Part Three of our series on the Pirates’ prospective, full-season minor league rotations covers Bradenton. Projecting assignments as an outsider gets really iffy at class A, because the Pirates get an up-close look at a pitcher’s development and work from there. Last year, for instance, I thought they’d send 2013 fourth-round draft pick Cody Dickson to Bradenton, but he went to West Virginia and ninth-rounder Chad Kuhl went to Bradenton. Sure enough, Dickson had a rough first half even in low A and Kuhl had a very solid year at the higher level.
Another factor that adds unpredictability is that the team will sometimes move pitchers from relief to starting, or vice versa, based on factors that don’t show up in the stats. It’s also possible that one or more pitchers who pitched for Bradenton in 2014 could get pushed down from Altoona for various reasons. One candidate might be Jason Creasy, who got hit hard over the last two months of last season. Orlando Castro could return to Bradenton after getting hurt promptly upon being promoted to Altoona last year. If Aaron Pribanic gets healthy after an absence of nearly three years, he could start at Bradenton despite his experience in AA.
One of the more prominent prospects who could appear at Bradenton is Clay Holmes (pictured), but he isn’t expected to be ready for the start of the season following last year’s Tommy John surgery. Holmes had a good second half at West Virginia in 2013 following a rough first half, but the team could decide to send him back to low A initially, once he’s ready.
Luis Heredia’s two partial seasons in low A have been plagued by injuries, conditioning problems and disappointing performances. Just the same, the Pirates aren’t big on sending players back to the same level over and over, so he’ll probably move up to Bradenton. Heredia will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft after the season, so 2015 would be a good time for him to step up.
Cody Dickson should also move up. He made significant progress in the second half of 2014, going from a 5.58 ERA and 1.68 WHIP in his first 13 starts to a 2.45 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in his last 14.
Of the pitchers drafted by the Pirates in 2014, sixth rounder Tyler Eppler is the obvious candidate to skip low A. He’s similar to Kuhl in that he didn’t miss a lot of bats in short-season ball after he signed, but he walked very few and put up a WHIP of 0.95 (0.69 in August). He is, however, a flyball pitcher.
It’s especially hard to project how the Pirates will handle Dovydas Neverauskas, since there isn’t exactly an established track record for Lithuanian pitchers. The team stuck with Neverauskas in the West Virginia rotation all year in 2014 despite some rough results (5.60 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 4.0 BB/9). He has a good arm and his velocity, while erratic, has sometimes sat at 95. If he shows up well enough in spring training, he could move up.
Other 2014 draftees besides Eppler could be candidates to make the jump from short season ball to Bradenton, although most seem more likely to go to West Virginia. Montana DuRapau, the team’s 32nd round pick, is small (5’11") and tops out in the upper-80s, but he had a 7:1 K:BB ratio at Jamestown in 2014 and . . . his name is Montana DuRapau.
Thirteenth rounder Frank Duncan pitched very well for Jamestown after struggling through his first three starts. Tenth rounder Alex McRae just struggled (6.21 ERA) and eighth rounder Austin Coley threw only 20 innings due to shoulder issues, so they don’t seem like good candidates to skip a level.
Maybe the most intriguing possibility is lefty John Sever, the team’s 20th round pick. He pitched after signing at Bristol, which is sort-of half a level lower than Jamestown. Sever put up playstation numbers (1.33 ERA, 13.9 K/9) and also showed surprising velocity in relief, leading the Pirates to give him three starts late in the year. He seems most likely to move up to the Bradenton bullpen, but if the team is curious enough about what they have, they could try him as a starter.
Another pitcher who could move to the rotation from relief is Felipe Gonzalez, whom the Pirates selected in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft last year. Gonzalez spent four years in the Dominican Summer League and then missed a year due to an injury, but the Pirates quickly moved him up to full season ball. He pitched well in a swing role for West Virginia in 2014, then finished the season in the Bradenton bullpen, where he had control problems.