The Pittsburgh Pirates face a bit of a conundrum with one of their top left-handed pitching prospects
When Steven Brault was acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in February of 2015 he became one of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ top left-handed pitching prospects. Since then, all Brault has done is continue to shoot up the Pirates’ Minor League ranks. This culminated with him making his Major League debut in 2016.
However, the Pirates and Steven Brault are now at a bit of a crossroads. Brault has nothing left to prove at Triple-A, the problem is he has not shown enough in his limited Major League action to garner a spot in the Pirate starting rotation. This raises the question – what should the Pirates do with Steven Brault?
In 2017 Steven Brault was named the International League Pitcher of the Year. This came after he allowed 85 hits, five home runs, striking out 109 batters (8.15 K/9), and posting a 1.94 ERA and a 3.29 FIP in 120 1/3 innings pitched in 20 starts for the Indianapolis Indians.
Steven Brault would then earn a pair of promotions to the Major Leagues in 2017. He made 11 appearances, four of which were starts, and pitched 34 2/3 innings at the Major Leagues for the Pirates in 2017. He posted a 4.67 ERA, 4.34 FIP, and averaged 3.63 BB/9.
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Control has always been an issue for Brault. Even during his successful 2017 Triple-A season he still averaged 3.29 BB/9 while plunking five batters. In 68 career Major League innings he is averaging 4.10 BB/9. He has also hit five batters in those 68 Major League innings.
While 68 innings is not much of an indication at all, Brault still has not shown enough in these 68 innings to earn a guaranteed spot in the Pirate rotation for 2018. Additionally, there are reports that the Pirates are the front-runners to sign free agent left-handed starter Jaime Garcia (you can read more about that here). This indicates that the Pirates want to add a left-handed starting pitcher to their rotation in 2018, but they do not view Brault as that pitcher. At least not yet.
So, what should the Pirates do with Steven Brault?
The Bucs could have him start the 2018 season the same place he started 2017 – the Triple-A starting rotation. However, as was stated above, he does not appear to have anything left to prove at the Triple-A level so this may be counterproductive.
Another option would be to move Steven Brault to the bullpen. On paper, the Pittsburgh Pirates have the core for a very good bullpen in 2018 with pitchers such as Felipe Rivero, George Kontos, A.J. Schugel, Dovydas Neverauskas, and Edgar Santana. However, this group needs another left-handed pitcher.
One of the reasons that Brault has struggled as a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues is the lack of a plus secondary pitch. If he is being used out of the bullpen his fastball will play up, and his slider will be a more effective out pitch as well.
In the long run Brault is best suited to pitch out of the bullpen at the Major League level. This should make having him start the 2018 season in the Pirate bullpen a real possibility, and it is what the Pirates would be best served doing with Brault.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have a decision to make with Steven Brault. Should he start 2018 in the rotation at Triple-A? Will he get a crack at the Pirate rotation? Should he be moved to the bullpen? This is a decision the Pirate brass must make this off-season.