On MLB Pipeline, Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis had a discussion about what pitcher they thought could lead all of the minor leagues in strikeouts this year. Callis picked Jonathan Gray, the third overall pick from last year’s draft. Mayo picked the Pittsburgh Pirates Tyler Glasnow and put some lofty expectations on him, predicting he could be the first minor league pitcher since 2011 to break the 200 strikeout mark.
So the question is, could Glasnow lead the minors in strikeouts this year and is 200 a realistic goal? He did strikeout 13.3 batters per nine innings, so if he kept up that pace, he would only need to throw 135 innings this season. Expecting that to happen again though is unrealistic.
The Higher He Goes
One thing to factor in with Glasnow is that he is moving up to High-A ball in Bradenton and will obviously be seeing more advanced hitters this year. If he succeeds at that level in the first half, he will then likely make the big jump to Double-A Altoona, where the batters will only get better. If he doesn’t move up, that means there would probably be some issues going on with his control.
We have seen that same path of progress the last two years with two other pitchers out of high school — Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham. Each pitched well during the first half and moved up, though the move with Taillon didn’t happen until later in the year. Another comparison is Gerrit Cole in his first full season in 2011, when he split the year between Bradenton and Altoona. Cole picked up 136 strikeouts in 132 innings that year.
So for comparison sake, we will use Nick Kingham’s 13 starts in 2013 with Bradenton as the best estimate with Glasnow. Both made it to West Virginia two years after being drafted and then spent a full season with the Power. They weren’t far apart on innings pitched in their first full season either, with Kingham pitching 127 innings and Glasnow finishing with 111.1 innings, plus a playoff start.
If Glasnow moves on the same schedule as Kingham, then he will be making about 10-12 starts in Altoona. You would expect his innings limit this year would be about 140-150 based on the normal 30-40 extra innings workload for young pitchers per year. It’s actually based more on the number of pitches they throw in those innings, so if his control still has some issues, then it would be low-end on that scale. Glasnow walked 61 batters last year and hit another nine batters with pitches, so that needs work if you expect him to add all of those extra innings. He did show improvements at the end of the year, but the BB/9 is still too high.
The Pirates also limit pitchers per inning and per game. They take the reins off a little in their second full year, but a couple bad innings could end your night early. Going with the top-end estimate of 150 innings anyway, Glasnow would need a 12.0 K/9 strikeout rate against much better competition than he faced last year, to reach the 200 mark. A season like that would make him a potential ace on the same level as Gerrit Cole and possibly ahead of Jameson Taillon, depending on Taillon’s 2014 progress.While that K rate I used is lower than what he put up in 2013, it’s still a significant amount and against better hitters.
One of the things that the Pirates have their pitchers focus on is getting outs in three pitches or less. Glasnow showed better control at the end of last year and that is what they want him working on again this year. But better control against better hitters should lead to more balls put in play. You don’t get the handful of free swingers that top out at low-A in every lineup, so you shouldn’t expect him to keep up the same pace. You also shouldn’t be down on him if the strikeouts go down, because the Pirates want quick outs from him so he can go deeper in games. The organization preaches to keep the ball down and on the ground with as few pitches as possible and that’s what they want him (and everyone else) working on.
Where Would 200 Strikeouts Put Glasnow
The 200 strikeout mark in the minors is quite an accomplishment. Due to smaller schedules, guys getting called up and limited innings, it’s a much more significant number than in the majors. No one in the minors reached the 200 strikeout mark in either of the last two seasons. Glasnow’s 164 strikeouts in 2013 were the most by a Pirates minor league pitcher since Tom Gorzelanny had 167 in 2004 and that was an advanced college pitcher at Low-A/High-A in 148.2 innings.
The last Pirates pitcher to reach 200 strikeouts in a season was Dave Williams in 2000. That was from a lefty in low-A, two years after he was drafted out of college and he needed 181 innings to reach 201 strikeouts. Glasnow is not going anywhere near 181 innings and he will be facing better hitters than Williams did.
So What Should You Expect
There is a chance that Tyler Glasnow could lead the minors in strikeouts in 2014, but I don’t think him reaching 200 is a realistic goal. He has the innings and pitch limits working against him and a strikeout rate from last year that would be hard to replicate against better hitting. He is going to have some “bump in the road” games, where he gets chased early due to control. Even Jameson Taillon had three games with Altoona this past year where he couldn’t get through five innings and he had a seven inning outing in which he recorded one strikeout.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Nick Kingham gave Glasnow a run for his money for the organization lead. Kingham will be starting at AA this year and will likely spend the entire season in the minors, possibly showing up in Pittsburgh as a September call-up. Kingham will be repeating the level he finished at, which gives him an advantage in that regard over Glasnow. He will also have a higher pitch/inning limit and I could see him improving slightly on his 9.0 K/9 rate. With the extra innings and an expected drop in Glasnow’s amazing strikeout rate from last year, there could be a strong race for that top spot on the strikeout charts in the organization.
While I agree that Glasnow could lead the minors in strikeouts, I think it will take help from other pitchers for him to accomplish that. By that I mean that he will need no one else to surpass the 180-185 mark. Last year’s minor league leader was Daniel Winkler from the Rockies organization. He had 175 strikeouts. As for 200 strikeouts, I don’t see that happening, at least this season. There’s always 2015 though…