Let’s Talk Pirates Starting Rotation

Sure, sure, they could still sign a guy. There are still options out there, but let’s be honest, even if they get one of them, it’s going to be a vet who at best slots in to the back of the rotation and eats some innings.

I think there’s a place for that, I can even get as far as believing it a need, but when I start laying out the options I start asking myself, where?

The Locks

Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl, Mitch Keller, JT Brubaker are virtual locks.

Mitch Keller is embarking on his third season in MLB and while typically that should mean he’s gotten all his ‘rookie’ out of him, he’s only pitched in 16 games spread out over that time.

He looked strong after returning from injury in 2020 but he walked more (18) than he struck out (16) in his five starts that amounted to all of 21 innings.

He’ll start because he’s supposed to and because he has the most pedigree. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t point out those numbers to suggest he isn’t any good, I point them out to illustrate he still has work to do.

Steven Brault has never been the first choice to fill a starting role for the club. Since making his debut in 2016 he’s pitched in 100 games, 45 of them being starts. Seemingly every spring since 2018 he’s gone in to Spring with a chance to compete for a spot in the rotation, and every season since he’s lost out to start in the pen only to wind up reclaiming the spot before the season got too old.

Want a lefty in the rotation? Well, Steven is the option. Want a guy who will eat 5 innings just about every night and keep you in the game, Steven is gonna do that most nights.

His stuff impresses nobody. Not scouts, not coaches, not fans. But when he’s on, he paints corners and frustrates the hell out of hitters who can’t pick up the fastball fading away or in.

He’ll get a shot this year because he, at 29 is as close to a veteran starter they have.

Long term, he probably isn’t a starter, the third time through the lineup has not been kind to the young man, but for this club, he’ll start in that role. And I bet he does well enough to draw trade interest at the deadline, he already did this off season.

Chad Kuhl was slow walked back into the rotation in 2020 after returning from TJ surgery. This made him part of a piggyback situation with Brault though it was short lived due to need caused by the injury decimation of the pitching staff.

Of everyone in the rotation, Chad has the most potential to really open some eyes. The fastball is top shelf velocity and the curveball is wicked, control is the game he hasn’t mastered.

Before his injury, getting lefties out was an absolute issue, but in his brief 2020 season he actually faced more lefties than righties, no doubt to take advantage of his weakness. Turned out though, he actually did better against them than his same handed opponents. The slider has really come along.

Chad is another guy who I wouldn’t be shocked to hear about come deadline time. There is something that has remained pretty true in baseball through the years, when teams talk in the off season about a player, they tend to not forget the conversation when they shop the next time.

JT Brubaker came out of relatively nowhere last season to become arguably the Pirates best option to start. Well, relatively nowhere to most. Some of you probably remember he was ahead of Mitch Keller on their way through the minors when injury and a bungled recovery plan stunted him. He has the pedigree and took full advantage of a terrible situation in 2020 to, at least in my mind, punch his ticket to start in the rotation and stick. Service time wise he’s right there with Keller and has every opportunity to prove we’ve all forgotten a name that could also still be here for the window.

Options for Number 5

Wil Crowe, recently acquired from Washington for Josh Bell has a brief cup of coffee under his belt, and, it didn’t go well to be kind. He’s also 26 so of course he’s getting a little old to be considered a prospect.

This doesn’t mean he’s a bust. His timing has been stunted by the simple fact Washington has been a serious World Series contender the past few seasons and when you’re in that position you tend to only use rookies in your rotation when it’s an emergency.

2020 was a three start situation and his 11.88 ERA tells most of the story. Look back to his minor league stats and you see a guy who pitched at three different levels in 2018 then logged 145 innings in AAA during the 2019 season.

Safe to say, last year wasn’t normal, and neither were the circumstances surrounding his call up. Point is, you can focus on his 3 games last season, or trust that he’s been better than that in the past.

Miguel Yajure was acquired from the Yankees for Jameson Taillon. This is not some throw in, Yajure might just end up being the fifth starter and it’ll be on merit if so.

His cup of coffee with the Yankees last season saw 7 innings spread over 3 games and more importantly for his entire career he has a 1.143 WHIP. That’s good for you non advanced stats folk. His stuff plays and if he has a weakness which just about everybody does it’s probably control. Not to say he’s wild, but he probably wants to reign in those walks a bit.

Not horrible in that department but walking 3 in 7 innings isn’t great either. That said, it really hasn’t been an issue on his way through the system so it could be a symptom of pitching differently from the pen.

Regardless, he is an intriguing option and even if he doesn’t get the spot out of Spring, he won’t be held back long.

Outside Shots at Factoring In

We’re going to rapid fire these because I just don’t see any of them having a realistic shot out of Spring.

Cody Ponce who I actually really like. I’d be more than comfortable putting him in the mix but I think the club might see him more as a long man at the moment. He looked poised and controlled during his few starts last season for the Pirates, in an environment that was anything but. A WHIP of 1.059 is not to be ignored. He did more than look passible.

Clay Holmes has unreal stuff, he just hasn’t up until now found a way to harness it. The Pirates chose not to tender him but resigned him quickly to a minor league deal. He could factor into the pen mix but he came up as a starter and the Pirates seem interested in getting him back to that. The Indianapolis Indians need a staff too you know. Big league stuff, with minor league control. That’s what will need to improve, but if it does, dark horse guy right here.

Again, I still think the Bucs will probably bring in a veteran to at least add to the competitive mix, but looking at this list it might not be the worst idea in the world to let it play out. I didn’t even mention Sean Poppen, or James Marvel, and nobody knows when Jose Soriano might be ready to return from TJ. Being a rule 5 pickup they’ll have no choice but to install him on the MLB roster or offer him back to the Angels.

The Pirates have been burned each of the past two seasons by lacking anything resembling depth on the mound, and at least right now, it looks like we might have a deeper room than previously. That’s good, even if the rotation itself isn’t where anyone wants it, there are pieces that could very well be involved in the turnaround.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

4 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Pirates Starting Rotation

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