The Super Two discussion is obviously going to come into play over the next five or six weeks, including every night where Tyler Glasnow or Jameson Taillon have a good outing, and every night where a Pirates starter struggles. We’ve already started to see that this week, with Glasnow having a good outing while using his changeup, and Taillon going seven innings today.
This happens almost every year around this time. A top prospect puts up good stats in Triple-A over a small period of time. People who have never even seen that prospect, and have only seen the numbers declare that he’s ready. And then the organization is cheap because the only possible reason they could be keeping him down is for monetary reasons.
Two years ago at this time, Gregory Polanco was the “immediate solution” for the Pirates. And just two months ago, people were wondering if he would ever live up to his potential. I was one of the people who suggested the Pirates could wait and give Polanco more time in Triple-A, and got destroyed for it. It was to the point where one radio host took to his show to call me a shill and question my integrity. That’s how guaranteed it was that Polanco was ready, based on limited Triple-A success. (It’s going to be fun going through all of that again this year.)
The thing about the Super Two argument is that it assumes a few things that are actually false. First, it assumes that the player can’t learn what he needs to learn in one or two months in the minors. A look back at Gerrit Cole shows this is false. Cole had a rough April in 2013, walking 15 batters in 23.1 innings. He struggled with his control at the end of the 2012 season in Altoona, so much that then-manager P.J. Forbes publicly said he didn’t feel he was ready for a promotion to Triple-A. Cole improved his control numbers in his final seven Triple-A starts, walking just 13 in 44.2 innings.
The alternative to this is that the player can just learn what he needs to learn in the majors, as if Triple-A isn’t even important at all. Some MLB teams actually take this approach of rushing guys through Triple-A and letting them learn in the majors. The Orioles are one of them. The Tigers are another. And just look at their track record with developing pitchers. That’s not to say that players can’t develop in the majors, and every player finishes off his development at the big league level. But there’s a huge difference between having a few weeks at Triple-A, and having over two months at the level.
The second assumption is that the player is “magically ready” when he’s called up, indicating that he was ready long before Super Two came around. This is complicated, and the truth is that he’s not actually ready after the Super Two deadline passes. Once again, we look at Cole. He came up and had league average numbers his first few outings. He wasn’t striking out a lot of guys, and definitely wasn’t the pitcher we see today. Fast forward to September that year, where he posted a 1.69 ERA and struck out 39 batters in 32 innings.
Cole probably could have used some more time in Triple-A, but Super Two passed, and there was no longer a big financial hit to call him up early (he’d be arbitration eligible next year had they called him up a few starts early). So they can call him up, and let him finish his development in the majors. You hope that the changes are quick, like we saw with him, and not slower, like we saw with Polanco.
When Glasnow and Taillon come up, they’ll each have something to work on, although I think Taillon will have less to work on with where his stuff is at right now. But when Super Two passes, it will make sense to call them up at that time, since there won’t be as high of a cost to let them work on their issues in the majors. They will also have spent about six weeks extra with their development in the minors, which is very valuable.
Both pitchers have stuff so good that they can get away with mistakes right now. Taillon didn’t have his best curveball in today’s outing, leaving a few up in the zone. He can get away with that in Triple-A. That won’t happen in the majors. Glasnow had an outstanding outing last time out with the changeup, but who would honestly say he’s ready after just one outing where he actually used the changeup like a normal pitch? Especially when that outing took place against one of the worst hitting teams in the league?
Glasnow and Taillon are going to be excellent pitchers one day. At some point this season, they will upgrade over the back of the rotation options the Pirates currently have. But they have legitimate things to work on right now. Dismissing that fact, and saying that they’re only being held back due to money is the same tired argument we heard with Polanco. And then Polanco put up a .650 OPS, which barely beat Jose Tabata’s .647 OPS, and couldn’t touch Travis Snider’s .776 OPS.
If there’s anything we can learn from the Polanco situation, it’s that the jump from Triple-A to the Majors is a big one. It’s so big that it’s possible for a player to absolutely dominate Triple-A, and appear on the surface that he has nothing to work on, only to come up and post league average numbers or worse in his debut in the majors. It’s easy to look at good Triple-A numbers and bad MLB numbers and assume there’s a guaranteed upgrade in the system right now, but that tends to be the exception in these cases, and not the rule.
The Pirates would be much better off waiting a short amount of time and hoping Glasnow and Taillon are actually ready, rather than getting an extra month out of them, and risking another Polanco situation, where they struggle for their first year and a half in the big leagues because they were brought up too soon.
**Prospect Watch: Jameson Taillon Looks Solid in Afternoon Start. Here was a breakdown of Taillon’s outing tonight, along with my live report from West Virginia.
**Neal Huntington on How John Jaso’s Success Could Impact Josh Bell’s Arrival. Speaking of Super Two and calling guys up early, Neal Huntington had some interesting comments on that, noting that the guys who received more time in Triple-A had seamless transitions to the majors.
**John Jaso Letting Instincts Take Over at First Base. Going along with the first base theme today, Sean McCool had a great look at John Jaso’s defensive progress at first base.