For the second time in one turn of their rotation, the Pirates are going to put a starting pitcher on the mound with absolutely no big league experience. Brandon Cumpton makes his big league debut today out of necessity more than anything; with AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez and Jeanmar Gomez and Kyle McPherson and Phil Irwin on the disabled list and James McDonald struggling during his rehab outing, someone has to be the Pirates fifth starter.
So who is Brandon Cumpton? He was the Pirates tenth round pick in 2010 out of Georgia Tech, so he's not one of the high school pitching prospects that we spend so much time discussing. Really, Cumpton's whole trip through the minors has been of the solid-but-unspectacular sort. He's been pretty reliably promoted (State College in 2010, West Virginia and Bradenton in 2011, Altoona in 2012, Indianapolis this year) with decent results. His minor league ERA is 3.85, his strikeout rate is 5.8 K/9, his walk rate is 2.6 BB/9, and his homer rate is a nice 0.6 HR/9. His numbers at Indy this year have tracked pretty close to that; his and strikeout rates are slightly better (3.31 and 6.8, respectively), but his walk rate is higher (3.0) which leaves him with the same K/BB ratio.
Tim's got a nice writeup of what to expect from Cumpton tonight; low 90s sinking fastball, slider, and changeup. I don't think there's much of a ceiling here, but I'll repeat what I said when Phil Irwin started earlier in the year; there's a good chance that Cumpton's at least got enough stuff to keep the Dodgers and whoever else off balance for a start or two before the league really starts to get a book on him. The Pirates don't need Cumpton to be Gerrit Cole; they need him to make maybe two or three starts and to keep the Pirates in the game. That's all they need. I don't know if they'll get that, but it doesn't seem impossible.
Of course, Cumpton's first start has the degree of difficulty ratcheted way, way up. His mound opponent is Clayton Kershaw, who's obviously one of the best lefties in baseball. Because Jose Tabata is on the disabled list and Starling Marte is battling an oblique injury that might land him there, as well, that means that lefty Alex Presley is leading off, that Brandon Inge is in right field, and that Pedro Alvarez won't be able to get the afternoon off against Kershaw. All of this worries me.
The first pitch this afternoon is at 4:05. I'm headed off to Durham tonight to watch Indianapolis play, so I'll probably miss the second half of the game.