Robbie Glendinning is among a small handful of Pittsburgh Pirates minor league players still at Pirate City. He had a chance to go home when they first shut down action, but decided to stay. He now patiently waits in Bradenton, where he will eventually try to keep proving himself as he works towards his big league goal.
Fellow Australian Brandan Bidois, who is a 2019-20 international signing in his first Spring Training, decided to return home when everything stopped last week. He faced a 14-day quarantine, on top of the long trip to get home, plus a possible 14-day quarantine once he returns. For Glendinning in particular, the flight home involves a flight from Tampa to Los Angeles, one from L.A. to Sydney (Australia), then the last one from Sydney to Perth. That’s nearly 24 hours without counting the wait time. If you include the two 14-day quarantines (the second is only assumed at this point), then he would have spent a full month being isolated and traveling. While we’ve heard reports that baseball activities are at a minimum at Pirate City, it still seems better than the alternative.
Glendinning is coming off of a second straight big winter in Australia, with a strong 2019 minor league season in between. If you combine that 14-month run from December 2018 to February 2020, Glendinning hit .335/.377/.604 in 169 games. Considering that Australia is approximately equal to the level of play in Double-A, those are some really big numbers from a player who finished the 2018 season in Low-A.
Despite the success, including a solid run at Altoona last year, I was a bit surprised to find out that Glendinning will be serving in a utility role this year at Altoona to begin the season. He will be moving around the infield, yet still seeing regular at-bats.
On one hand, you could see a reason to move an athletic infielder around to get versatility. It gives you more spots for his future, and a possible quicker path to the majors as a bench player. On the other hand, you have someone who has been a consistently strong hitter over a large sample size and you don’t have a regular spot for him? The Pirates aren’t that loaded in the upper levels.
This plan to move him around was set into motion with his time in Australia this winter. The Pirates asked for Glendinning to play multiple spots. He split his time almost evenly between second base and shortstop over the winter, with a handful of games at third base thrown in. He doesn’t have a lot of pro time at second base, but he told me today that he’s comfortable there due to playing the position regularly as he was growing up. He also said that his least comfortable position of the three right now is third base.
Glendinning should be able to see regular time at the hot corner in Altoona this year. The only real competition for the spot is Dylan Busby, who struggled badly with strikeouts in Bradenton last year. Busby hit 22 homers to lead the Florida State League, but he also batted .213 and struck out in 36.4% of his plate appearances. He then struggled badly in a short winter stint in Puerto Rico. Glendinning already has some success at the Double-A level playing third base, before his season ended a month early due to an ankle injury.
Shortstop at Altoona will be manned regularly by Oneil Cruz, while Rodolfo Castro seems like the front runner for second base, though Stephen Alemais will also be returning from his shoulder surgery and could be an option if healthy (I’m going to try to reach out to him soon for an update). Like Busby, it might be a little early to push Castro to Double-A, though Castro is due more to his age and experience, as he really wasn’t over-matched in a half-season at High-A.
Wherever Glendinning plays the most, it will be the bat that gets him to the next level. In an earlier interview I did with him, he mentioned that being from Australia put him a bit behind players from the U.S. who were the same age. Winter ball gave him a chance to make up some of those at-bats he lost as a kid, and face more of the high-level competition he wasn’t seeing consistently while growing up. He had some great experience this off-season besides winter ball and he was a bit more comfortable/confident as a player this winter.
” I would say I was confident [in Australia], but more so just because another of year playing, not necessarily due to the level I was at,” Glendinning said. “But in a way you know that the game won’t speed up on you, especially from being in Double-A, and then also from the Premier-12 tournament before that. Playing high-leverage games against Japan and USA, you can’t really replicate that, so I think experiencing that is huge in development.”
Glendinning had a very productive winter and he was hoping that carried over into this spring. He was only at Pirates City for a week before action was stopped, arriving late due to the amount of time he put in during the winter. That really didn’t give him any time to prove he deserved a starting spot this spring. The minor league game schedule was set to begin this week and he was with the Pirates for just one big league spring game, though he didn’t see any action.
The big step this off-season was just proving that he was healthy. The ankle injury that ended his season gave him no issues this off-season. He was able to play the Premier-12 tournament in early November and 41 games in Australia, including the playoffs. He was able to get extra fielding experience at three spots, while also moving between positions regularly. More importantly, he’s at a spot in his career where he’s able to slow down the game. Coming from Australia, he’s been trying to catch up this entire time in pro ball. Now he just needs the chance to prove he’s ready for the next level and beyond.