First Pitch: The Balance Between Minor League Stats and Skills

Tyler Glasnow had one of the best strikeout seasons by a pitcher in a long time. (Photo Credit: Tom Bragg)

Tyler Glasnow had one of the best strikeout seasons by a pitcher in a long time. (Photo Credit: Tom Bragg)

All season I’ve talked about Tyler Glasnow, who dominated the South Atlantic League this year. I’ve also talked a lot lately about Austin Meadows, due to the fact that Meadows has been crushing the ball in the last week for Jamestown, capping off a strong pro debut. In each case the numbers are great, but I think we also need to add some perspective on what the numbers really tell us.

In the next week I’ll be starting the process of writing the 2014 Prospect Guide. A big part of that process is evaluating individual seasons, writing up player reports, creating a list of rankings, and most importantly, weighing stats vs skills.

Everyone does their rankings differently. For me, I draw a line between high-A and Double-A. That’s the point where prospects need to start showing results, and can’t rely on potential anymore. That line is the mid-point. If you’re relying on potential in Double-A and Triple-A, and you don’t have the numbers to justify being a top prospect, you’re going to get lowered in the rankings. If a guy struggles in the lower levels, but has a lot of upside, that poor season won’t hurt as much. On the flip side, if a guy has an amazing season in A-ball, but doesn’t have good tools, I usually won’t put him on the prospect radar. If a guy has a great season in the upper levels and doesn’t have any tools, I’ll probably consider him a prospect, although usually only a bench/bullpen option due to the lack of tools.

Basically the higher you go from A-ball, the more it needs to be about numbers. The lower you are from A-ball, the more it needs to be about talent.

So what does that mean for Glasnow and Meadows? Is that hypocritical to tout their numbers as some great accomplishment, while saying that numbers don’t matter as much for other guys at the same levels? It depends on what the numbers say.

In these two cases, the numbers are just re-affirming what we already know. In Glasnow’s case, he has been extremely dominant this year. Last night I talked about how he’s had one of the best strikeout percentages in baseball in a long time. Glasnow is currently our number three prospect, and that probably won’t change in the off-season rankings. But that isn’t because of the dominant numbers this year. It’s because of his stuff, which is also the reason for the dominant numbers.

Glasnow throws a fastball in the mid-90s, touching as high as 99 MPH this year. He does a good job throwing the pitch on a steep downward angle, although obviously his control needs work, mostly due to issues with repeating his delivery. He pairs the fastball with a curveball that can be a plus offering at times. He also has a feel for a changeup, but needs to work on improving the pitch, mostly slowing it down to add separation from the fastball while maintaining deception.

I look at Glasnow, and I look at where Jameson Taillon was at when he was at the same level at the same age. Taillon had trouble throwing the ball down in the zone. He also had some trouble commanding his plus breaking pitch. And he needed improvements with his changeup, which he made the following season. I look at Taillon, who has developed just fine since his time in West Virginia, and then I look at Glasnow. In my opinion, Glasnow is further along in his development than Taillon was at the same stage. That’s why he’s got the un-hittable numbers. It’s because his stuff is un-hittable. That’s also why he’s ranked high, and why his numbers are so encouraging. They’re just telling the story of his stuff, which is far more important than those numbers in low-A.

Austin Meadows hit seven homers this year between the GCL and Jamestown.

Austin Meadows hit seven homers this year between the GCL and Jamestown.

Then you’ve got Austin Meadows. He’s hitting a ton, including for power in some leagues that are very pitcher friendly. Once again, this is more about the stats matching up with the skills than the stats just being good on their own. Meadows was described as a great pure hitter who could hit for above average power in the majors, along with great plate patience. He’s got some stuff to work on in his game in the minors, as do all players at his age and level. But he has shown the ability to crush opposing pitching. He has shown a good approach at the plate. He’s shown great defensive skills, which could allow him to stick in center field for as long as he is needed. Basically, Meadows is living up to the hype from when he was drafted.

But the numbers do have some meaning here. Meadows is just out of high school, as in he graduated three months ago. He could have been a candidate to go first overall this year, but he didn’t exactly dominate with his power in his senior year of high school. So he dropped to ninth overall and the Pirates took him. There’s two versions of power than a young player can have. Raw power, and game power. Raw power just shows that you have the ability to hit a ball really far. Usually this shows up in batting practice. It’s one thing to do that. It’s another to be able to apply that power in a game. If you’ve got raw power, you can crush a batting practice fastball. But hitting a home run in the game when you don’t know what pitch is coming next, and you don’t know where it will be thrown? That takes a lot of skill. Not every player with raw power translates that to the game. Some only translate it to doubles and triples, like Mel Rojas.

So in the case with Meadows, the fact that he hit seven homers this year in two pitcher friendly leagues is a great sign. It shows that he’s able to use that power in the game. But don’t think that’s final. We still need to consider that he’s doing this in the lowest levels of the minors, pitcher friendly leagues or not. Can he do the same next year in West Virginia, where the pitchers are more talented, and can throw better off-speed stuff? How about in 2014 in high-A, and maybe Double-A in the second half, where command is better and pitchers know how to throw a changeup? All of these are tests. Meadows passed the test this year in the lowest levels, but that’s only the first step to proving that he has what it takes to covert raw power to game power.

In both cases, the Pirates have some elite prospects. You can throw the amazing numbers out and you still have two very talented players. The numbers just tell us what we already knew about those guys: Glasnow has dominant stuff, and Meadows is a great hitter with a lot of power. But they’re both in the lower levels, which means it will be harder to put up such dominant numbers as they move up. They both have the stuff to put up great numbers in the upper levels, and that’s why once they reach those levels it will be more about showing they can put up those numbers, and less about the stuff we already knew they had.

Links and Notes


**Pitching Inside: The Pirates Way

**Prospect Watch: Jerry Sands Homers Twice, But Indians Lose Second Playoff Game

**Minor League Schedule: Rodriguez and Taillon Attempt to Keep Indianapolis in Playoffs


**Wandy Rodriguez to Make an International League Rehab Start Tomorrow

**Pittsburgh Pirates Projected Super Two Players Following the 2013 Season

**Huntington’s Deals Indicative of Focus Beyond 81 Wins

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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