MLB

Projecting The Starting Rotation For 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates

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Projected 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates Rotation

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Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates have arguably one of the best starting rotations in baseball when everyone is healthy and at peak performance. The same statement can be made with regard to the projected starting rotation for the 2014 season.

Looking back to the 2013 season, the starting rotation was anchored by A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano -- the co-aces of staff, if you will. Jeff Locke started 30 games that season, matched only by Burnett. The plan at the conclusion of Spring Training was to round out the rotation with Jonathan Sanchez and James McDonald, but that never really happened due to injuries and ineffectiveness. Gerrit Cole earned a midseason promotion to the Pirates from Triple-A Indianapolis as Charlie Morton and James McDonald were rehabbing from injuries. Cole would go on to enjoy late-season and postseason successes. Wandy Rodriguez's forearm tendinitis became pronounced after starting just 12 games, which landed him on the DL. Ultimately, he was shut down by the Pirates for the remainder of the year. This opened the door for some less experienced pitchers like Jeanmar Gomez, Brandon Cumpton, Kris Johnson and Phil Irwin to see some MLB action.

The 2014 season hasn't started yet, but the starting rotation is already rounded into shape. A couple of the spots are already Locke-d in (pun intended). If the Pirates' starting pitchers can remain healthy, they will arguably be one of the best in the business. Discounting the possibility of an A.J. Burnett return, here is a look at the projected starting rotation for the 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates.

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7. Jameson Taillon

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Pirates fans will see Jameson Taillon before this season is over. A first-round draft pick in 2010, Tailon spent the 2013 season between Double-A and Triple-A Indianapolis, where he posted some promising numbers. Look for Taillon to make his way to the big club for a spot start throughout the season or a take a regular role if the injury bug starts to bite.

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5. (tie) Jeff Locke

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Jeff Locke will occupy the fifth spot in the rotation after Wandy Rodriguez' season is interrupted by his forearm tendonitis (or arthritis, since there were conflicting diagnoses) well before the All-Star Break. Locke started 30 games for the Bucs in 2013 and was selected to the All-Star game after having an explosive first half. He struggled terribly in the second half of the season, but still ended the season with a record of 10-7 and a 3.52 ERA.

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5. (tie) Wandy Rodriguez

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Wandy Rodriguez will claim the fifth spot in the rotation out of Spring Training, but he won't stay there for the whole season. His 2013 was marred by injury, and he spent the remainder of the calendar year "resting". He will reportedly be "ready" by Spring Training.

Rodriguez has to be part of the starting rotation to start the season. Not only does he bring a veteran presence to the clubhouse, but he's being paid $13 million for the 2014 season. You aren't going to send a guy making that kind of money to Triple-A Indianapolis to start the season -- you have to give him a chance to solidify his spot in the rotation based upon performance. Locke is the backup plan.

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4. Edinson Volquez

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Signed in December 2013 by the Pirates as a free agent, Edinson Volquez spent his 2013 season in California, specifically with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres. Posting a cumulative 9-12 record and 5.71 ERA, he will chew up some innings and keep the Pirates close in a lot of games. It's a bit of a peculiar signing, one which likely sealed A.J. Burnett's fate with the Pirates.

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3. Charlie Morton

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So long as Charlie Morton stays healthy, he will appear in around 20 games for the Pirates in 2014. Morton's performances historically have been likened to a roller coaster, since his starts are usually either excellent or the complete opposite -- there generally is no happy gray area. This will be a defining year for Morton with the Pirates as it sets the tone for the remainder of his contract, which runs through the 2016 season (with a team option for 2017).

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2. Gerrit Cole

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Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Gerrit Cole should occupy the second spot in the rotation, which is quite the accomplishment considering he started the 2013 season at Triple-A Indy. He had an impressive start to his big league career earning four victories in as many starts. He finished his rookie year regular season with a 10-7 record and a 3.22 ERA.

He swings the stick too, so look for him to help his own cause offensively when given the opportunity.

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1. Francisco Liriano

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The ace of the staff. Liriano is the obvious choice for no. 1 considering his 2013 performance and his professional service time. Putting together a record of 16-8 and a 3.02 ERA after being acquired by the Pirates prior to the season's start, Liriano was arguably the most reliable starter, only contested by A.J. Burnett.

Liriano is the keystone of the rotation. His health and early performance will not only set the groundwork for his success, but that of the entire rotation.