By the middle of the 2014 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates could have two pitchers in the majors with top of the rotation upside. Gerrit Cole joined the Pirates in 2013, and started looking like an ace by the end of the season. Jameson Taillon could make the same jump this year, and also has the potential to be a top of the rotation guy. The Pirates could also have a third future ace on the way not long into the future.
Everyone knew about Cole and Taillon heading into the 2013 season. Tyler Glasnow, on the other hand, was just one of many tall, projectable right-handed pitchers the Pirates had drafted and signed with an over-slot bonus. He showed flashes of his potential at the end of the 2012 season, and had a high ceiling with the potential to be an ace, but he was still more on the raw side. Then came his big breakout year.
Glasnow went to West Virginia in 2013 and absolutely dominated. He put up a 2.18 ERA in 111.1 innings, with an incredible 36.3% strikeout rate. The right-hander featured a mid-90s fastball that topped out at 99 MPH at times, along with a plus curveball. He had the fastball velocity by the end of the 2012 season. He always had the curveball. A big difference in 2013 was the progression of his changeup.
“[The Pirates] put a big stress on that, so once I started throwing that and getting a feel for that pitch, it sort of made my other pitches open up and it made my fastball better,” Glasnow said about his changeup. “Throwing a fastball all the time at the beginning of the season wasn’t working. Once I incorporated two pitches, everything started to fall into place.”
Glasnow didn’t have much trust in the pitch at the beginning of the year. That might be due to the fact that he didn’t have much of a need for a changeup in high school, and wasn’t familiar with the pitch coming into pro ball. As he got more comfortable with the pitch in 2013, it gave him more options, allowing him to remain dominant throughout the year, even if his fastball wasn’t working.
“As I started throwing it, I just slowly fell in love with it,” Glasnow said. “The thing is too, when my fastball wasn’t working and my changeup was, it was always something I could go to. If my changeup wasn’t working and my fastball was, it was always something I could go to. As opposed to last year, if one pitch fell, I pretty much had nothing. It kind of gave me more of an arsenal, and I really enjoyed throwing it.”
The big concern with Glasnow is his control. He had a ton of strikeouts last year, but also had a lot of walks, with a 13.5% walk rate, and a 4.9 BB/9. He started the year with some major control problems, walking over six batters per nine innings in his first ten starts. As the season went on, his walks started to decrease.
Tall pitchers like Glasnow normally have control problems early in their career due to the fact that they’re getting adjusted to their bodies. Glasnow in particular went from being 5′ 7″ – 5′ 10″ as a freshman/sophomore in high school, to shooting up ten inches and sitting 6′ 7″ his junior year. That drastic change in height led to his accuracy being everywhere. He might have started to get comfortable with his body in 2013.
“I think just the consistency of finding a form that was for me, and not tweaking things and working on something else,” Glasnow said of his improving control throughout the year. “I found a good form that stuck. Now that I have a solid foundation, [it's going to be] just maintaining that and not really any more changes.”
Control is going to be the big thing that Glasnow needs to become an ace. He’s got the potential for two plus pitches, and if he can add good control to that combo, and continue the improvements with his changeup, he could be on his way to being an ace. He’s already getting national attention. Glasnow should end up in most top 100 lists this off-season, and could very well find himself in a lot of top 50 lists. He said that he tried to ignore the attention during the season, but that his parents would call him up and let him know about it. As to whether he can be as good of a pitcher as Cole or Taillon, Glasnow does think he is capable of having a big upside.
“I’m going to try and I’m going to work hard as I can. If it works out, I’m going to be extremely excited,” Glasnow said. “I do feel that if I work hard enough, I will have a good upside and just maintain and everything. The accuracy is a problem now, but if I just focus on that and maintain that focus, I think everything will work out.”
Glasnow started throwing a week and a half ago. Over the off-season he was given a lifting program, which the Pirates give to all players to take home. He will continue that lifting program, and his throwing after he goes home from mini-camp. Glasnow is expected to make the jump to High-A Bradenton to start the 2014 season. Depending on his success at the level, he could find himself in Altoona by the end of the year. Nick Kingham dominated in his time in Bradenton last year, and was in Altoona by the end of June. Jameson Taillon had some early season struggles in Bradenton in 2012, but was in Altoona by the end of July.
For Glasnow to make the same jump, he’s going to need to continue to show the improvements that he saw throughout the year with his control. If the control comes quickly, he could split the 2014 season between High-A and Double-A, then start the 2015 season in Triple-A. That could put him on track to be in the majors by the middle of the 2015 season, which would be the third year in a row that the Pirates could add a top prospect to their rotation mid-season. It all starts in 2014 with Glasnow’s big followup to his big breakout year.
“Staying with my form the entire year, and more of a feel, accuracy,” Glasnow said on his goals for 2014. “Just really starting to know myself, and make adjustments better. I started doing that pretty well at the end of the season, but really just maintaining knowing myself as a pitcher.”