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.