By Jason Shetler
p/c: Adam Pintar
The Pirates finished this year with a record of 82-79, giving them their first winning season since 2015. Aside from the bullpen, the rotation as a whole was consistently solid. Jameson Taillon was able to take that next step as a frontline starter, Trevor Williams pitched at an All-Star level, Joe Musgrove exceeded expectations in his first year in Pittsburgh and Ivan Nova was good enough. Chris Archer had his moments of pitching subpar, but to his credit, performed much better down the stretch.
Despite the good pitching from their regular starters, they didn’t get much help from their depth options. Nick Kingham had a disappointing rookie showing with the Pirates, while Clay Holmes struggled with his command. One starter who surprisingly wasn’t given an opportunity to pitch for the big club this season was Tyler Eppler.
After spending the entire 2017 season with AAA Indianapolis, Eppler returned there to begin 2018. He was a workhorse for the Indians this year, compiling 153 innings, third most in the International League. Eppler put up a 3.59 ERA and a FIP of 3.78. Since being drafted by the Bucs in 2014, he’s been one of the best control pitchers in the system, and that was no different this season, posting a 2.3 BB/9.
Eppler was not added to the Pirates 40-man roster last offseason, therefore, exposing him to the Rule 5 Draft. However, he was not selected. He will again be Rule 5 eligible, so he’ll have to be placed on the 40-man or go through the draft process.
This offseason, Eppler will be pitching in the Dominican Winter League for Toros del Este. If nothing else, it’ll be a showcase for other teams to scout him, although, the Pirates can easily prevent that by just adding him to their roster. Protecting him this offseason needs to be a priority. Other than Mitch Keller arriving at some point in 2019, the Pirates don’t have much else to lean on with their depth, unless Kingham and/or Holmes pitch significantly better. Also keep in mind that they won’t have the services of Chad Kuhl next year, as he’ll be recovering from Tommy John surgery. With his excellent control of a mid-90’s fastball, along with a 6’5, 230 lb frame, Eppler has the potential of at least being a quality backend starter.