The Pittsburgh Pirates have spent about $9.5 M from 2008-2012 on middle round prep pitchers. The majority of them have been the same: tall, skinny pitchers with fastballs in the 88-92 MPH range, and hopes that those velocities could increase once the pitchers started filling out their tall, skinny frames.
It’s not a totally uncommon story. You don’t have to go back far in draft history to find pitchers who greatly improved their stock from the point they graduated high school to the point where they were eligible for the draft as a college junior. Stephen Strasburg is probably the most famous story of a pitcher improving his stock. He went from undrafted out of high school to one of the best draft prospects ever following his junior year. Mark Appel was a 15th round pick in 2009, then went on to become the top draft prospect two years in a row. David Price was a 19th round pick in 2004, then was taken first overall in 2007. It’s not just players who improved to become the top draft prospect a few years later. The 2013 draft features a few former Pirates picks who have improved their stock. Jason Hursh (6th round), Austin Kubitza (7th round), and Kent Emanuel (19th round) were all taken in the 2010 draft, and they all look like 2nd-4th rounders three years later.
The problem with drafting to find a breakout player is that not every pitcher is going to break out. That $9.5 M isn’t going to buy a whole roster of future first round talents. Instead, it’s going to buy the chance at having a few major league players, and maybe one player who can break out and become a top of the first round talent. The Pirates have had some notable failures so far with this strategy, specifically the 2009 prep pitchers. They’ve also had some potential success stories. One of the biggest success stories could end up being Tyler Glasnow.
Glasnow was a fifth round pick in 2011, but didn’t come with a lot of fanfare. He wasn’t in Baseball America’s top 200 prospects, and wasn’t even in their list of 105 prospects from Southern California. He was just another really tall, skinny pitcher that the Pirates signed to an over-slot deal ($600,000). In fact, here was the opinion on him when he entered the system, directly from his player page.
Glasnow is a projectability pick. Baseball America did not have him rated among the top 105 prospects in southern California. He grew rapidly in high school, eight inches after his freshman year. His velocity also increased rapidly, eventually to the upper 80s to low 90s, reaching as high as 93. He throws a slider, curve and change, with the curve having good potential. He’s considered a good athlete, so the Pirates were no doubt hoping he could break out once he grows into his body.
The right-hander made his debut in 2012, going to the GCL. He put up impressive numbers while he was there, and ended the season being ranked as the 9th best prospect in the league by Baseball America. At the end of the season he was promoted to State College for a start, where he was hitting 96 MPH, up from his previous upper 80s to low 90s velocity. The right-hander got to that velocity by using leg bands and working out the smaller muscles.
“All of a sudden I was just up to 96, and one game I hit 98,” Glasnow said about the effects of the workouts. “Just from then on everything was easier. Just throwing with ease and it was coming out harder.”
Glasnow has been lifting a lot over the off-season, with hopes that the velocity will be similar in 2013. He might not have room for more improvement, but he could be able to maintain the velocity on a more consistent basis by adding to his strength.
“He’s such a long and skinny kid,” Pirates farm director Larry Broadway said. “He got in the weight room, got on a throwing program, and the guy’s done a great job. He’s just gotten more physical. The ability was there as far as arm action and delivery and size and all that stuff. We knew we could take a chance that with some strength and some physical maturity that we could throw harder. Turned out he started chucking pretty good.”
The velocity is great to see, but that doesn’t make a pitcher. The Pirates have plenty of hard throwing pitchers in the system, and not all of them are considered top prospects. One thing that separates the top guys from the organizational guys is control. Glasnow dealt with some control issues last year. Most of the time control issues come from the inability to repeat a delivery. That has been the case for Glasnow, and for good reason. The right-hander shot up eight inches in high school, and he’s even added an inch since being drafted. He was listed at 6′ 7″ at the draft, but mentioned he’s now up to 6′ 8″.
“I think the biggest thing was putting on weight,” Glasnow said about improving his control. “Out of high school I was 195 pounds. I’m like 220 now. Just putting on weight, just getting everything stable. Just stability muscles and stuff so that I’m not all over the place and goofy. I think I’m starting to get used to my lengthiness now.”
Glasnow mentioned that his control has improved over the off-season, and that getting stronger, more stable, and staying back in his delivery has helped that. He’s also been working on his changeup over the off-season, which isn’t a pitch that he threw a lot prior to the 2012 season.
“So far it’s been ten times better than it was last year, just throwing it more and having opportunities to throw it,” Glasnow said of the change. “It helped a lot. I’m getting a better feel for all of my pitches.”
Originally the changeup wasn’t a lot different from his fastball, in terms of velocity. He learned a new grip that allows him to throw the pitch just like the fastball, only much slower than before.
Glasnow threw 38.1 innings in 2012, not counting his work in extended Spring Training. Last year the Pirates made several aggressive promotions to full-season A-ball, skipping players over short-season A-ball. All of those promotions came with position players, but Glasnow could have the opportunity to make the same jump this year. The big question is, did he have enough innings in 2012 to move to full-season ball?
“I think so,” Broadway said on the subject. “We’ll see how the Spring Training goes, but I think we’d like him to be there. We’d like him to be under the lights. So, play it by ear.”
In the long-term, Glasnow seems to have everything needed to be a top of the rotation starter. He’s too far off to really have a ceiling on his potential, which means that the top of the rotation starter is a possibility. He’s 6′ 8″, 220 pounds, throws 96, touches 98, has a curveball that can be a plus pitch at times, and is developing his changeup and control. That’s all after one pro season. This is the recipe for a top of the rotation starting pitching prospect. Glasnow isn’t there yet, but could continue in that direction in 2013, especially if his control and changeup show improvements. If the Pirates were able to get an extra top of the rotation guy to join Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Luis Heredia in the system, that would be a huge boost, and would help make all of the money spent on prep pitchers worthwhile. So can Glasnow eventually become that type of pitcher?
“If I keep my workout plans the same, and I listen to all the coaches, I feel I could be that good,” Glasnow said when asked if he could be a prospect like Cole or Taillon.