Pittsburgh Pirates: 2017 Triple-A Rotation Loaded Once Again
The Pittsburgh Pirates have spent a lot of time building up their pitching depth in the minor leagues. Last year, a lot of that pitching reached the upper minors.
Entering the 2016 season, many fans were excited about finally getting to see top prospect Jameson Taillon make the jump from Triple-A to the MLB. However, Taillon had to start the year in Triple-A to get some more innings under his belt as he returned from Tommy John Surgery, as well as a Sports Hernia. Those two injuries sidelined him for two full seasons. Since Taillon headed to Triple-A Indianapolis last year, many fans were excited about the rotation that was there in Triple-A. The rotation was led by Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow, they were followed by Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl, and Trevor Williams. All five of these pitchers were ranked in the Pittsburgh Pirates top 20 prospects. Eventually they all earned promotions to the big leagues as well.
This year, the Triple-A rotation looks to be pretty well stocked again. Although the rotation may not have the big time prospects like it did last year with Taillon and Glasnow, they still will be plenty deep. The rotation itself will host at least three top 30 prospects. It will also include a pitcher who no longer is considered a prospect, but is still relatively young and should be better than the competition at Triple-A.
The first prospect of note is Nick Kingham. As far as rankings go, Nick Kingham is the best prospect in the rotation. He once was a top 100 prospect, but missed most of 2015 and 2016 with Tommy John Surgery. Still, he looked solid in his rehab last summer and seemed to have his stuff back to normal this spring.
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The other “top” prospect joining Kingham will be lefty Steven Brault. Brault was on the outside looking in as far as competing for the fifth starting spot this Spring. Although he has made his Major League debut already, Brault will head to Triple-A and likely be the first call-up when a spot starter is needed.
The last notable prospect is righty Clay Holmes. Holmes is 6’6” and has an insane cutter that hits 95 consistently. He spent all of 2016 in Double-A, and it was his first season back since receiving Tommy-John Surgery the year before. Although he may project better as a reliever, the Pirates will try to maximize Holmes’ value as a starter before making him a reliever if need be. The key will be for him to develop a third pitch.
The other lock for the Triple-A rotation will be a veteran of sorts. Drew Hutchison failed to lock down a major league spot this Spring. However, he is still just 26 years of age and had an option remaining. The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Hutchison on August 1st last season. He has not impressed at all, but was considered a top 10 prospect for the Blue Jays, and was their opening day starter in 2015. So there is some talent there, hopefully, with a full season, the organization can improve him like they have so many others.
Josh Lindblom will likely be in the rotation to start the year. At this point, he is a veteran innings eater for the minor league team. Eventually, Brandon Cumpton could replace him. Cumpton is expected to be back after Tommy John Surgery in 2015. He experienced a setback in 2016, but he is expected to be healthy going forward. Another pitcher who will eventually get a chance to crack the Triple-A rotation is Tyler Eppler. As of now, it seems Eppler will start the year in Double-A. However, he did pitch all of 2016 at the Double-A level and could quickly earn a promotion to Triple-A. Eppler is considered to be a back-end of the rotation type starter. His ceiling will be as an innings eater, primarily due to his 6’6” frame.
Next: David's Predictions for the 2017 Season
All in all, the Triple-A rotation has a nice mix of talent this season. Of course, it is led by a few big named prospects, but also has some veterans too. Specifically, the veteran of interest is Drew Hutchison. Hutchison will likely be pitching with something to prove as he tries to make his way back to the big league level. Although the rotation is not as stellar as last year, the team will have a lot of success due to it. The good news about that? The Pittsburgh Pirates will have quality depth to pick from when necessary.
*Trevor Williams or Tyler Glasnow very well could be in the mix for the Triple-A Rotation also. As I am writing this, both remain on the expanded Spring Training roster. However, both could end up staying with the big league club also, with one joining the bullpen.