Every year around this time I start gathering information to prepare for the season previews at each minor league level. A big part of that involves trying to figure out where players will start, and which players might be promoted throughout the year. One of the things I hear constantly from the Pirates, whether it’s front office members or coaches, is that it’s not how a prospect starts, it’s how he finishes.
For the purposes of season previews, you want to know where a guy starts. But if you get a situation where a guy might start a level lower than expected, then you can see how the focus on the finish would be the key thing. For example, the Pirates have had several players start in Double-A, only to finish that same year in the majors. Jeff Locke, Brandon Cumpton, Andrew Lambo, and Stolmy Pimentel are just a few that come to mind. The start back in Double-A for all of those guys wasn’t exciting on Opening Day, but the most important thing about their seasons was the progression throughout the year that led them to the majors.
I was thinking about the “start vs finish” approach when recapping all of the injuries that have taken place in the last week. Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, and Austin Meadows are all expected to miss the start of the regular season. That’s the number two, three, and four prospects in the system, respectively. Taillon could miss a month, Glasnow could miss two weeks, and Meadows could miss at least three weeks. That’s not something you want to see from the top prospects in the system.
For some of these guys, the late start won’t really impact the expected finish to the year. For others, it could play a bigger short-term role.
The expectation with Taillon is for him to arrive in the majors in mid-June. If he misses a month, that would theoretically push him back to mid-July. Last year it took Gerrit Cole until September to look like a top of the rotation pitcher. It might take more time for Taillon, or it could take less time. But if he’s starting a month later, that gives him less of a chance to do what Cole did. To counter this, he’s going to need to show he’s ready for the majors after about a month and a half in Triple-A, which means he can’t see the struggles Cole saw early in his season.
That’s an example of how the delayed start could play a bigger role. The next level down would be Tyler Glasnow. He’s expected to start the year in Bradenton, and arrive in Altoona in the second half. He’s not really missing much time, so this shouldn’t impact his long-term expectations of possibly going Triple-A/MLB in 2015. However, Glasnow needs to be like Nick Kingham in his time with Bradenton, as opposed to being like Taillon. Kingham breezed through High-A, and was promoted to Double-A in mid-June. Taillon struggled early in High-A, and was moved to Altoona in late July. Glasnow is already two weeks behind, which means he might not make it to Altoona until mid-to-late August if he struggles. That would make it very hard for him to arrive in the majors in 2015. Right now he would need everything to go mostly flawless with his progression to arrive in 2015, and the two week delay doesn’t help in that case.
Finally, there’s Austin Meadows. This is a case where the injury really doesn’t matter, as long as it doesn’t linger and impact his entire season. You’d like to see Meadows out on the field ASAP, but the reality is that the Pirates can take their time with him. They should take their time with him, and make sure his hamstring is fully healed. Even if he misses a month, he’d get five months in West Virginia. If he misses two months, and needs to start the 2015 season back at the level before moving up to Bradenton, then that won’t hurt much. The Pirates don’t have an outfield need until after the 2018 season, and Meadows isn’t projected to arrive in the majors until 2017 at the earliest. In that long, long-term view, missing a month is a blip on the radar.
You want Taillon to finish the 2014 season in the majors, looking like he’s realizing his upside. That might be in jeopardy with this injury, even if it is described as minor. You want Glasnow in position by the end of 2014 where he can have a shot at the majors in mid-2015. He needs a lot to go right, and starting the season two weeks late is a bad start for this goal. As for Meadows, you just want him getting as much playing time as possible in West Virginia, with the hope of moving up to Bradenton in 2015.
In all three cases, you’d rather not see a player’s season delayed. None of these guys have any long-term concerns with their injuries. In the short-term, the delays have a bigger impact the closer you get to the majors.
Links and Notes
**The 2014 Prospect Guide is in stock on the products page of the site. The book features profiles, scouting reports, and grades on every player in the minor league system, including our top 50 prospects. The Prospect Guide has been mentioned as a resource several times on the Pirates’ broadcast, and has been purchased as a source of reference by opposing MLB front office members, opposing scouts, and media members. If it’s a good resource for them, it’s a good resource for you. You can order your Prospect Guide on the products page of the site.