Tyler Glasnow had one of his most impressive starts of the year last night, striking out 12 batters in six innings of work. The right-hander continues to dominate the Double-A level, and has now struck out 22 batters over 12 innings in his last two starts. This is all encouraging, as he was dealing with an ankle injury earlier in the season that threw off his mechanics and his results.
“The last two starts are indicative that he is as healthy as he’s going to be,” Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said on Sunday in his meeting with the media. “Guys are never 100% once the season starts. Tyler is back as confident and comfortable and you see that in the quality of his fastball in his last two outings in particular.”
Despite the recent success, and Glasnow’s overall 2.43 ERA in 63 innings, the Pirates still have some work to do. After his ten strikeout outing, Sean McCool wrote that a big focus going forward will be developing his changeup. Huntington noted on Sunday that they still need to see some improvements there and in other areas before Glasnow is considered for a promotion to Indianapolis.
“Our goal is to refine some things with the mechanics and refine some things with repeatability of the mechanics to allow the changeup and curveball to play better, and we’re still working through some things,” Huntington said. “Once he accomplishes the things we feel like he needs to accomplish to get to the next level, we’ll move him to the next level.”
If you’re holding out hope that the Pirates will get aggressive and promote Glasnow to the majors from Double-A, don’t count on it. The Pirates under Huntington haven’t made that type of promotion, and they won’t start with their top prospect.
“We do believe that there is value to every level,” Huntington said. “If a player has checked the boxes to make that jump, then we’d certainly be open to it, but I don’t think that is something that we would make a habit of because we think there are benefits to having exposure to playing at every level in the system. Double-A baseball is very different than Triple-A baseball, and as we said many times here before, the gap between Triple-A and the majors has never been larger. There will be things for each of our guys to learn at that next level as they begin to face some veteran guys that aren’t quite good enough to be in the big leagues but have better command than any pitcher they’ve ever faced before.”
It’s not a bad decision for the Pirates to keep Glasnow on a more conservative path. Aggressive promotions get a lot of credit because they’re aggressive, and they give the perception that the team isn’t holding back someone who deserves to be in the majors. But a lot of prospects struggle when they reach the majors, and some guys with aggressive promotions can be totally ruined because they missed out on key development in the upper levels.
You want to see strong minor league numbers, but those don’t always tell the story, and they don’t guarantee immediate MLB success. Glasnow projects as a future ace, but he won’t be anywhere close to that if he comes up this year. For proof of that, all you need to do is look at some of the prospects who have come up in recent years for the Pirates.
Gerrit Cole is looking like an ace this year, but that wasn’t the case the last two years. In his first five outings in the majors, he had a 3.94 ERA and a 4.9 K/9. He started improving as his career went on, but could never put up ace numbers as consistently as he’s doing this year. Even after posting good numbers at the end of his time with Indianapolis, he still took a season and a half in the majors before he reached his upside.
While Gregory Polanco is not a pitcher, he is another example of a top prospect who has struggled to realize his upside in the majors. Polanco absolutely destroyed Triple-A pitching, but has totaled a .239/.312/.351 line in a little over a full year in the majors. There might be some signs of hope, as he has a .274/.365/.429 line in 96 plate appearances this month. However, the overall point is that he dominated the minors, and after a year in the majors he still hasn’t come close to his upside.
Glasnow is now dominating the Double-A level, and has yet to throw a pitch in Triple-A. He’s probably going to need to refine his changeup a bit more before arriving in Triple-A. As for the majors, expecting him to be successful in the big leagues, even in a limited role, and all based off his Double-A numbers, is a pipe dream. Maybe it works out, but the upside here is that you get a good sixth or seventh inning reliever. The downside is that you throw off Glasnow’s development by sending him up to get shelled, and possibly adding some bad habits along the way. You can add a good middle reliever without taking that big of a risk.
As for when Glasnow does come up, don’t expect it to happen before the middle of the 2016 season.
Other Prospect Notes
**The Pirates added Steven Brault as one of two left-handed pitchers in the Travis Snider trade before the season. Brault doesn’t have over-powering stuff, but knows how to pitch, and commands his sinker very well. The pitch is only in the upper 80s, but comes in at the knees on a downward plane, then cuts at the plate, dropping off the table at the last second. It’s a nasty pitch that has led to Brault putting up a combined 3.29 ERA in 101.1 innings between Bradenton and Altoona this year.
Brault was an 11th round pick for the Orioles in 2013, prior to being added by the Pirates. Even back then, the Pirates liked what they saw from him.
“Our scouts loved the athleticism as a two-way player in college, so there was some athleticism there,” Huntington said. “They liked the feel and the upside given that he wasn’t a pitcher-only, and they felt like there was more there. Our pitching coach has done a nice job getting to know him and getting him to pound the zone. He has pitches for strikes and pitches for weapons, and he continues to be on a roll.”
**As we reported early this week, Alen Hanson is starting to get a look at third base. He has yet to play in a game, but continues taking ground balls and getting re-acclimated to the position for the first time since 2010. The need for Hanson in the majors this year might have been eliminated with the trade for Aramis Ramirez. Hanson would need a Neil Walker injury to play a significant role in the big leagues. Outside of that, he would be blocked at third base by Ramirez, Jung-ho Kang, and eventually Josh Harrison.
The Pirates will still give Hanson looks at other positions, including potentially giving him a shot in the outfield. That wouldn’t be a bad plan to bring him into the majors eventually as a Super Utility player.
“The original plan was to allow Alen to settle into second this year and allow the bat to play. Let him play one position in games and bounce him from second to short in pre-game work, which he’s done pretty much all year,” Huntington said. “There was going to be a point in time where we bounced him to third and introduced it to him. We talked long-term about the outfield, but we’re just trying to give the young man some options to break onto a major league club if possible. With Jordy and Josh going down, we sped that time frame up a little bit. He’s obviously swung the bat and has done a nice job down there offensively. We continue to work at short and introduce third base to him – a little bit earlier than we initially planned on. We’ll see where it goes. We’ll see how the work plays out, and see if he can play there and see if he can be major league caliber there. If we don’t, we’ll short change it and allow him to work at second base and shortstop. We’re getting some good work done, and we’ll see how it progresses.”
I think Hanson’s best shot at reaching the majors as a starter in Pittsburgh would be at second base, as the eventual replacement for Neil Walker. You could argue that the Pirates should do this heading into the 2016 season. But until Hanson is in the majors with a starting spot locked down, it’s wise to give him work all over the field.