BRADENTON, Fl. – I don’t like talking about the mental side of the game when it comes to individual players. A lot of that talk is usually speculation, and always seems based on the perception of how a player reacts to certain circumstances, or his body language. And that’s a really bad way to evaluate what’s going on inside a player’s head.
I’ll make an exception for Tyler Glasnow. I’ll make that exception because for the last three years, he’s told me repeatedly about how nerves have impacted him during the game.
Take this article from mid-June 2014, when Glasnow was in Bradenton. He just threw a nice game where he avoided things falling apart on him in the fourth inning, despite issuing two straight walks at the start of the frame. Here was Glasnow on his mental game:
“Today the first two innings felt really good, and then the third inning, not like it was bad. Fastball command got up in the zone. I got, in the fourth inning, a little mental,” Glasnow said of his outing. “Instead of going up there and thinking nothing, I kind of wanted to revert back to ‘what am I doing wrong?’ And then after that just kind of realizing that I had to let it go, and then everything just fell into place better.”
Glasnow had shown a tendency that year to let things spiral out of control after hitting a rough patch. He would over think all of his pitches and at-bats, and would end up shortening what looked to be a great outing up to that point. Here was his pitching coach, Justin Meccage, on that same night:
“I think you’re starting to see that,” Meccage said of the results of Glasnow’s work on routines. “You’re starting to see things not snowball a little bit like it used to. He just shuts it down. In the fourth, I thought some things were going to start speeding up. He walked the first two guys, and then he got it together and finished on a good note. That’s where we feel he needs to go is that mentality, and consistency. It’s exciting to see him grow.”
And here was Jacob Stallings on his development, and a comparison from Spring Training:
“I remember catching him the first time in Spring Training, and he was kind of all over the place,” Stallings said. “Just how much he’s grown mentally. He just has so much better control of his emotions now. The stuff has always been there, but now he can locate a little better because his mind is a little clearer. Just to see how much he’s grown is pretty impressive.”
The thing about those comments is that they come across like Glasnow was making progress and was to the point where his mental game was no longer going to be an issue. But it was an issue during his playoff start that September. It was also an issue that crept up during the AFL that off-season, and which returned in Altoona in 2015. The issue wasn’t as big in Altoona as it was in Bradenton, with Glasnow showing improvements in the frequency of breakdowns. Here is a section of an article from this past summer from Sean McCool, where Glasnow once again discussed his mental game improving:
He has not made a mechanical adjustment to his delivery; rather, Glasnow notes a more consistent mindset when asked what has attributed to the control success.
“My biggest thing was trying to go in with a consistent mindset and really work on my mental game this past off-season and going into this season. My focus has led to not throwing so many balls — just throwing more quality pictures.”
“When I would struggle before, I would start thinking about mechanics or about what I needed to do. [Pitching Coach Justin] Meccage has talked about it a lot, and the Pirates philosophy is to just go out and compete, so I needed to get stronger mentally if I was going to do that. It’s a lot more fun going out there and just pitching and competing, rather than sitting and thinking about stuff.”
The nerves settled after some time in Altoona, then came up with Indianapolis towards the end of the year. They’ve shown up so far this Spring in his first two outings. He struggled in the first inning of the Black and Gold game, with Clint Hurdle ending the inning early. He came back out for the second and calmed down, looking much better. Then, in his first start of Spring Training yesterday he threw 29 pitches in the first inning, and was pulled in the second inning after two outs, with 45 pitches total on the day.
Glasnow has some things to work on. He needs to get better at dropping his curveball in for strikes earlier in the count. It’s a plus pitch and effective when he’s got two strikes, but he needs something to keep hitters off the fastball early. His changeup has also been something he’s worked on developing the last few years. He’s made strides in getting velocity separation from his fastball, and getting good movement on the pitch. But the pitch is still a work in progress.
It’s natural for a pitcher to work on improving his pitches before he’s in the majors. Gerrit Cole was working on his stuff even after arriving in the majors, and really hit his stride last year after adjusting the usage of his slider. It’s also natural for a pitcher with a plus fastball and a plus curveball to not have much of a changeup. Those are issues for Glasnow to improve upon, but the nerves are the big issue, as they amplify every other issue in his game.
“He still needs more development,” Ray Searage told me about what Glasnow needs to work on. “There’s the emotional part, there’s the physical part. The kid is blessed with some really, really good talent. We’ve just got to let the process take hold, and let him grow. He’ll let us know when he’s ready to pitch in the Major Leagues, but I think this year in Triple-A will help him out tremendously.”
The question is, how quickly can Glasnow develop and get rid of the nerves? And how soon can he improve the curve and the change? He seems to settle down with the nerves after a few months at each level once he gets comfortable, so that could help him out in Triple-A. It could also create a few rough outings in his early days in the majors.
“It’s going to be a process, because of the emotional part that’s involved in it,” Searage said. “He’s young, he wants to get going. I think as he matures and gets more reps and more innings, he’s going to be able to control those emotions, and then he’s going to be able to do what he wants to do with the baseball. That’s going to be really exciting when that happens.”
I don’t view his nerves as a long-term issue. I think they will be something he has to work through in Triple-A, and he’ll also have the issues when he first arrives in the majors. But once he gets settled down and gets used to pitching to upper level and MLB guys, he will learn to settle down, and the stuff will take over, just as it has done at every level in his development.