It’s uncommon, but the Oakland A’s proved this year that you can go a long way on the backs of rookie pitching.
The A’s got to Game 5 of the ALDS with three rookie starting pitchers each making at least 15 starts. Those young arms were buoyed during the season by the veteran presence of Bartolo Colon and Brandon McCarthy, but the contribution of the rookies on the pitching staff is undeniable.
Tom Milone, acquired in the off-season from the Washington Nationals, made 31 starts with a 3.74 ERA. Jarrod Parker, acquired in the off-season from the Arizona Diamondbacks, made 29 starts with a 3.47 ERA. A.J. Griffin was already a member of the A’s organization and was called upon to make 15 starts down the stretch, and posted a 3.06 ERA.
Few organizations have the pitching depth in the upper levels of the minor leagues who all prepared to take on the Major Leagues at the same time, but the Pittsburgh Pirates do.
Not all of the A’s rookie pitchers were top prospects, but Parker was. The Pirates have Gerrit Cole, a prospect even more highly-touted than was Parker. Cole spent the second half of the 2012 season pitching in Double-A and made one Triple-A start at the end of the year. He may not be ready to start the year in the majors, but he could easily be a part of the Pirates rotation by the All-Star break.
Cole is the pride of the Pirates minor league system, but he’s hardly all they have. The pitching staff of the Indianapolis Indians, the Pirates Triple-A affiliate, Justin Wilson and Jeff Locke, a pair of left-handers who each had solid seasons and are major league ready. Additionally, right-hander Kyle McPherson, who spent most of the season at Double-A, ended the season making three starts in the major leagues and pitching well.
The Pirates also have the veteran presence to help these rookies along. Wandy Rodriguez will return to lead the rotation, and James McDonald will get a shot to prove his first-half wasn’t a fluke. Jeff Karstans will return to be in the mix, and Charlie Morton, who missed all of 2011, will return and get a shot.
The 2013 Pirates will not be a team that uses only six or seven starters during the season. Fans should expect a mix of veterans and rookies that changes throughout the season.
The 2012 A’s, however, proved that that is no excuse for success. Featuring seven pitchers who made double-digit starts, they showed that it doesn’t necessarily take stability to win a division.
The Pirates will enter spring training with a “all hands on deck” approach to their starting rotation, and if they want to be successful, they will need a contribution from their rookies similar to what the A’s got this season.