The Top Level: This is one position the Pirates have made a little deeper, and its make-up probably won't be determined until May. Jeff Karstens, Erik Bedard, James McDonald and Kevin Correia are in right now, and Brad Lincoln has a chance to join them in the early going because AJ Burnett and Charlie Morton are still rehabbing.
Lincoln is on the shortest leash, and with an option left is likely to end up at Indy sooner rather than later, although he has a dark horse chance at a long/spot starter role on the big club. Correia was widely considered the odd man out when Burnett was signed, both based on his 2011 performance (12-11/4.79) and his background as a long man during his years with the Giants. But the 31 year old has spun nine shutout innings in the spring, giving up just three hits, so he's trying to make his case.
He and Karstens have had strong springs. Bedard has been OK, while J-Mac and Lincoln have struggled.
AAA Indy has Jeff Locke, Rudy Owens, and Kyle McPherson rostered and Shairon Martes of the Nats should soon join them. With Lincoln's return looming, the Tribe rotation will be stocked with young arms instead of veteran insurance policies.
The Bucs could use starters Justin Wilson and Jo-Jo Reyes out of the pen. But that scenario isn't written in stone, with Wilson especially likely to get another shot at holding down a rotation spot. Daniel Cabrera, who the Pirates have long liked, is also around for a look.
Gerrit Cole, the camp's first cut, will start the season at Bradenton, the Bucs' High A club, with an eye toward Altoona. Jameson Taillon is expected to join him there. Luis Heredia is slated to start at short season State College, which is a fast track for a seventeen year old, especially for a kid who just came stateside last season. Stetson Allie will probably also start the year off at SC, to work on his control and command before moving on to West Virginia. And by most camp reports, he has made strides in that area.
The Outlook: The Pirates have improved their depth and added a couple of guys in Bedard and Burnett that can miss a bat or two. But the staff doesn't have anyone with a steady track record of success, although the two newcomers have had turns as staff aces, something Pittsburgh has lacked since the Doug Drabek days. There are still alot of health, performance and maturity questions remaining among the group:
- Will Bedard give Pittsburgh 150-175 innings?
- Will the NL rejuvenate Burnett?
- Will statistical regression catch up to Karstens?
- Will McDonald break the five-inning barrier?
- Will Morton solve lefties?
- Will Correia remain effective in the dog days?
- Will Lincoln get aggressive at this level?
- Will any of the current AAA guys step up beyond end-of-the-rotation arms?
The minors are starting to show some movement, though the best talent will likely be no further advanced than Altoona by season's end. But with several elite arms in the pipeline along with some young guys stockpiled in the draft, by 2014 the Pirate system should begin feeding some live arms to the big club.
The Pirate staff isn't there yet. But considering the train wreck that Dave Littlefield left the Nutting team, this year's MLB rotation should be solid and the organization is finally on the verge of delivering talent to the upper levels.