One of the breakout pitching stories this year is James McDonald of the Pittsburgh Pirates. McDonald built on a solid 2011 and has now put together a string of effective starts while posting some impressive numbers. After 10 starts, the 27-year old is 4-2 with a 0.96 WHIP, 8.7 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9. First-time arbitration eligible after this season, McDonald came to the Pirates in a deadline deal with the Dodgers in 2010 that sent Octavio Dotel to LA.

A lanky right-hander out of Long Beach, CA, McDonald was drafted in the 11th round by the Dodgers in 2002. He signed in May of 2003 and pitched in 12 Gulf Coast League games that year before his climb to the majors took a detour. Injury cost McDonald all of 2004 and most of 2005.

He was always a strikeout pitcher but in a solid 2007 season McDonald greatly improved his control. In 26 games (25 starts) between hiA and AA, he threw 134 2/3 innings with only 37 BB to go with 168 K’s. In 2008 he got the call to the bigs and made four relief appearances. Then in 2009 McDonald started four major league games while making making 41 relief appearances.

In 2010, the Dodgers had McDonald in AAA to start the year and he eventually only made four appearances with the big club before being included in the deadline deal with the Pirates. The Dodgers were in an iffy position at 54-50, seven games behind the Padres in the NL West and 5 1/2 games out of the wildcard spot. They dealt the 25-year old McDonald and minor league OF Andrew Lambo for Dotel in an attempt to shore up the bullpen.

Dotel pitched pretty well in 19 games for the Dodgers, who ended the season in 4th place in the NL west at 80-82, but he didn’t finish the year in LA. The Dodgers flipped Dotel to Colorado on September 18th for a player to be named, eventually minor league OF Anthony Jackson.

Currently, McDonald is giving the Pirates a good outing nearly every time out, earning $0.5025M in his last year before arbitration. Lambo’s still in the minors for Pittsburgh, currently in AA.

The Dodgers received a few weeks of Dotel, who went on from Colorado to St. Louis and Toronto, and is now in Detroit. Jackson is still in the Dodgers’ system at AA Chatanooga.

Advantage Pirates on this deal, and that advantage can turn into a major steal if the club continues to improve and McDonald is still pitching well when the likes of Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon arrive.