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Pirates spring training starters: Who are these guys?

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MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The rotation is set with Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams, Joe Musgrove and Jordan Lyles. With no options left, Nick Kingham is a lock to make the team as the sixth starter and long reliever. So let’s see who else is in camp.

These “Who are these guys?” segments are all about depth and this is the one that I find the most disquieting. The list here is long, but it’s heavily populated by prospects who aren’t ready yet. If, heaven forbid, enough things go wrong early in the season, we might start missing Jonathan Sanchez. (Well OK, hyperbole, but still . . . .) In a year, there could be a lot of depth here, but for now I’m holding my breath. The team definitely needs to require hockey masks for bunting drills this spring.

Previously:

Catchers
Infielders
Outfielders

Steven Brault (No. 43): Despite being the only lefty on the 40-man roster who’s not the team’s closer, Brault has several factors against him, the most important of which is that he has an option left. The Pirates nefariously recalled him last year about three days short of burning his last one. His other handicaps are competition from Francisco Liriano and Tyler Lyons, and the fact that he’s the seventh starter and might be better served by staying stretched out in AAA. Well, all that plus his disappointing performance in 2018. Even if he doesn’t make the team out of camp, though, he’s extremely likely to see Pittsburgh at some point.

Chance of contributing in 2019: High

J.T. Brubaker (65): Brubaker has legitimate starter stuff, with a mid-, sometimes upper-90s fastball, a change and a new curve that made a difference for him in 2018. He also pitched very well late in the season for Indianapolis. Even so, the Pirates’ stated backup plan for the rotation is Kingham/Brault/opener. They evidently want to see more of Brubaker in AAA. Hopefully, he can work his way into the backup plans fairly early. He’s on the roster, so a callup at some point seems likely.

Chance of contributing in 2019: Moderate

Luis Escobar (78): Escobar also has starter stuff, with pretty much the same arsenal as Brubaker. What he’s been lacking is command, which led to a rough time at Altoona in the second half of 2018. It’s conceivable he could move to the bullpen and suddenly take off, but I don’t know whether the Pirates are ready to try that yet. He probably didn’t help himself with a disciplinary suspension near the end of the season. Escobar will probably head back to Altoona this year. He’s got two options left, so he doesn’t have a large margin for error.

Chance of contributing in 2019: None

Clay Holmes (52): Unlike Brubaker, Holmes has over 200 innings in AAA and 26 in the majors, so the starting depth chart articulated by the Pirates isn’t exactly a vote of confidence. The arsenal for a starter is there, including the extreme groundball tendency, which the Pirates love. The control isn’t so far. I thought late in 2018 that the Pirates might be trying to move Holmes to relief, but they haven’t said anything about that one way or the other. I guess we’ll find out before too long.

Chance of contributing in 2019: Moderate

Mitch Keller (23): As we all know, Keller struggled in AAA last year, but he’s still regarded as a top prospect and is very likely, barring something unforeseen, to see the majors this year. Hopefully, he’ll be ready within a couple months and before any issues arise with the rotation.

Chance of contributing in 2019: High

Aaron Slegers (64): Slegers is a 6’10” finesse righty who throws strikes and has always been very hittable. He was on waivers, so every team that was worse than the Pirates in 2018 passed on him. He’s on the 40-man roster and has two options. Still, I have to think they’ll try to slip him through waivers the first time they need a roster spot that they can’t open up through a 60-day disabled list (or whatever it’s called now) move.

Chance of contributing in 2019: Low

Dario Agrazal (76): Up through high-A, Agrazal was a pitch-to-contact starter who threw strikes, kept his pitch counts very low and lasted deep into games. Since mid-2017, though, he’s been hampered by injuries, including shoulder problems in 2018. He’s also seen a velocity drop from the mid- to the low-90s, which isn’t good because he didn’t have a big secondary pitch to begin with. Opponents in AA in 2018 put up numbers against him that were above the league averages. (ZiPS seems to like him OK, but I’m not sure whether it can adequately account for the drop in velocity.) The Pirates dropped him from the roster in the off-season and he cleared waivers. He’ll try to put it back together in 2019, beginning, I’d guess, at Altoona.

Chance of contributing in 2019: None

Alex McRae (63): McRae has always been a pretty hittable pitcher with marginal stuff, so his 2018 callup was surprising, even in a situation where the Pirates just needed an arm for a couple days. Of course, he somehow ended up pitching in extra innings later on. He mostly struggled in AAA. The Pirates dropped him from the roster and he cleared waivers. It’s hard to see him returning to the majors this year.

Chance of contributing in 2019: Low

Eduardo Vera (80): Vera came out of nowhere in 2017, as his post-TJ elbow started producing increased velocity and a sharp curve. He doesn’t rack up the Ks, but he’s had more success with pitching to contact than some other guys in the organization, remaining effective while moving up through three levels in two years, ending at Altoona. He was eligible for minor league free agency after the 2018 season, but the Pirates signed him to a minor league deal for 2019 and he didn’t get selected in the Rule 5 draft. Despite all that, he had very little experience prior to 2017 and is still only 24. It’d be nice to see him open the season in the AAA rotation.

Also a note from BA, which had Vera on a list of prospects who impressed in winter ball:

Vera spent the bulk of the 2018 season at Double-A and then was a pitching standout in the MPL (Mexican Pacific League). He registered a 1.46 ERA across five starts and 24 innings for Mazatlan while issuing just two walks and allowing no home runs. He can work his fastball up to 97 mph while flashing an above-average curveball and solid command of his pitches.

Chance of contributing in 2019: Low

Brandon Waddell (71): A finesse lefty who reached Altoona very quickly, Waddell needed significant parts of three seasons to master the level. He didn’t do very well once he got to Indianapolis about two months into 2018; like other finesse guys, he tends to nibble around the edges and run into long counts. Scouts seem to like him reasonably well, though, especially his change, and he’s left-handed. He was eligible for the Rule 5 draft and wasn’t selected.

Chance of contributing in 2019: Low