I’ve said many times that I think the Pirates need to add a proven starter for the 2017 season. Their current rotation has a lot of young options, but with that comes a lot of question marks. They were in a similar situation heading into the 2016 season, and they went for low-upside options to fill out the rotation, relying too much on the prospects, which backfired when not all of the prospects were ready by mid-season, and when the guys they were relying on the most (Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano) struggled.
They can’t make the same mistake again this off-season. They’ve got two guys who seem like locks for the rotation, and a few others who have a good shot at a rotation spot. But they could definitely use at least one established starter, even if it’s a guy like Ivan Nova who is only really established for half a season, with the gamble that this half season tells the story of what to expect going forward.
I’ve talked enough about adding an outside starter this off-season, and there’s really not much else to write until the off-season actually arrives (although it will be at least two months until a player would be reasonably expected to sign, so I’m sure the topic will come up again). For tonight, I want to take a look at the other possible starters in 2017, seeing what the Pirates have for the rest of their rotation.
Gerrit Cole – Cole will definitely be in the rotation next year. The hope is that he is healthy heading into the season. He had a down year this year, which also came with three trips to the disabled list. The 2013-2015 version of Gerrit Cole was a number one starter. The 2016 version was a drop off from that. The Pirates need a leader in their rotation on the field, and Cole is the best bet to do that at this stage.
Jameson Taillon – Taillon’s MLB debut has been amazing, but I’d hesitate to call him the ace of the staff, or pencil in top of the rotation production just yet. The best approach here would be cautious optimism, as young pitchers in their first full season can run into struggles as the league adjusts to them, and as they try to adjust back. You hope that this won’t be the case for Taillon, or that he would adjust quickly. Between his inexperience, and Cole’s injury concerns, I think the Pirates need to add a proven guy to the rotation this off-season. Best case? The concerns for Cole/Taillon aren’t big concerns, and the Pirates have two solid homegrown pitchers leading the rotation with a good number three from the outside. But if those concerns turn out to be legit, it would be nice to have a backup plan, and not rely solely on Cole/Taillon to lead the rotation.
The Inside Track
Chad Kuhl – Kuhl has received the sixth most starts on the team after tonight’s outing, and while that wasn’t a good one, his MLB debut has been pretty solid. He had a few rough starts at first, then made a key adjustment in mid-July. Since that adjustment, he has a 3.10 ERA, 3.97 xFIP, 6.75 K/9, 2.19 BB/9, and a 51.1% ground ball rate in 49.1 innings. That doesn’t include tonight’s outing. The Pirates have favored him as a starter for a long time, and obviously trust him as an MLB starter, since he has a job locked down right now. At this point, I think the only thing pushing him out of an Opening Day rotation spot would be adding multiple proven pitchers this off-season, and even that might not do it.
Drew Hutchison – It always brings up complaints when I list Hutchison as having an inside track, but the truth is that the Pirates traded for him and said that he would be part of their rotation in 2016. His numbers so far haven’t been great, but he also hasn’t really had much work with Ray Searage, and hasn’t made any changes yet to his game. He looks like next year’s reclamation project, only the Pirates are getting a head start with him by getting some looks at him this year, rather than their normal wait until mini-camp and Spring Training with most reclamation projects. If he’s still struggling at the end of Spring Training, he might find himself back in Triple-A. But I think he’ll have an inside track until then.
Fighting For a Spot
Tyler Glasnow – His talent and upside should have him in the “inside track” section of this article, but the truth is that Glasnow hasn’t developed this year as you’d hope he would. It has been a lost season for him, as he hasn’t improved his changeup, and rarely uses the pitch, while also showing no improvements with his control, and struggling to command his curveball for strikes. Unless he shows some massive improvements before the start of next season, I could see him starting back in Triple-A next year, with the hope that he finally develops to the point where he can start to approach his upside as a top of the rotation starter.
Steven Brault – I think Brault has a better shot at being a bullpen option for the Pirates next year, rather than a starter. If he is a starter, he’d probably be a spot start option, and I don’t think that’s mutually exclusive from a potential bullpen role. I’d expect him to start off in the Triple-A rotation at the start of the year, and move to the bullpen later if the rest of the rotation depth is looking good.
Trevor Williams – This is the same situation as Brault. I could see Williams being rotation depth, and I think it’s more likely that he helps the Pirates out of the bullpen next year, while being a spot start option for the rotation.
Second Half Options
Nick Kingham – Out of this group, I think he’s the most likely to get a start for the Pirates next year. I could definitely see him making the majors at some point, especially since he will be out of options in 2018 and will have to be in the majors by that point. Kingham’s upside is higher than Brault and Williams, so if it gets to the second half and he’s pitching well, he could emerge as a better option for a spot start.
Clay Holmes/Tyler Eppler/Brandon Waddell – Now we get to the 2016 Altoona starters, who should all be moving up to Indianapolis at some point during the 2017 season. I think Clay Holmes separates himself from this group as the most likely to reach the majors in 2017, and as the guy with the highest upside. Eppler and Waddell project as back of the rotation starters or relief options, and they both have things to work on to get to that point. Holmes also has some development left, but is further along than the other two. Either way, we’re talking about second half options here, and Holmes would be the ninth best option at that point, without counting any outside additions or any other back of the rotation/reliever options like Frank Duncan or minor league free agent types like Wilfredo Boscan. So it seems very unlikely that these three will make the jump to the majors in 2017, unless things go horribly wrong.
**Is Nick Kingham a Rotation Option For the Pirates in 2017? Neal Huntington discusses Kingham’s rehab, and whether he could be on the same path as Jameson Taillon.
**Zach Phillips Making the Most of His Audition With the Pirates. Alan Saunders looks at the progress from Zach Phillips in his limited role with the big league club, along with Steven Brault’s progress in his move to the bullpen tonight.
**Pirates Notes on Felipe Rivero, Chad Kuhl, and Injury Updates. Some pre-game notes before one of the worst Pirates games of the year.
**Pirates Acquire Chris Bostick for Taylor Gushue and Cash. The Pirates didn’t really lose a guy who could help them in the future, and got a guy who will add to their depth next year as a utility player.
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.