By Jason Shetler
Back in December, the Pirates added an intriguing arm to their bullpen by signing Juan Nicasio to a one-year/$3 million deal. The 29-year-old righty is coming off his best season in 2015 with the Los Angeles Dodgers where he posted a 3.86 ERA and a career best K/9 of 10.0 in 53 games pitched. His 2.83 Fielding Independent Pitching made him an even better reliever.
Nicasio arrived in the big leagues in 2011 with the Colorado Rockies as a starter. During his four seasons in Colorado, he had a 5.03 ERA, but had a FIP of 4.39, so it’s not like he pitched terribly. As mentioned, Nicasio put up his best strikeout ratio last season in the Dodgers bullpen. He showed an increase in his fastball velocity, averaging 95.0 mph, which certainly helped out the strikeout amount. Pirates GM Neal Huntington has said that Nicasio would be stretched out during Spring Training. Now while that means he would pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen, should the Pirates entertain the idea of using Nicasio in the rotation?
Ryan Vogelsong and Jeff Locke are currently the two back end starters to enter 2016. Although both were mediocre a year ago, the Pirates are hoping they can perform decent enough once Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon make their way to Pittsburgh at some point this season. A left-handed reliever still needs to addressed, so they could always move Locke to the bullpen and place Nicasio in the starting rotation. My guess is the Pirates will eventually bring in a lefty arm for the pen, and Locke will remain a starter for the time being. However, should a situation arise, in which Locke or Vogelsong are really struggling before June, then perhaps the Pirates could use Nicasio in the rotation as a “band-aid” until Glasnow or Taillon get called up.