The Pirates will call up six players tomorrow when rosters expand. On Sunday night, I reported that those six players would be Travis Snider, Jaff Decker, Pedro Florimon, Elias Diaz, Radhames Liz, and Bobby LaFromboise. Today, those six players were officially placed on the MLB taxi squad, meaning they have to be called up in the next day (but also allowing Indianapolis to add a few players so they wouldn’t have to play six players short tonight).
In addition to those six, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rob Scahill gets activated from his rehab assignment to give the team another pitcher. Vance Worley won’t come up, as it appears the Pirates are keeping him in a starting role for now while Indianapolis is still playing.
One player who you won’t be seeing is Tyler Glasnow. On Sunday, Neal Huntington said that the Pirates are not planning on calling up their top prospect. This news is going to make some people upset, especially if they’re only focused on his 0.81 ERA or his upside as a number one starter. But the truth is that Glasnow just isn’t ready.
Looking past the ERA, Glasnow has a 12.2% walk rate. That’s his worst rate since 2013 in West Virginia, and his second worst rate at any level in minor league ball. He showed some improvements with his control in Altoona, but only after a rough start at the level. Now he’s going up against hitters who are more advanced, with a few who have been in the majors. As a result, he’s going to have to adjust again to a new level of competition, and show that he can pitch without control problems in a higher level.
If Glasnow can’t limit control in Triple-A, how will he fare in the majors? Jeff Locke has dealt with control problems, and has just an 8.5% walk rate this year. In no month has he been over 10.8%. So why would Glasnow be destined for success when he’s got a 12.2% rate in Triple-A?
Then there’s the fact that Glasnow had a 1.62 WHIP up until his last two outings, where he combined for 12.1 shutout innings, with 14 strikeouts and four walks. Those are outstanding numbers, and positive signs going forward. But that’s also just two starts.
Last year, Nick Kingham got the call to Triple-A and gave up one run in 14 innings over his first two outings, with a 10:1 K/BB ratio. Expanding that further, he gave up just one earned run in 26.2 innings over his first four starts. He struggled down the stretch, including a 4.99 ERA in 61.1 innings over his final ten starts of the year. Granted, we don’t know when his elbow problems started, but this shows that you can’t make much out of limited success at a new level.
We could also look at Adrian Sampson just this year. He had decent numbers through his first ten outings, with a 3.15 ERA in 60 innings, and a 53:17 K/BB ratio. Right after that, he gave up one earned run in 13.2 innings over his next two starts, with a 14:2 K/BB ratio. He looked ready based off those two starts. That was until he struggled in his final nine starts in the Pirates’ organization, with a 5.86 ERA in 50.2 innings. After those two starts, Sampson had a 2.69 ERA in 73.2 innings. But that didn’t prevent him from future struggles in Triple-A.
Glasnow is a better prospect and has a higher upside than either Kingham or Sampson. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have things to work on, and it doesn’t mean he is immune to a league adjusting to him. Maybe that won’t happen to the same extreme as Sampson or Kingham recently, but it will happen, which is why you don’t just promote a guy after he puts up two good outings.
There’s also very little need for the current version of Glasnow. He’s dealing with control problems in the upper levels, and his changeup just became good enough that the Pirates trusted him above Double-A, but isn’t to the point where it’s a great pitch. You might think that he’s better than Jeff Locke or Charlie Morton, but the reality is that right now he’s a guy with poor control of his fastball, a changeup he can’t rely on, and a really good curveball that he can’t set up properly. His fastball lets him get away with a lot of mistakes and poor control in the minors, but there’s a big jump to the majors, and that probably won’t work in the big leagues.
You could suggest that he come up and pitch in a relief role. But why would the Pirates need him? Their bullpen just obliterated any other bullpen in baseball last month. They ranked first in WPA, shutdowns, and were the best in the NL in WAR. They had two relievers (Tony Watson and Arquimedes Caminero) who didn’t allow a run the entire month. Joe Blanton was lights out in every role he saw. You’re not going to replace Melancon or Watson with Glasnow. You’ve got Caminero, Soria, Blanton, and Hughes as right-handed options for the middle innings. When exactly would Glasnow pitch, and which productive reliever would you replace to get the novelty of the “David Price” going for it move?
Speaking of which, the biggest argument to call up Glasnow is that the Rays called up David Price in 2008. But the Rays had a middle of the pack bullpen the entire year, and that’s not something you can say about the Pirates this year.
More recently, the Royals called up Brandon Finnegan, who played a big long-relief role last year in the playoffs. But the truth is that the Royals didn’t have someone for Finnegan’s role before he was called up. The Pirates do have someone for that role, and that is Joe Blanton. He’s not a rookie like Finnegan, but he’s doing the same thing for the Pirates’ bullpen that Finnegan did for the Royals last year.
Glasnow won’t be in the majors until June 2016 at the earliest. And don’t think that’s because he’s ready now, but the Pirates will hold him out until the Super Two deadline passes, all to save money. He’s probably not even going to be ready next June. He will still have a lot to work on, and will still need to make adjustments to his game. Next June will just be the earliest time that it will make sense for him to carry his work to the majors.
The arguments right now are that Glasnow is ready based on limited success, and that he’s only being held back due to money. Those were the same arguments last year that surrounded Gregory Polanco. They were the same arguments surrounding Gerrit Cole and Starling Marte. And none of those guys were fully ready when they reached the majors.
Polanco struggled after his first ten games, and most of the people calling the Pirates cheap last May were probably calling for Polanco to be sent down to Triple-A this May. Cole pitched more like a number three/number four starter in his rookie season, and didn’t become an ace until almost a year and a half into his pro career. Marte struggled with consistency in 2012, and didn’t look like a star until the following year. So why would Glasnow immediately make an impact, while having a lot less time in Triple-A than those guys?
I haven’t even gotten into the fact that Glasnow has a history of nerves taking over early in new levels, has struggled in the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, lets runners go at-will because he’s only focused on development right now, and has said himself that he’s got things to work on in Triple-A. I didn’t go into detail about the negatives, such as potentially damaging his mechanics by sending him up without his best stuff (leading to him trying to do things different to compensate), or starting his clock, which would burn service time if he gets injured in Spring Training next year (as he’d have to go on the MLB disabled list).
No one really wants Tyler Glasnow up. They want the idea of Tyler Glasnow up. They want a top prospect who is going to be an ace one day, but can step in right now and be an upgrade over Jeff Locke/Charlie Morton, or that essential piece that will be the difference between the Pirates going home early and winning it all. The problem is that Tyler Glasnow isn’t that prospect. His ERA might suggest he is, but everything else suggests differently.
When people can’t accept this, they turn to the usual arguments about the Pirates being too cheap, or not wanting to put the best team on the field. But the Pirates made some of the best moves at the deadline, giving themselves a huge upgrade in the rotation (J.A. Happ), and two big upgrades to the bullpen (Blanton, Soria), among other upgrades on the offensive side. In the process, they took on about $10 M for the remainder of the season. Nothing about their approach this year suggests they are cheap, or unconcerned with putting the best team possible on the field.
The truth is that Tyler Glasnow isn’t ready this year. He probably won’t be next June either. But he’ll be a lot closer at that point, and there will be less on the line at that point if/when he comes up and struggles out of the gate.
**Source: Pirates Will Call Up Six When Rosters Expand, Including Elias Diaz. From Sunday night, the list of guys who will be called up tomorrow. As noted above, all six were added to the taxi squad today, which pretty much confirms the news.
Shameless promotion here: As of this writing, no other outlet has reported these upcoming moves, even though Indianapolis sent out a press release today with the taxi squad info. It’s been over 24 hours since we first reported the upcoming transactions, and that kind of exclusive window for news is unheard of these days. While the names went out to non-subscribers as well, you guys (our subscribers) got the details on each player, while also getting very little mystery leading up to the event (how many times did we say that Diaz had moved past Sanchez, or that Liz was moving to the long-relief role for a call-up?).
We’re no strangers to breaking news, and it’s kind of a “been there, done that” feeling when it happens now. But this feels kind of big, and I’m surprised that no one else has the info out there. At the same time, I’m also very happy that you’ve got this exclusive news from us so early.
**Prospect Watch: Tarpley, Keller and Worley Headline Monday Night. Worley was left in Triple-A, and responded with two runs over eight innings. I’d expect him to remain down as starting depth while Indianapolis keeps playing.
**Ke’Bryan Hayes and Adrian Valerio Lead the GCL Pirates Top 10 Prospects. Report on the top prospects during the 2015 GCL Pirates season, which combines all of our live reports from the year.
**Morning Report: Two Different Approaches to Handling Young Pitchers. John Dreker looks at how the Pirates handled their prep pitchers from last year’s draft compared to how similar players were handled in other organizations.