The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Wil Crowe in the Josh Bell trade. But should the right-handed pitching prospect start the year in as one of the team’s starting 5?
One of the prospects the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired this offseason was right-handed pitcher Wil Crowe. He, along with Eddy Yean, came over from the Washington Nationals to the Bucs in the Josh Bell trade. Crowe is currently in competition with a handful of other starters for a rotation spot, but should he be in the rotation to start the season?
Crowe pitched just 8.1 innings in 2020 and struggled. However, he pitched way more innings in 2019. The right-hander played the season between Double-A and Triple-A and put up mixed results in total. He did pretty solid at Double-A where he had a 3.87 ERA, 3.15 FIP and 1.12 WHIP through 95.1 innings of work. Crowe has never been a big strikeout guy, but put up a career best mark at Double-A in 2019 at 23.2%. He also had a fantastic 5.7% walk rate and 0.76 HR/9 rate. He was definitely helped by his strong 48.1% ground ball rate.
However, when Crowe was promoted to Triple-A, Crowe struggled badly. He pitched a total of 54 innings putting up a 6.17 ERA, 5.61 FIP and 1.70 WHIP. Crowe saw his xFIP shoot up from a strong 3.05 mark at Double-A to 6.21 at Triple-A. Walks and home runs became an issue for him. His walk rate nearly doubled, jumping to 10.4% and HR/9 rate rose to 1.17. Meanwhile, his strikeout rate fell to 16.4%.
Crowe is not an overpowering pitcher with his fastball averaging out in the 91-94 MPH range and topping out around 96 MPH. He does have some solid spin at 2350 RPM. He also uses a slider and curveball as his breaking balls. His breaking ball spin can reach upwards of 2800 RPM. He also will use a change up.
Looking at the current projected rotation for the Pittsburgh Pirates Crowe is far from a guarantee to even start the year on the Major League roster. Mitch Keller, Steven Brault and Chad Kuhl are the only locks for the rotation. Trevor Cahill, despite being used as a swingman for the last handful of years, is likely penciled into a starting pitching role. Cahill’s contract includes incentives for reaching upwards of 150 innings pitched.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have many pitchers looking for a rotation spot outside of Crowe. The team signed left-hander Tyler Anderson, who’s started 82 of the 86 games he’s played in. He’s also been a solid pitcher with a 103 ERA+ and 98 ERA- and 102 FIP- mainly because he’s played in the hyper offensive Coors Field for most of his career. Then there’s JT Brubaker. Aside from one clunker of a start, Brubaker was a pretty solid SP for the Pirates last season. Cody Ponce could also be in the race for one of the last spots.
In my personal opinion, I would start Crowe in the rotation, move Anderson to the bullpen and start getting Brubaker innings in high leverage situations. However, a big consideration to take into account is minor league options remaining. Crowe, Brubaker and Ponce all have options remaining.
There is a higher possibility that Crowe start the year in the bullpen, or even Triple-A if the Pittsburgh Pirates want him to get regular innings as a starting pitcher than starting the year in the Pirate rotation. However, I do think that by the end of the year, he will be one of the Pirates’ starting pitchers. Although, it should be noted he has gotten a lot of praise recently for his work at the Pirates’ spring training camp.