Breaking down the Pittsburgh Pirates’ starting pitching depth


The starting rotation depth of the Pittsburgh Pirates has taken a hit this year to say the least. Jameson Taillon was still recovering from Tommy John surgery when the year began and wasn’t expected to be a big league option for the Pirates until later in the summer or as a September call-up. Brandon Cumpton, who accumulated a career 4.02 ERA for the Pirates in spot starts in 2013 and 2014, underwent Tommy John surgery before the season started. Nick Kingham, the 61st-ranked prospect in all of baseball coming into the year according to, was also lost to Tommy John surgery at the end of May. The recovery from this surgery is typically a year to a year-and-a-half, so Cumpton and Kingham won’t be ready for the big leagues until the end of the summer in 2016 at the very least.

Even with those two injuries, the Pirates were still confident that they had enough pitching depth to survive the season. They would definitely need that depth, as the team used 12 starting pitchers in 2013 and eight in 2014. So far this season, the team has already used seven different starting pitchers. Depth is extremely important, as pitchers are often more susceptible to injury than any other player on the team.

Unfortunately for the Pirates, they got more bad news this past week. It was announced on Friday that Jameson Taillon will undergo surgery to repair an injuinal hernia and is expected to miss about two months.

This means that Taillon’s chances of pitching in the majors this season are all but lost. He hasn’t pitched in the minors yet this year and already wasn’t expected to be in the big leagues until the end of the summer in a best-case scenario. General manager Neal Huntington sounded optimistic, however, when asked if Taillon could pitch later this year, even if it’s just in the minors.

The Pirates received more bad news later in the day when it was announced that Clayton Richard was acquired by the Chicago Cubs for cash considerations.

Richard, who had been pitching in Triple-A this season, had a clause in his contract that kicked in on Tuesday of this past week that gave the Pirates a 72-hour window to add him to the major league roster. If they didn’t, he had to be put on waivers. Then, if a team claimed him, the Pirates would either have to trade him to that team or add him to the major league roster. It seems like the Cubs claimed him and the Pirates didn’t feel comfortable adding him to the team with their current pitching depth, thus resulting in a trade. Huntington sounded confident in the current pitching depth in the organization despite these two losses.

So, who are some of the options the Pirates have left despite losing a remarkable five pitchers for the year? Here are the team’s top options remaining:

Vance Worley

Jeff Locke has managed to pitch well recently, which gives Hurdle and the management team even more of a reason to stick behind him as the fifth starter. But any starter could still go down to injury, and if one does, Vance Worley will be the top option available to the Pirates. For one, he’s already currently on the major league roster, and he showed that he can be successful as a starter in Pittsburgh last season, pitching to a 2.85 ERA and a 1.6 WAR in 17 starts for the club. This season, he lost the fifth starter battle to Locke to open the season, but still managed to make seven starts. Overall, pitching as a starter and now in a relief role, Worley has pitched to a solid 3.51 ERA and a 0.4 WAR in 59 innings this year. He is the number-one option for the club should someone go down to injury or if a starter isn’t pitching well.

Casey Sadler

Casey Sadler is most likely the number one option for the Pirates out of their minor league system in terms of starting pitching depth. He hasn’t pitched great in the majors to date in a small sample size, holding a 7.84 ERA in 2014 in six relief appearances. But earlier this year, Sadler did make one start, lasting five innings while giving up two runs. That’s the type of start that can be expected in a spot start from a minor league call-up. The 24-year-old currently holds a 4.22 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP in 13 starts at Triple-A Indianapolis this season. Currently, however, Sadler is on the disabled list with a right forearm strain.

Adrian Sampson

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23-year-old Adrian Sampson has quickly risen up the ranks of the starting pitching prospects in the Pirates’ system. He looks like he can be, at the least, a solid bottom of the rotation starter at the big league level, but he hasn’t pitched at this level just yet. Over the years, he’s pitched in single-A, double-A, and triple-A, so the majors is the next step for him. He was most likely slated behind Taillon and Kingham in terms of who the Pirates might call up to the majors, and it didn’t look like there would be a permanent spot in the starting rotation for him in the future. Now, however, with the recent slew of injuries, Sampson could very well break into the majors this year. He currently holds a 4.15 ERA in 17 starts at Triple-A Indianapolis, and holds a 3.91 ERA throughout his minor league career. He could be an option the Pirates should explore, if not later this year, definitely as a starting option at the beginning of next season.


The Pirates also have other options that could make a spot start in the majors if the “opportunity” should present itself. The team would most likely only call up someone from Triple-A, as they never rush players from Double-A to the majors. Radhames Liz has already pitched in relief at the major league level this season and had success, despite being designated for assignment earlier this year. In relief this season, Liz held a 3.63 ERA in 17.1 innings pitched for the Pirates. He has made 21 starts at the major league level in the past, however. Since moving to Triple-A this year, Liz has a 0.63 ERA in five appearances.

Two other options are Chris Volstad and Charlie Leesman. Volstad made a relief appearance at the major league level for the Pirates this season and has pitched five seasons as a starter at the major league level in the past, often times successfully. But he hasn’t pitched as a starter in the majors since 2012 for the Cubs. Leesman is a last resort option, only because he’s pitching as a starter in Indianapolis this season successfully (3.74 ERA) and has pitched as a spot starter this season at Triple-A and twice in the majors in the past. He was shelled in 2013 as a member of the White Sox, and he would only be used if all other options had been exhausted.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have other pitchers at Indianapolis, but they’ve either only ever pitched in relief or have never pitched as a starter in the big leagues. Let’s all hope that the team doesn’t have to move this far down the chain of starters this season.

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