While I’ll arrive in Bradenton on Friday for a weekend of on-site spring training coverage, I’ve done my best to keep up with the happenings from afar.
One man’s progress has held more significance in my mind than most others on this team. His name is Tyler Glasnow.
Glasnow has reached the stage in the lifetime of a prospect in which a team’s fans could become ill at the mention of his name. Once considered one of the top pitchers outside Major League Baseball, Glasnow … well, he still is one of the most effective pitchers outside MLB, but it’s the major-league thing that’s been the problem.
Currently, Glasnow is three starts deep into the Grapefruit League season, having allowed 11 runs (10 earned) on 12 hits in 7 2/3 innings. Oh, boy. He missed his most recent scheduled appearance with flu symptoms, so he has limited time to turn those results into something half-decent.
Typically I wouldn’t give much credence to what happens in exhibition games. Pitchers are trying to find their grooves; hitters are nailing down mechanics and tinkering with approaches. For instance, Chad Kuhl has allowed 11 runs in 6 2/3 innings with a 6-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. I’ll give his 228 MLB innings at a league-average ERA precedent over whatever’s gone on over the past month.
Glasnow, of course, doesn’t have that wiggle room. And thus, there’s further concern about his future.
Assuming Joe Musgrove’s shoulder is sound enough to go at some point soon, Glasnow isn’t making this opening day rotation, but at the least he could show a) that he’s a changed man after ditching the windup and the two-seamer, and b) he could be just as viable in the bullpen or as a swing man/rotation fill-in.
At least by one measure — competitiveness in exhibition play — Glasnow hasn’t followed through this spring. But I conveniently left out his 13-3 K-BB ratio in his spring work thus far. Not that three walks in 7 2/3 innings is great, but when a guy has walked six batters for every nine innings of his fledgling major-league career, it’s at least a positive step.
Then there are the strikeouts, which have been there at every step of Glasnow’s pro journey, but at a much lower rate in the bigs (8.4 per nine) compared to Triple-A (11.8 per nine). If the Ks are there at this level, then the power and deceptiveness that made Glasnow such a gem prospect are both playing. So far, so good in that regard this spring.
If all of this seems rather hopeful, that’s because it is.
Regardless of one’s rooting interest, it would be a shame if Glasnow were never to harness the stuff that’s made his path through the Pirates’ system remarkably dominant. Yes, the wildness that’s plagued the 6-foot-8 pterodactyl his entire career has still been an issue in 43 Triple-A starts, but opponents at that level have collected just 5.4 hits per nine against Glasnow, compared to 4.3 walks. Just honing in on last year, the International League hit .176 against him and his ERA was 1.93, so no one could take advantage of the free baserunners anyway.
Then there’s the velocity. As Tim Williams wrote a couple of weeks ago, velocity returned for Glasnow once he cleaned up his release last summer. I’ve personally been in the house for more than half of Glasnow’s major-league appearances, and his stuff finally looked as advertised in the final series of 2017, at Washington. He was touching 100 with the fastball, getting foolish swings with the curveball and even mixing in a few drifting changeups.
Then again, in a three-game September stint out of the bullpen, Glasnow walked a stunning 15 batters in 7 2/3 innings, so it’s not like he forced the Pirates’ hand for 2018. Some might even say the team is doing the 24-year-old a favor by granting him multiple spring starts.
But that doesn’t bother me, nor does it surprise me. With where this team is on the competitive arc, with the relative vacuum of upside in the starting rotation, with the — dirty word alert — potential of Glasnow, the Pirates owe it to themselves to give their former top prospect every chance to succeed.
There are limits to this, of course. A 7-plus ERA in early June, like what Glasnow carried last year, is an insult to teammates and coaches alike. I don’t care if you’re 20 games out, that can’t continue.
On the other hand, if Glasnow is at his swing-and-miss best, he would bring a quality that the Pirates’ pitching staff was missing last year. Pittsburgh pitchers struck out 20.3 percent of batters faced in 2017, ranking 12th of 15 National League teams. Nothing wrong with fewer balls in play, especially with a defense that projects to be average. And it goes without saying if Glasnow is fanning hitters at a high rate, he’s probably not allowing many to touch the plate, either.
Benefit of the doubt. It’s a good thing to have. Assuming Glasnow doesn’t melt down in the closing two weeks of spring, he should travel to Detroit with the big club.
He doesn’t necessarily deserve that honor, but from my angle, the Pirates can’t afford to not give it to him.