Who will miss out on the final rotation spot?
Entering Spring Training free agent addition Jordan Lyles is the heavy favorite to win the fifth and final spot in the Pirates’ starting rotation. However, it will not come without a fight. Second-year righty Nick Kingham and lefty Steven Brault will compete with Lyles for the fifth and final rotation spot. Both Kingham and Brault pitching in starting and relief roles for the Pirates in 2018. In fact, Brault has done that each of the past three seasons.
The Pirates will face a decision with Kingham. In 2015 he appeared to be on the brink of reaching the MLB level before Tommy John Surgery was needed. After nearly three years of working his way back, Kingham finally reached the Majors last season. However, he is now out of minor league options and can not be sent to the minor leagues to start the season.
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In 18 games (15 starts) Kingham pitched 76 innings for the Pirates last season. At times he flashed the stuff that once made him a top prospect. His 20.2% strikeout and 7.7% walk rates were both strong, but his 18 home runs allowed and 36.0% hard contact rate were both alarming.
Brault, unlike Kingham, still has minor league options. When the offseason began Brault looked like a sure fire bet to make the Opening Day roster, but that was before the Pirates added Liriano and Tyler Lyons on minor league deals.
Due to these additions, Brault seems like a safe bet to start the season at the Triple-A level. The Pirates have always been high on the now 26-year-old lefty, and he made changes to his delivery this offseason to help him fix the control woes (13.8% career walk rate) that have plagued him during his three-year MLB career. So, you can still expect Brault to impact the team at some point in 2019.