For anyone who follows the Pittsburgh Pirates, it is no secret that many questions have surrounded the team this offseason. One of their major question marks surround their starting rotation, which was a part of the second-best pitching staff in all of baseball in 2015. With the departures of both A.J. Burnett and Charlie Morton, the Pirates must construct a new rotation that will likely include Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano and Jeff Locke as returning starters. The Bucs did acquire starting pitcher Jonathon Niese from the New York Mets in a trade involving popular second baseman Neil Walker, however, aside from that deal, not much else has been done to atone for the losses of two-fifths of last year’s rotation. Despite a lack of moves, the Pirates may be looking towards their farm system to fill voids at various positions. I’ve already voiced my opinion on when Josh Bell may make his major league debut, but the same question could also be asked about one of the Pirates best pitching prospects.
Throughout the past few years, the Pittsburgh Pirates have loaded up on young pitching talent. Not all players can make as big of an impact as Cole did when he was called up in June of 2013, however, one player in particular that could look to make an immediate impact at the major league level is 22-year-old right-hander Tyler Glasnow, who was recently named the top prospect in the Pirates organization by Baseball America.
Glasnow, a Pirates fifth-round draft pick in 2011, is entering his fifth season with the organization and has risen quickly through Pittsburgh’s minor league system, becoming one of baseball’s most highly regarded pitching prospects in the process. Despite dealing with an ankle injury early in the 2015 season, Glasnow put up impressive numbers at the two highest minor league levels, going 5-3 with a 2.43 ERA in 12 starts at class AA Altoona and 2-1 with a 2.20 ERA in eight starts with class AAA Indianapolis.
There is a lot to like about Glasnow. His size and the way he uses his pitches are two things in particular. The 6-foot-8 California native has an impressive arsenal of pitches that includes a fastball that can hit 94-95 mph consistently, while also using his curveball to keep opposing hitters off balance. This is exactly what Glasnow did with ease in 2015, compiling 136 strikeouts in only 109.1 innings pitched and holding opposing hitters to a .195 batting average at the class A, AA and AAA levels.
The main issue that Glasnow has faced while pitching in the Pirates minor league system is finding consistency when it comes to command. His 4.20 career bb/9 ratio is a bit of a concern, however, he has the potential to overcome this issue and improve on control of his pitches.
With the many questions surrounding the Pirates starting rotation, there could be an opening for Glasnow at the start of the 2016 season. However, like Bell, I don’t think we will see Glasnow in the big leagues until midway through the season. Though I believe that Glasnow would be a better option at the bottom end of the rotation than Locke, it would be difficult for the Pirates to put their trust in an unproven rookie at the beginning of the season.
I also think that there is a lack of conviction within the Pirates front office that Glasnow is ready to be called up to the big leagues. Cole was an exception, as he quickly became a star in Pittsburgh from the moment he was called up from class AAA Indianapolis, but there is the chance that calling up a player too early could hurt the players long term progression. In my opinion, this is the same reason that Bell will most likely spend the beginning of the season in the minor leagues as well. Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington admitted to making a mistake in calling Pedro Alvarez up too early without him getting enough time playing in the minor leagues. The Alvarez era in Pittsburgh wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t quite work out as well as people had hoped. In the case of Glasnow and Bell, I assume that the organization is going to do all that is possible to do avoid making that mistake again.
Glasnow should get some time in the minors at the beginning of the season, serving as the ace of the starting rotation for the Indianapolis Indians, and will get the opportunity to fine tune his skills against a high level of competition. He only has eight starts under his belt at the class AAA level, so this will give him the chance to get more experience at the highest minor league level. If the Pirates are struggling at the midway point through the season and Locke is as inconsistent as he usually is, don’t be surprised to see the Pirates top overall prospect inserted into the major league starting rotation in 2016.