Friday, February 15, 2019

Pitching Battles In Camp - Starters: One Spot Up For Grabs...

The staff is good, it's young, and its future is so bright you gotta wear sunglasses. It looks like the only short-term question mark is who will replace Ivan Nova to complete the rotation of Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove? The top four are set with depth being the biggest concern, with Mitch Keller projected as a mid-rotation guy when he arrives and a small flock of back-enders in reserve.

Jamo, 27, added a slider, moved his heater up & down, and depended a little less on his off speed stuff. The scary part is that he's still developing as a pitcher, both with his toolkit and mentality. He looks like he's ready to wear the "ace" mantle. Willy, 26, is due for some regression, and this will be a big year for him to prove he's for real as the control guy will again try to outperform his peripherals with command. Since he's been in the show, he's gone 20-18/3.53 and hasn't had a very wide split between L/R, so his peripherals as a pitch-to-contact guy are solid.

Yeah, an ace.
Then we have the rehab twins, Archie and Big Joe.

Archer, 30, is tinkering with his stuff, too, returning to a discarded sinker to keep guys off his four-seamer, and it worked pretty well in his last few starts. He's coming off hernia surgery, but isn't expected to miss any time. Musgrove, 26, isn't at full-tilt boogie yet, but he is done rehabbing and expects to take it step-by-step to be ready for the season. Interestingly, he said he's likely to take less care of himself during the campaign. He's been through the grinder with injuries, and is planning to lighten up on his workout regimen during the year.  Even hurt, Big Joe tossed to a league average ERA and went six IP or more in three-quarters of his starts in 2018.

Jordan Lyles is the FO's preferred frontrunner for the fifth spot, with a couple of holdovers lurking as a Plan B. There was some talk of an opener-type scenario (mainly from bored bloggers; it's been a slow winter, lol), with guys like Kingham, Brault and Frankie Liriano as potential pen pals, but we don't see it. Clint would need a sudden bolt from above to buy into it, and even with a complete meltdown, we don't see the Pirates suits buying into the concept. Righties Chad Kuhl, 26, & Tom Koehler, 32, would be the pair battling for the fifth spot, but both are out while rehabbing from TJ surgery. They'll join the fray full-time in 2020.

RHP Jordan Lyles, 28, enters camp as the favorite for the fifth spot for reasons unclear to everyone but the FO as he was a much stronger reliever than starter last year. Of course, that was the rap on Joe Musgrove, too, and he worked out OK, so we'll see. The Pirates feel like emphasizing his fastball/curve combo, along with some added maturity & urgency on the bump, will carry him past Nick Kingham and Brault, the Plan B duo. The Pirates rarely set sail with a set staff,  almost always needing a tweak or three out of camp - it was Juan Nicasio/Jon Niese in 2016, Tyler Glasnow/Drew Hutchison in '17 and Steven Brault/Chad Kuhl last campaign, so the spring faves often turn out to be March hares.

Right-hander Nick Kingham, 27, has big league stuff (8K/per game, 10.4% swinging strike) and is out of options. He got a fair audition last year w/Chad Kuhl out, and posted a 5-7/5.12 (5.65 FIP) line, not the best of first impressions. And if a guy ever needed an opener, it's him - he gave up 14 of his 44 earned runs in the first frame. He needs to look good and have Lyles fall fla to make the rotation out of camp, but should stick and be the Buc's sixth starter.

Nick gets a second chance (image AT&T SportsNet)
Lefty Steven Brault, 26, tweaked his delivery this offseason in an attempt to improve his command, the Bucs are shy of southpaws, and he is the lone lefty starting candidate. But he had a shot fired across his bow when Frankie Liriano, another hybrid reliever/starter, was signed, and with an option left, Steven may begin the campaign at Indy. He'll likely start there, if for no other reason than to stay stretched out.

RHP Clay Holmes, 25, went 1-2/7.80 in four Bucco starts last year, with 14 walks in 15 IP. He does have a heavy groundball profile (57.3%), and that gives him a shot at making the club, although it's not likely he's still part of the rotation race. We project him as having a Jared Hughes-type potential.

On the Way:

RHP Mitch Keller, 22, is MLB Pipeline's #16 overall prospect, and will start the season at Indy. He's the Buc'snext big thing, and still has some work to do to be big league-ready. The Grapefruit League is just an meet-and-greet for a guy who most expect to make his debut in the show sometime during this campaign.

JT Brubaker, 25, was the Bucs' Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and features a mid-90s heater, change, and hook. The righty is being projected as a rotation guy and will start at Indy to get his innings, but he still may get an audition call this year if the long guys in the pen need reinforcements.

Alex McRae, 25, got into a couple of games for the Bucs last year when they needed a disposable arm, but cleared waivers after his stint and was re-signed by the club. He was 3-10/4.77 at Indy last year and doesn't appear to be in the Pirates future plans.

Southpaw Brandon Waddell, 25, is a pitch-to-contact guy with a bread-and-butter change, and like other Bucco finesse arms (see Jeff Locke & Steven Brault), nibbles away and runs up hefty pitch counts. He was serviceable at Indy in his first season at AAA (5-8/4.19) and a lefty, so he'll have a fairly long leash.

Brandon is another soft-tossing lefty (photo via MLB Pipeline)
Aaron Slegers, 26, is a 6’10” twirler who counterintuitively is a finesse righthander. He's gotten five starts (seven outings) for the Twins over the past two years (1-2/5.90) and was claimed off waivers by the Pirates. He's had some success in AAA (20-11/3.54) and has a pair of minor league options remaining, and is a depth pick.

40-Man/Lower Level Guys:

Righties Luis Escobar, 22, Dario Agrazal, 24, and Eduardo Vera, 24, who may be the best of the trio, are bubbling along in the upper levels of the Buc org, either at Altoona or Indy. The lower-level guys with prospect tags are Braxton Ashcraft, Cody Bolton, Santiago Florez, Gage Hinsz, Steven Jennings, Max Kranick, Travis MacGregor, Braeden Ogle, Domingo Robles, Yordi Rosario, and perhaps the best of the bunch, Tahnaj Thomas.

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