The Pittsburgh Pirates have acquired plenty of young pitching over the last year. This could set up a very interesting rotation in the lower minors.
Right now, the weakest part of the Pittsburgh Pirates roster is likely their starting rotation. The team does not have a bona fide ace or even one that would be considered a top of the rotation type arm. Part of this is due to the lack of development of pitchers from the previous regime, but also a focus on finding more hitting prospects over the last few seasons.
Over the last year or so both former General Manager Neal Huntington and current General Manager Ben Cherington have started to invest more resources into acquiring pitching prospects. This is important for small market teams as it is the narrative that small-market teams can win with good pitching.
Last year the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted right-handed prep pitcher Quinn Priester. The Bucs took the 6’3” Priester with the 18th overall pick in the draft and actually made him the top selected high school arm. He had an awesome start to his professional career, throwing in nine games and racking up 36.2 innings. Those outings mainly came at the Gulf Coast League, although he did throw four innings at Short-Season West Virginia against college-age players. Overall he pitched to a 3.19 ERA with 41 strikeouts.
In his final offseason as the Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager, Neal Huntington swung a trade with the Cleveland Indians. It was a five player trade that sent outfielder Jordan Luplow and infielder Max Moroff to the Indians for Erik Gonzalez and two low-level prospects.
One of those prospects was 6’5” flamethrower Tahnaj Thomas. Thomas has a fastball that registered in the triple digits numerous times last season and scouts believe he will stick as a starting pitcher as he moves up the system. He pitched for Short-Season Bristol last year and dominated to a 3.12 ERA in 12 starts, where he threw 48.1 innings and racked up 59 strikeouts and only walked 14.
The last starter of note is Brennan Malone. Malone was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Starling Marte trade, the first trade that Ben Cherington made as the new General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Malone was a highly rated prep pitcher and was projected to be a first-round pick. However, he slid down the draft boards due to questions about his signability but ended up going in the competitive balance first round to the Diamondbacks. The 6’4” and 205-pound righty has a fastball that has already reached as high as 98 and and has a plus slider.
What makes these three pitchers so interesting other than their big-time upside as starters? Well, according to Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic, the Pittsburgh Pirates are seriously considering having all three at Low-A Greensboro this season:
"“One plan the Pirates are mulling for Malone would have him stay in extended spring training before going to Greensboro. A full-season assignment would be an aggressive move… and he would join a Greensboro rotation that likely will include flame-thrower Tahnaj Thomas and Quinn Priester…”"
For Thomas, this was expected, but it was no guarantee for Priester, and especially Malone, due to their lack of experience. In the past, the Bucs took their second-year prep arms and kept them at Short-Season ball.
Could this be a sign of the new regime and how they want to operate with their young, higher potential prospects? This was always a complaint of the previous regime by fans. Many have felt that the team moved their top prospects too slow, especially compared to other teams. Every year it seems like there are more and more young superstars entering the league because teams are moving their top prospects when they show they are ready and not based on a previously set standard of innings pitched/at-bats.
If in fact all three pitchers start at Low-A Greensboro, then they will definitely be the minor league team to follow. All three of those pitchers have top of the rotation stuff and pedigree which could make for one of the most impressive minor league rotations in baseball. Even more so, having all three of them climb up the minor league system together could put the Bucs in a really good spot when it comes time for their big league debuts. Be sure to pay attention to the Greensboro Grasshoppers’ box scores this upcoming season.