In case you haven’t noticed so far in this series, where I’ve already broken down the Pirates’ infield and outfield prospects, I’m trying to highlight some players that don’t get as much love as they should. That theme will become even more apparent. The deepest position in the system, as it has been for a few years, is right-handed pitching. I could list ten righties with a solid shot to pitch in the majors and then list ten more who still cling to some hope. However, I’d prefer to spread the attention around and focus on top pitchers, both right and left-handed. Then, I’ll also look at three who I think profile as solid relievers.
Right Handed Pitching
1. Tyler Glasnow (109.1 IP, 77 H, 43 BB, 136 K, 2.39 ERA, 3.54 BB/9, 11.20 K/9) at AA/AAA
2. Jameson Taillon (did not play in 2015)
Tyler Glasnow is a no-brainer pick for top pitcher at this point, even if I think Jameson Taillon was a better, more effective pitcher when I compare my first hand observations of both at the AA level. Problem is, Taillon has had Tommy John surgery which will likely limit his longevity. On top of that he didn’t get back on the horse in 2015 thanks to a hernia surgery. I don’t know about you, but I think missing almost two full years of development is a bad thing for a pitcher.
Glasnow has all the tools to be a top end major league pitcher. He has a solid fastball that he can ramp up to the upper 90’s and a curveball that could play as an out pitch now in the majors. However, he still is prone to breakdowns in control and he seemed to get hit harder than you might expect at the AA level given his stuff package.
Taillon has a better fastball in terms of command and prior to his injuries was a tick faster on the radar gun. He is more of the prototypical Neal Huntington righty in that he really drives the ball down in the zone generating a ton of ground balls. The good news for Pirates fans is how he pitches could allow him him to stay effective, even if the velocity doesn’t bounce back. When I saw him prior to injury, he looked like an A.J. Burnett-type and there are a wide range of outcomes below that where he could still become an effective starter. The question will be how long can he keep it up and, honestly, that separates him from the top spot.
3. Mitch Keller (19.2 IP, 25 H, 16 BB, 25 K, 5.49 ERA, 7.32 BB/9, 11.44 K/9) at Advanced Rookie
Yes, I have looked at Keller’s all-around numbers this season in the Appy. I even looked at that butt-ugly walk rate. His K-rate, however, is wildly intriguing as is his ability to generate them while inducing ground balls. In the end, he had one bad outing messing with an extremely small sample size. I wouldn’t be surprised if Keller eventually ends up on the list of relievers, but for now he has huge breakout potential in 2016.
4. Yeudy Garcia (124.1 IP, 92 H, 41 BB, 112 K, 2.10 ERA, 2.97 BB/9, 8.11 K/9) at Low A
Garcia was one of the quietest breakout pitchers in the Pirates’ system in recent memory. While he was a little old for the SAL, he combined a nice K:BB rate with solid Ground Out to Fly Out ratio (GO:FO). He conceded just four homeruns in 120 innings with solid splits to lefties and righties. While he’ll need a few years just to get his inning totals up, he appears to have the tools to stick in the rotation.
5. Chad Kuhl (152.2 IP, 133 H, 41 BB, 101 K, 2.48 ERA, 2.42 BB/9, 5.95 K/9) at AA
Kuhl feels like a better version of Brandon Cumpton. With mid-90’s velocity to his sinker and the ability to eat innings, Kuhl could develop into a solid back of the rotation starter or a weak middle of the rotation guy. He doesn’t generate big strike out numbers, but he makes up for it with a low walk rate and loads of ground balls.
Left Handed Pitching
1. Stephen Tarpley (116 IP, 108 H, 25 BB, 105 K, 2.48 ERA, 1.94 BB/9, 8.15 K/9) at Low A
Tarpley is a bit like Yuedy Garcia in the sense that he’s old for level, but his package of stuff and K:BB make him an excellent candidate to progress as a starter and even get better. He’s also beginning to look more and more like the prototypical Pirates’ pitching prospect with a consistently strong GO:FO ratio in the minors. He’ll be one to watch in 2016, as I think he could move quickly if he has a strong start in the FSL.
2. Steven Brault (155.2 IP, 134 H, 40 BB, 125 K, 2.43 ERA, 2.31 BB/9, 7.23 K/9) at High A/AA
In many ways, I like Brault over Tarpley. He’s showing similar numbers at a higher level in the system and looks like a safe bet to reach the majors in 2016 or 2017. He also spells his name properly. However, consensus seems to put Tarpley solidly ahead of him. While that doesn’t always factor in for me, it does in this case. Regardless, the Pirates appear to be well ahead on the Travis Snider deal as both pitchers they received appreciated in value this year.
3. Brandon Waddell (20.1 IP, 24 H, 7 BB, 18 K, 5.75 ERA, 3.10 BB/9, 7.97 K/9) at Short Season
Jumping down to Waddell shows the lack of left handed depth that remains in the system, even if they scored big on the Snider deal. Truthfully, Waddell belongs with the bullpen prospects. After watching Waddell pitch the final game of the College World Series, he has his warts, but he reminds me a lot of Tony Watson. With time, I think he could develop into an exceptional reliever who has a chance to remain in the rotation.
1. Nick Kingham (31.1 IP, 34 H, 7 BB, 32 K, 4.31 ERA, 2.01 BB/9, 9.19 K/9) at AAA
How do you solve the Tommy John longevity dilemma? First, you get the player to the majors as quickly as you can. Second, you manage their innings in the bullpen. Moving Kingham to relief would kill two birds with one stone. Many pitchers have extended their post-TJ life span in the pen and Nick Kingham could be another example, when he returns late in 2016. Pitching in relief would severely limit his upside and value over a single season, but it could be a way to get better results over his entire career. Kingham has a solid two pitch mix of fastball and curve that could play extremely well late in games.
2. Montana DuRapau (72 IP, 28 H, 9 BB, 69 K, 1.38 ERA, 1.13 BB/9, 8.63 K/9) at High A/AA/AAA
This guy came out of nowhere and moved three levels in one year in the Pirates’ system. Frankly, he might have the type of magical power that the St. Louis Cardinals rarely seem to miss on. What he’s done this year cannot be explained statistically. His BABIP against is extremely depressed, especially when you consider that he hasn’t lived by the groundball since leaving the SAL. He seems to be a guy who limits the damage. He has allowed more than one run, earned or unearned, only once in his 44 appearances. DuRapau walked two batters in an appearance once, his first appearance in A+. He’s hit three batters. While he might have luck going for him, he also doesn’t seem to hurt his own cause.
3. Luis Heredia (86 IP, 105 H, 44 BB, 54 K, 5.44 ERA, 4.60 BB/9, 5.65 K/9) at High A
I want to make a quick shout out to three other players here before I talk about Heredia — Clay Holmes, Scooter Hightower and Dovydas Neverauskas. Holmes would make the list, for his effective though injury-shortened 2015 campaign. Hightower’s frame and early domination of the Appy League make him a feel-good pick. Neverauskas feels like he’s beginning to flash some of his raw potential after grinding away in the lower levels the last three years. All three would be worthy candidates.
My colleague, Kevin Creagh, would tell you to give up the ghost on Heredia and I agree with him to an extent. Heredia isn’t likely to start in the majors. That’s clear. While he’s still extremely young, he just hasn’t shown the control or the ability to consistently eat innings as a starter. It’s a matter of time until he’s converted full time to the pen. This could allow him to finally max out his velocity and take some of the pressure off him to keep his weight down. It may be time to move on, but given the amount of money the Pirates invested and that he can barely drink legally in the States, they should try this option first. 2016 will likely be a crucial year for him.
There were a lot of good names left off these lists and many more with some potential, even if the Pirates have gotten unlucky with injury the last two years. Quantity is as important as quality with pitching and the Pirates are still fortunate to have both.