movement on the pitches. The two seamer at 1:10 looked nasty. What is his upside?

    I love all this pitching depth.

  • Tim–your twitter postings today really show a remarkable difference in the amount of effort in Taillion’s deliveries from his debut to now. If he’s still reaching the same velocity, this bodes very well for him being able to work deep into games. Thanks for posting the videos.

    And I’d love to read Stewart’s thoughts on Glasnow, Taillon, Kuhl, Brault, and Williams. I’m sure he can’t be completely candid but he still should be able to provide some interesting insights. Or maybe interview several catchers (Cervelli, Diaz, McGuire) so that comments don’t need to be attributed to any single catcher.

  • Williams certainly seems to have no issue throwing inside… if that was his intent 😉

  • How many teams have 5 guys projected for their AAA rotation who all are prospects?

  • I’ve always thought that those 4 lane bullpens seemed a little dangerous, especially if you have someone like a Chapman throwing, so many things could go wrong.

  • Here is something I have not heard addressed….

    Who is our #6 if one of our top 5 are not ready to start the season?

    Your response is appreciated.

  • I love the way Clint Hurdle is so fully invested in the “Pirates Way.” I thought Hurdle was a decent hire at the time, but now I think he was the perfect hire.

    And on that note, notice how he always gives credit to others (unlike a guy like, say, Maddon who loves to be front and center).

  • Is that Chris Stewart receiving Brault? Nice!

  • We are going to have quite the starting pitching log jam in AAA/MLB next offseason. Currently, under our control:
    – in the majors: Cole, Liriano, Niese, and Locke
    – knocking on the MLB door in 2016: Glasnow, Taillon, and Kuhl
    – knocking on the MLB door in 2017: Brault, Williams, Kingham, and Holmes
    – recovering from injury: Biddle, Cumpton, and Sadler
    That’s 14 legit AAA/MLB pitchers!

    • I agree but it always seems that injuries derail that depth

      • Agreed. If they trade Locke and Niese as many hope. And then if we assume Glasnow and Taillon are healthy and performing. That would leave 8 guys for AAA and the remaining MLB spot. Out of those, Cumpton (Elbow and shoulder) and Biddle would not be considered safe bets. The odds of the remaining 6 (Kuhl, Kingham, Brault, Williams, Holmes, and Sadler) all healthy and meeting expectations would have to be considered unlikely.

        • That’s why I would strongly consider trading only one SP (of Locke or Niese). Sadler, Cumpton, and Biddle could all be moved to the pen if there’s no room – or start in AAA if there are injuries. That would leave the remaining 7 to battle it out for MLB and AAA spots. We could always trade a Locke or Niese at the beginning of or in season if someone is pushing them (which someone better be)

  • What is that tattoo on Brault’s right arm? Fish Scales?

    • Foo it’s the Dellalo Code. All Italian! Do not confuse with the DeVinci Code. Olives, cheese, Pavorotti and a Ferrari.

  • Pretty strong comments from the Pirates about Kuhl…

  • Williams looks like he’d benefit greatly from keeping his throwing arm from going down so much before he comes over w/ the pitch. The arm-action seems super inconsistent – cleaning that stuff up appears to be a strong suit of Searage and Co. though. Brault, the complete opposite – very consistent; agree w/ the eye-test on the change up.

  • I thought Blanton was meaningless when we traded for him last year and he turned out to be really solid. There has to be something about vogelsong that they like

  • As for Vogelsong, I am with Tim. Worst signing of the offseason. I sure hope that he doesn’t cost us some winnable games in the first half before the Kiddy Korp gets called up.

    • It’s complete nonsense foo- How often do you, me, bruce, nmr, leo, and luke all agree on the same things? I think we all agree that Vogelsong was a pointless sign, and SRod was a pointless sign. Glad we all finally came together on something. Lets bond gentlemen

      • Bonding is good. Makes for a better “clubhouse”. 🙂

      • When they traded for Happ I just shook my head. Every time I saw him in AA years ago he wasn’t bad. After 2008 or so he was pretty much mediocre or bad in MLB. I have learned to just sit back now and see how their acquisitions or re signings work out. They never seem to hesitate to cut a guy loose ( see Cory Hart, Pedro Alvarez ) if he isn’t doing the job for them.

        • That’s hitting the nail square on the head. I thought it couldn’t get worse than Happ. Now they make a move for a pitcher and I’m like okay.

        • I liked the trade for Happ a lot, but you make an excellent point about this management team. Great stuff about Meccage and Mitchell. With the relationship and results Meccage has had with Glasnow, Kuhl, and Brault, do they possibly bump him up?

        • fair enough Leo- Vogelsong could end up pitching great, but if he does, it’s still luck at age 38, I won’t give them any credit for it. No matter how it turns out there were less risky and more upside options available for low prices.

          • Thats really stubborn. No one enjoys the Vogelsong at the 5 idea, but to just go “if he does well, 0 credit to the team” is just silly.

            The team gets some manner of credit if Vogelsong is a serviceable arm. Otherwise its easy to just go “any crap arm they trade for/sign that does well is luck and that’ll run out”.

            • Luke- its not silly. If you think so then fine. I’m not going to argue about it. You don’t give credit to a team that gets lucky. Vogelsong is old, he has poor control, and was realistically only good for 2 years in his whole career. That isn’t a player you get credit for signing if he goes 6-3 with a 2.80 ERA in first half, it’s dumb luck. Even in his good years, his WHIP wasn’t good. The team ONLY gets credit if their strategy of not going with a good option for #5 works out by Taillon and Glasnow coming in by June and pitching better than Vogelsong and Locke- period. 🙂

              • To each their own, but that seems a lazy way to analyze an outcome for me. That suggests that he’s so bad that him being #5 SP good is purely just dumb luck, and oddly says that his 2014 isnt something to look at as an outcome the team would take.

                They arent trying to magically make him a mid 3 ERA guy who finds some old glory, but get him doing things that allow him to be a 4 ERA type for 2 months (something he’s shown he can do both in 2014 and at times in 2015). A non terrible back end SP. Thats not a strategy i love, but its not pure luck to get him to do that as much as its doing things they can to maximize what he has left. Cut the walks, put the ball on the ground, get ahead of hitters.

                • How about this: his peripherals even in his good years weren’t good, and thus not sustainable, similar to Locke in 2014. Him being good the first half of the year – as Tim said many times and I disagreed with- is luck when your FIP is trash and strand rate is through the roof. Now he’s 38 years old, 2 years removed from even being a decent #5, and 3 years removed from even being healthy enough to take the hill over 5th day. It isn’t lazy analysis. If you can honestly look at Vogelsong’s ability, his age, his relative health and tell me that there is a 50% chance that he can pitch as well as a top 3rd #5 pitcher in the major leagues- you’d have to use some pretty fuzzy math to get there. Locke could pitch well, Vogelsong could pitch well, but you don’t applaud a poker player who is sitting at his hand staring at a pair of 8’s and raising the guy whom has two Aces showing on the flop, if by some miracle a third 8 turns over. It’s luck. pure and simple.

                  • 2014 was both good enough periphs for a #5 arm and healthy enough to take the hill.

                    My problem with this opinion is that stuff, you say its not lazy but then make crap up. He’s not mid rotation good, and he’s old. But its false to say he hasnt been healthy since 3 years ago, and that his good years are both a long time ago or not good enough.

                    You gotta be blind to run with that narrative rather than make the valid point that he’s a big risk. Still potentially capable of good enough work for 2 months, but a big risk. But yeah, lets not think that and instead say he’s total crap, cant be anything else, and if he is why not give the team 0 credit because that way its easy to dismiss him.

                    I dont like Vogelsong, but it wont take a miracle to make him serviceable as a #5. He was that in 2014, and while he’s less upside than a Volquez he’s pretty obvious to fix. More ground balls, stay ahead in the count.

                    • You’ve got me there, I apologize. It was 2013 that he was hurt and was garbage, for some reason I got those two years swapped in my mind. I didn’t make anything up, I got my years switched. I think it’s all a matter of what likelihood you feel that Vogelsong can be 2014 vs. 2015. If he pitches like 2014, I’ve got no problems with him as a #4 or #5. If he pitches like 2015- he is total garbage. He has never pitched ahead in the count and never been a ground ball pitcher in his whole career- that WOULD take a miracle to fix at age 38

              • You act like you know more than the pirates brass. Maybe they believe Vogelsong had the best potential to perform better than these other options you talk about. They have a much better track record than you do. Why wouldn’t you give them credit for it? Just because your opinion of there being better options out there, doesn’t make this signing becoming good mean they got lucky. There are plenty of moving parts behind closed doors that you and me don’t know about.

                • Nick- quite honestly- and i am sorry for saying this because I sound like Luke when I say negative things but- that’s a really dumb response. There is no “secret” film or “unknown” here with a 38 year old pitcher who has been in professional baseball for 15+ years. He can only get worse than he’s been, not better. It isn’t like it is even an opinion, Latos and Fister definitely can pitch better than the best Vogelsong could potentially pitch. Fister with half an arm last year was still better than Vogelsong, and Latos is only one year removed from being a very sold mid rotation starter. Noone can debate that- If there is some other reason why they signed vogelsong over another pitcher, i honestly don’t care- I care about putting a pitcher out there whom has the potential to at least pitch well enough to be a mid rotation starter and Vogelsong isn’t it. It isn’t that I think I know more than the Pirate brass, it’s that I don’t believe they are TRYING to put together a good enough team to win the division this year, even under perfect circumstances. That is what pisses me off.

                  • Okay, maybe I can buy the argument those are better signings, but you don’t know the discussions that went on in the back room of what they are looking for. Maybe Latos didn’t want to sign to start half the year, period, or sign at all because the Calvary is coming and that was said to Vogelsong, and he’s happy to take a back seat to them as Fister and Latos were not. We just don’t know, but I’m going to trust that NH certainly did his due diligence and got the best value of what was available until then. He didn’t sign Vogelsong if he didn’t think he could put 10 starts of #5 material together over somebody else. That’s why they are in the position they are in, and you and me go to our “regular people” jobs every day. There’s only so much money, talent, and willingness to sign to go around.

                    • #1 Latos would be the 3rd starter- Locke would have been the guy cut out of the rotation NOT Latos. Latos is a #2 when on, and a good #3 otherwise, he isn’t getting run out of the rotation unless he’s putting up another ERA over 5 like he did last year, and quite honestly- no team would keep him in the rotation if he pitches that badly again. You guys that say Latos wouldn’t want to take a back seat, are 100% right…..look at his numbers in Cincinnati, and previously in san diego- that is NOT a guy whom is going to lose his rotation spot, he’s way better than Neise and way way better than Locke.

                    • I think we lose track here that we lost a #3 to retirement and traded #4’s in the rotation, which means we currently have a 1,2,4, and 2 #5’s – the 2 #5’s are who lose their job to the rookies.

          • I get a kick out of people who dismiss an off-season signing out-of-hand before a single Spring Training inter-squad game is even played.

            • There is no secret about Vogelsong, this isn’t some unknown quantity, this isn’t the same guy who came back out of japan and was suddenly effective after being gone 4 years. You guys who think that just because this is another year he is going to go out there and be the 2012 version of himself trying make me laugh. I mean having hope is good, but I mean there is hope and then there is delusional.

    • The signing was only made necessary by the hernia injury to Taillon. Without that injury Taillon is promoted when AJ goes down, the trade for Happ is never made, and Sampson is still in the organization for depth. I don’t think anyone in the Pirates sees Vogelsong as a strategic sign other than to give Taillon a month or two to complete his recovery and gain another year on his six year clock. When Taillon is ready Vogelsong will be released, end of story.

  • Just watching these videos has make me warmer.

    Brault does seem to have a bit of deception in his motion and release. And Williams’ ball DOES move a ton. Now…can he control it?

    • The very slight Kershaw-esque pause makes timing difficult, but that won’t work out of the stretch – and you can see the difference in the video.

      A lefty facing Williams should have no issues picking him up.

  • I tend to agree to a point. We’re not shopping the steak aisle at the store, more like the garden aisle. We have to leave room for these guys that are showing they’re ready. At the same time I would have rather had someone with more in the tank.

    If Kang can’t go, I’d like to see Hanson stick and get an opportunity.

    • I don’t think there’s another choice though unfortunately

    • I agree but don’t necessarily agree with hurdle saying “we have depth and it is real.” On paper it looks real but that is a lot of dudes that have zero MLB experience. Another proven guy to come in and compete or two would be nice. A Bronson arroyo and maybe someone else. They have the two lefty vets coming in, two starters would be nice.