Speculation has been rampant since the Pirates released veteran lefty Erik Bedard Monday morning, opening up a spot in their starting pitching rotation as they enter September.
Clearly Kevin Correia is an option to be repatriated into the rotation when Bedard’s former spot comes up Saturday in Milwaukee, but a more intriguing possiblity seems to have opened up with the promotion of Gerrit Cole from Double-A Altoona to Triple-A Indianapolis.
Cole was the first-overall selection in last June’s MLB Draft, and the former UCLA star righthander has progressed quickly through the Pirates’ minor-league system, as expected. Now, after starting the year at Advanced-A Bradenton, Cole will join the Indianapolis Indians’ pitching staff as they get ready for a run at the International League title.
That’s all well and good, especially since Cole’s powerful repertoire projects extremely well at the major-league level, but the move has implications for the Pirates almost immediately. Cole’s promotion will force one of the Indians’ regular starters out of the rotation, giving credence to the theory that lefty Jeff Locke will be recalled to Pittsburgh prior to Saturday.
The 24-year-old lefty was unimpressive in four starts last season for the Pirates, but additional Triple-A seasoning has been beneficial for one of the few New Hampshire natives in organized pro ball. In 24 starts, Locke has allowed less than a hit per inning and has a 3-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio. His 2.48 ERA in 141 1/3 innings pitched is also impressive.
Kyle McPherson is also in line to eventually move into the Pittsburgh rotation, but his mere three starts at Indy put him behind Locke in the hierarchy of potential Pirates starters.
Either way, if GM Neal Huntington does promote a prospect instead of re-inserting Correia into the rotation, it would be a promising sign for those who think the Bucco GM has been too tentative to test inexperienced players in the pressures of a playoff chase. In this case, Locke appears to have more potential to be above-average than any available major-league veterans.
This is mostly conjecture, but it appears the Pirates will draw from their minor-league depth to bridge the gap between Jeff Karstens on Friday and A.J. Burnett on Sunday.