First Pitch: Is Tyler Glasnow the Top Prospect in the Pirates’ System?

We rank prospects on this site twice a year. The biggest set of rankings comes in the off-season, which we release in the annual Prospect Guide. We also release a mid-season update. The mid-season version is usually pretty close to the pre-season rankings, since there usually aren’t too many changes to a player’s prospect status over two months. The key to the mid-season update is to see where the new draft picks fall in, see where the breakout players would rank, and see how the system looks after players graduate to the majors.

It’s not until the end of the season that I start thinking about specific battles in the rankings. I will add a few disclaimers here. First is that the overall rankings on the site aren’t just up to me, but for the rest of this article, I’ll be giving my opinion alone. Second, if you’ve read any of our rankings, you know that I prefer tiered rankings, and don’t value numerical rankings as much. That doesn’t mean we don’t put time into the numerical rankings, since those are always a crowd pleaser.

I’ve been thinking about several of the battles in the rankings as the minor league season is drawing to a close. I’ll be discussing these in the next week or two. The best place to start would be at the top of the system, with a look at who is the best prospect at the moment. The key thing to focus on would be Tyler Glasnow, while questioning whether he has moved to the top of the system.

Back when we did the mid-season update, this was the view on the top three players.

All three prospects in the top tier are great prospects, likely ending up in a lot of overall top 50 rankings at the end of the season. That said, none of them have really stepped up to put a strong claim on the top spot. While we had Taillon as the consensus top guy, it’s not that big of a gap between him and Meadows. If Glasnow continues to show he can dominate pitching off the fastball, or Meadows shows he can hit well in low-A, then there might be someone challenging Taillon for the top spot going into next year.

Since that point, Glasnow has stepped up in a big way. At the time of that update, he had a 2.15 ERA in 37.2 innings, with a 9.8 K/9 and a 6.2 BB/9. Since that point, Glasnow has a 1.07 ERA in 75.2 innings, with a 11.8 K/9 and a 3.4 BB/9. Glasnow has shown improvements with his changeup, but has mostly been pitching off the fastball, and has done a much better job lately of getting ahead in the count and really cutting down on his control issues.

Nothing has changed for Taillon, except for the fact that he’s started throwing again, which is typical for Tommy John recovery.

Austin Meadows has also started to live up to the hype lately, with a .310/.361/.434 line in 113 at-bats in West Virginia this year. The power has been picking up lately, with a .318/.388/.568 line in 44 at-bats over his last 11 games, including five doubles and two homers. The small sample size from Meadows will probably keep him behind the two pitchers for now, although he’s got the upside to be the top prospect in the system at some point.

At this point, I’d have to say that Glasnow is the top prospect in the system. I saw Taillon when he was in High-A ball. I saw Gerrit Cole when he was in High-A ball. Glasnow has been far more dominant than either pitcher was at this level. It’s not just the numbers. It’s the fact that guys just can’t touch him. He’s working off the fastball, other teams know this, and they still can’t touch it. As an example, tonight he had 13 swinging strikes, with a lot of them coming off the fastball. That’s 15.7% of his pitches on the evening. To put that in perspective, no MLB pitcher is above 14.5% on the season. A 15.7% rate, even if it’s just one game, is amazing. And it’s not just one game.

Cole and Taillon both struggled with giving up hits. Both had similar knocks against them, where they were often more hittable than their stuff should have been. To be fair, Glasnow has his own issues, mostly stemming around the control problems. He has been focusing on his changeup this year, although that was the same story with Taillon at the same level.

In the past, I’ve said that Glasnow could be better than Cole or Taillon. The problem was that he had a lower floor and more risk. Glasnow has done a lot this year to raise that floor and remove some of the risk. He still needs to further develop the changeup. He needs to continue cutting down on the walks. But right now I think he’s the top prospect in the system. That’s not because Taillon dropped at all from where he was. This is solely because of the progress Glasnow has made this year. Like I said before, I prefer tiered rankings. Both of these guys are in the same tier for me, which means no matter who you have first overall, the Pirates are in a great situation to have both guys in the system.

Links and Notes

**The 2014 Prospect Guide is on sale in the Pirates Prospects store. The paperback version has dropped to $14.99 plus shipping. We currently only have one case of books remaining, and the offer is only valid while the books are in stock. There is also an eBook version available for $9.99. The 2013 Prospect Guide is on clearance for $1.

**Prospect Watch: Tyler Glasnow Touches 98 MPH in Latest Dominant Start

**Charlie Morton Placed on DL, Brent Morel Recalled

**DSL Pirates Report: Two Players Making Most of Extra Playing Time, One Top Prospect Shutdown

**Morning Report: Why Minor League Playoffs Matter

Tim Williams

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 AccuScore.com, 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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  • Scott Kliesen

    To answer this question, one needs to understand the parameters of the question. Does this ranking work specifically off of talent and how the talent projects at the ML LEVEL? Or do results at higher level of competition play a part? And if so, how is it weighted?

    Clearly, Taillon has proven he can be a dominant pitcher at the higher levels, but not as dominant as Glasnow has shown in A ball. And Meadows has only recently been driving the ball for extra bases in low A, but clearly has potential to be a difference maker with the bat.

    If talent and it’s projection are the main criteria for this ranking, I think Glasnow has the advantage. It will be interesting to see how it plays out next year in AA/AAA against more mature hitters with better strike zone awareness. Especially when they let him start throwing his devastating hook more often. Then is when we’ll find out if Pirates have the dominant Ace he looks like now.

    • emjayinTN

      Well stated. Glasnow is truly a scouting victory and I would like to see him in AA. However, with Bradenton fighting to make the playoffs and Altoona a number of games under .500, it is probably better to keep him in Bradenton.

  • Lee Young

    Next year is a big year for Tyler (can he dominate at higher levels?) and Taillon (can he come all the way back?)

    I’ll reserve judgment on Meadows, even with his pedigree, until he hits AA.

    • Scott Kliesen

      Spot on Lee.

      • freddylang

        Agree Lee. But I don’t think there is any doubt he is going to dominate wherever he goes. He is just one of those rare guys…when you see those K and hit numbers…no one can touch him when he is near or not near the plate. He has lowered his BB/9 by 2.5 BB in the second half and he made similar improvements last year. I think eventually he is going to get familiar enough with his delivery to make those corrections earlier and hopefully even with the same outing if he isn’t a little already. He has had mostly consistent control for 2 months and that is the longest stretch in his career. He may always have issues from time to time…it could take years for him to completely master his delivery like Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan did…but if he ever develops average to above control…it just makes you drool.

  • leadoff

    The wording says “Is he the top prospect” and he probably is the top prospect, but, I would not say he is the top talent in the system. IMO, Bell is the top talent in the system.

    • piraddict

      How do you differentiate between “top prospect” and “top talent” Leadoff?

  • Pie Rat

    If he’s anything like the current crop he’ll have trouble making it through a whole season. Maybe they need to bring a pitcher up after the all star break in future years to offer respit relief. The starters or relievers can take turns going on the dl during July and August.

    • leadoff

      That is what the Cards did last year with Wacha and Martinez.

  • R Edwards

    If you base the prospect rankings based on actual performance, and not based on which round/pick each was drafted, Glasnow is #1 – and I really do not think there is a close second. Taillon is hurt and out all year – and I did not think he was the Pirates best starting prospect coming into 2014.

    Second? I guess would have to be Alan Hansen or Kingham – and I would go with Hansen at #2, followed by Kingham at #3 and Bell at #4. To me, #5 would be either Taillon or Meadows.

    • Bucco_Joe

      Hansen is a defensive liability at either SS or 2B, so there is no way he is Number 2. By default (Taillon injury) you give it to Glasnow. Once Glasnow hits AA next year you will get a better indication of his potential as he starts to play against hitters who have a better knowledge of the strikezone are able to work the count to their advantage. We will see then whether he is a picher or just a thrower.

      • R Edwards

        I knew Hansen was not a legitimate SS, but I thought he would be okay at 2B. I only rate him as the #2, mostly based on his offensive potential – and also the fact I did not see anyone else more deserving – outside of maybe Bell.

        I do agree with you on next year being a real big step for Glasgow, assuming he starts out in Altoona. I am disappointed that they did not promote him to AA this month – but, I am sure it is because Bradenton is vying for the playoffs.

        I saw Taillon pitch when he was in Altoona, and quite frankly I was not impressed. I expected him to be able to dominate at that level, and he didn’t. I suspect next season will be a lost season for him, as he will spend most of the year rehabbing and trying to work back to where he was. Its possible he will be as good as before, its also possible he will be less of what he was – see Strasburg as an example of the latter.

        Based on actual performance – although it was in low A, I think Jacoby Jones and Buddy Borden moved themselves way up the prospect charts this year. I would put Jones in your top 10 now, Borden in the top 15-20.

  • Andrew

    Has Glasnow’s risk profile actually change? He is highly dependent upon his fastball, which is overpowering for FSL hitter, and has marginally improved command. I think he fits into the class of prospects, hard thrower, dominates minors, spotty fastball command, that become overrated because the ranking is based upside and doesn’t accurately evaluate the risk.

  • Kevin Anstrom

    I guess Glasnow should be #1.

    However, I think the gap between Cole Tucker and the next position prospect (Bell / Polo or McGuire / Diaz or Meadows / Bastardo or Hansen / Siri) is larger than the gap between Glasnow and Taillon or Kingham. It’s tough to compare pitching and position prospects.