In terms of the starting rotation for 2017, what the Pittsburgh Pirates lack in experience they make up in young depth.
Tyler Glasnow and Drew Hutchison figure to be the front-runners for the final spot in the rotation. Many words have been written and said about these five names, what they can bring to the rotation and whether it will be enough.
But there is another crop of potential starting pitchers in the Pirates’ stable that have not stolen any headlines, whether over the off-season or to this point in Spring Training.
Today we’ll take a look at these young hurlers..the “other guys” that have a chance to contribute to the rotation in 2017.
Does Chad Kuhl have enough to stick?
Kuhl had a fairly productive rookie season with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2016 going 5-4 with a 4.20 ERA. He struck out 53 batters while walking 20. Besides Taillon, Kuhl was the best rookie starter on the Pirates last year. He did a nice job of forcing ground balls getting opposing batters to ground out 44% of the time.
Kuhl will need locate his four-seam fastball effectively to make an impact in 2017. Last year, he threw it 61.4% of the time. Averaging 93.2 mph, Kuhl will need to establish the inside part of the plate and continue to jam hitters. That pitch paired with the slider makes for a nice one two punch.
Kuhl threw his change up just 9.5% of the time in 2016. Perhaps leaning on that pitch more in 2017 will add more deception to his repertoire, giving him an edge.
Right now, Kuhl clearly has the inside track on the fifth rotation spot, deservedly so. He proved last season that he is – at the very least – a capable back end starter. Assuming he’ll be in the rotation to start the season, he will need to continue to pitch well to stick there as better options might become ready.
Are Steven Brault and Trevor Williams really starters?
Brault made his major league debut last year in early July while Williams debuted in September. In eight games pitched (seven starts), Brault went 0-3 with a 4.86 ERA. He struck out 29 walking 17.
Williams worked primarily out of the bullpen in his seven games but did get one start. He gave up 11 earned runs in 12.2 innings, striking out 11 and walking five. He also gave up four home runs.
These two pitchers will provide depth to the Pirates’ starting rotation to start 2017. Brault may have and outside shot at making the rotation out of camp being that he is the only left handed starter. More than likely, these two will start the year in AAA to get their innings.
The mission for both of these young pitchers is simple: get better. Brault in particular needs to improve his command as he walked 4.2 hitters per nine at Triple-A Indianapolis last season. He walked roughly the same amount at the major league level – 4.2 – but did not have the strikeouts per nine to offset this as he did at Triple-A. Brault struck out 10.2 with Indianapolis as opposed to 7.1 with the Big League club.
As we know, a major league team almost never gets through an entire year with just five starting pitchers. Usually a team needs eight or nine solid guys total to make up for injuries throughout the season. Last year, the Pirates used 14 different guys to start games. Depth is key. Brault and Williams provide depth but could end playing a pivotal role to the season if they get their chance. More than likely they will.
Will Nick Kingham make his debut in 2017?
Like Brault and Williams, Nick Kingham will start his season in the minor leagues. After missing almost all of last year due to Tommy John surgery, Kingham is finally healthy and ready for a fresh start.
In a perfect world, Kingham would spend the season in the minor leagues and everything would work out great for the major league rotation. That probably won’t be the case. Like Brault and Williams, Kingham will most likely make his major league debut at some point this season.
Kingham this spring sort of mirrors Taillon last spring. Both pitchers were coming off of elbow surgery. Both pitchers are tall, hard throwing, highly touted right handers. Taillon was caught in the shadow of Glasnow this time last year. Kingham is currently caught in the shadow of all of the young starters this spring.
By all accounts, Kingham has impressed during the early days of Spring Training and it is very likely he will just need to build up some innings at Triple-A. It was not too long ago that many felt that Kingham was the prospect to watch over Taillon and others drafted around the same time.
If Kingham can provide a fraction of the production Taillon had last year, the Pittsburgh Pirates will get a nice unexpected shot in the arm.
We recently interviewed Kingham as he prepared for the coming season. Here now is that interview.
Out of these four pitchers, it is clear that only Kuhl will make the rotation to start the season based on the success he enjoyed last year, barring injury. That being said, all four of these guys will have ample opportunity to prove themselves for the Pittsburgh Pirates during the season.
On of the main reasons the Pirates didn’t do all that much this offseason is because they believe they have the pieces to win already. That includes their suspect starting rotation. The rotation may not have much experience but they do have numbers. There are nine guys who seem to be legitimate major league starters. With those guys, the Pittsburgh Pirates believe it will be enough for them to be contenders in 2017.