What kind of rotation depth do the Pittsburgh Pirates currently have at the Triple-A level?
During the 2017 season the Pittsburgh Pirates only used seven starting pitcher, and, to be honest, they only needed six. The seventh came due to the team wanting to get Steven Brault starts in September.
Well, only needing six starting pitchers to get through a season is a real rarity in Major League Baseball. This makes having starting pitching depth at the Triple-A level vital for any Major League team. One of the starting pitchers that the Pirates have at the Triple-A level is Tyler Eppler raising the question: is Tyler Eppler a viable depth option for 2018?
The 24-year-old Tyler Eppler got his first taste of Triple-A action in 2017. This came after pitching 162 1/3 innings in 27 starts for Double-A Altoona in 2016. At Double-A Eppler allowed just 14 home runs and averaged a microscopic 1.83 BB/9. However, he allowed 176 hits and averaged just 5.88 K/9. Despite the lack of strikeouts, Eppler went on to post a 3.99 ERA and a 3.89 FIP for the Curve.
Following his success at Double-A, Tyler Eppler appeared to be turning a corner and becoming a legitimate Major League starting pitching prospect. This led to Eppler earning the promotion to Triple-A for the 2017 season, and this is when Eppler’s problems began.
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As a member of the Indianapolis Indians in 2017, Eppler regressed immensely. In 27 games – 21 starts – he pitched 136 1/3 innings. Eppler allowed a whopping 159 hits and 23 home runs (1.52 HR/9) for the Indians in 2017. While his walk rate remained strong (2.18 BB/9), he also continued to fail to generate swings and misses (6.34 K/9).
In 2017 Eppler also posted a career-low 39.8 percent groundball rate. Opposing batters hit line drives 23.5 percent of the time off of Eppler. Not only was this a new career-worst for Eppler, it is also well above league average.
This issue for Tyler Eppler is the lack of an out pitch. This is a big reason why he has averaged just 6.0 K/9 in his minor league career. Eppler does throw a change up, however, it needs to improve and he lacks any other type of secondary pitch.
So, can Tyler Eppler be a viable depth option for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ rotation in 2018? Many signs point toward no. While Eppler could be an effective long reliever at the Major League level, without further developing his secondary pitches Eppler will not be a viable option to start in the Major Leagues.