In 2013, the Pittsburgh Pirates received a boost during their playoff run when they called up then-rookie pitcher Gerrit Cole.
Next season, the Pirates may get a similar impact from several different prospects.
With the recent promotions of first baseman and arguably top hitting prospect Josh Bell and top pitching prospect Tyler Glasnow to Triple-A Indianapolis, both are now in a position to arrive in Pittsburgh sometime in 2016 barring injury.
Of course, this is under the assumption that Glasnow will not be called up for the Pirates’ stretch run, but considering General Manager Neal Huntington’s track record of taking things slowly with prospects, it would be a surprise to see him in a Pirates uniform in 2015.
But Glasnow and Bell are not the only top Pirate prospects on track for a midseason call up to the majors in 2016.
Depending on how pitchers Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham’s rehabs go, both could join the Pirates at some point in 2016. Kingham was likely slated to join the big club in 2015 until Tommy John surgery derailed his season, while Jameson Taillon’s rehab from 2014 TJ surgery and a 2015 hernia surgery set him back.
If all goes well with Taillon and Kingham’s recoveries, and Glasnow does well enough in Triple-A to warrant a call up, the Pirates could have two potential aces and a middle of the rotation starter to add to their rotation.
And they will need them next season.
As it currently stands, the Pirates rotation next year would consist of Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke. A.J. Burnett plans to retire, Vance Worley is an unknown after being designated for assignment and J.A. Happ will be a free agent over the winter.
One way or another, the Pirates will need to add to the rotation. Considering that none of the aforementioned pitching prospects are likely to start the year in Pittsburgh, the upgrade could come by way of a trade or free agent signing. The good news is that breaking the bank for a Johnny Cueto or David Price will not be necessary with a talented crop of pitchers coming up, and could instead opt for a signing similar to the Liriano and Edinson Volquez ones in recent years.
It is hard to say what roles the Pirates’ talented trio of arms will be next year. The easiest path to the rotation will be if one of their current starters gets injured or struggles, and it stands to reason that Glasnow would get the first crack at the rotation considering his prestige as a prospect.
At the very least, the team will need pitching depth. Adrian Sampson is gone, and if Worley and Happ do not return that narrows their choices even more. Glasnow, Taillon, Kingham and even a healthy Brandon Cumpton are good backup options to have if anything happens to the rotation, and could all be in the rotation at the start of the 2017 season.
While the team’s top pitching prospects may serve as depth next season, Bell could find his way into the starting lineup when he is called up.
Current starting first baseman Pedro Alvarez is unlikely to return to the team in 2016, as the Pirates likely will trade or non-tender him. Michael Morse is under contract for next season, but may not be the ideal starter if he cannot rebound from his poor season. If Morse opens as the starter next season and struggles, it could give Bell the opportunity to grab the starting job.
Bell gives the Pirates a switch hitter with power potential that could be a thumper in the middle of the lineup. The biggest thing for Bell right now is to really tap into that power potential. He has shown glimpses of this power in the minors, but only has 12 career home runs to pair with a .443 slugging percent.
In the field, Bell has reportedly been looking much more comfortable and fluid at the position after initially looking uncomfortable. The hope is that he continues to improve and get more confident at the position in Indy before reaching the majors.
This also does not include second baseman Alen Hanson or Elias Diaz, though both are more likely to see September call ups than the others.
With such an influx of talent set to hit Pittsburgh over the next year to pair with a roster that is already playoff-worthy, the 2016 Pirates could be the deepest Pirates team in years.