Friday night was very slow in winter ball for the Pittsburgh Pirates due to both the schedule and games being rained out. It started off fine with Robbie Glendinning going 1-for-3 with an RBI in Australia, but that was it for the rest of the day. So instead of not posting a winter article, I had a nice chat with Glendinning about numerous topics, including playing year round, higher scores in Australia recently and learning from a Major League player.
A little background on Glendinning for those who don’t know him well. He was born and lived in Australia until he came to the U.S. in 2014 to attend college and further his baseball career. He plays winter ball (technically it’s summer ball there) for the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League, which is his hometown team. Glendinning spent two years (2015-16) at Northern Iowa Area Community College and put up huge numbers. He then went to Missouri, where he hit .274/.386/.463 in 56 games, with 22 extra-base hits, 35 walks and seven stolen bases. That led to him being drafted by the Pirates in the 21st round of the 2017 amateur draft.
Since signing, Glendinning spent the 2017 season in Morgantown, then split 2018 between Morgantown and West Virginia. He posted a .571 OPS in 29 games after signing in 2017, then had a .741 OPS in 59 games this past season, hitting slightly better during his time in West Virginia. Glendinning’s 2017 season was a long one between college, pros, the Fall Instructional League, then topping things off with 21 added games in Australia during winter ball, plus three playoff games.
Glendinning is hitting .298/.364/.511 through his first 13 games this winter. He plans to play in Australia through the end of the season, which will take him up to January 20th during the regular season and possibly as late as February 3rd if all things go well for his team in the playoffs. Shortly after that, he will head off to Bradenton for Spring Training, trying to win a job with either the new affiliate in Greensboro, or possibly move up to the Bradenton Marauders. He’s an athletic player, who can handle shortstop and also plays second base and third base.
I mentioned before that he plays a lot of baseball. He was playing in October this year for Team Australia in a World Cup tournament. Earlier this year, he was in Bradenton for both Spring Training and all of Extended Spring Training. Those are all numbers that don’t show up on the stat sheet. During college, Glendinning played two years of summer ball and one year of fall ball.
I asked him about playing year round, when many players are training and resting, instead of getting those extra reps on the field.
“I still try to find some portions of time when I can focus on rest and conditioning,” Glendinning said. “But being from Perth and growing up watching the older Australian guys who would come back and play, it’s been the normal thing for me to do. Also, growing up here we don’t play nearly as much baseball as an American teenager so this is kind of my way to catch up to those guys in at-bats and game experience.”
Glendinning mentioned something interesting about this season compared to previous years. People often ask about the level of play in the league, and the last two years the ABL has been a higher offense league, though the 2017-18 off-season was the better year. I usually say it’s about equal to Double-A ball in strong years and High-A in weak years. This year would definitely be the top end of the competition scale for the league over the years.
“Since the teams got bought out by owners, they can afford to pay the players more and the level of the league has shot way up, completely different than last year,” Glendinning said. “Feels like everyone is throwing 95 MPH in this league this year, it’s crazy.”
As for the high offense you see, the league noticed last year and made a move to cut back. Some of the ballparks are built for high offense, but that’s more of a yearly thing as opposed to being something new this year. The pitchers in the league might be throwing harder, but those higher salaries also means that better hitters are around as well.
“The offense is actually down from last year overall, last year was a little crazy, but this year they changed the balls so they don’t travel as far,” Glendinning said. “But to some extent, some of the fields are small, especially Brisbane and Melbourne, so you’ll find that the guys in those teams there power numbers are a little inflated.”
So you have better hitters, better pitchers and baseballs that were changed to make the league more neutral on offense. That means a better level of competition in the league, which is great for a young player like Glendinning, who has just a month of Low-A ball to his credit. He’s not just getting reps in the winter, he’s getting competitive at-bats that will help him in the future.
There might be something that helps him even more this winter than facing better pitching daily. Glendinning is playing third base full-time this winter. He noted that he’s still practicing regularly at shortstop and second base, though all but one of his games have been at third base. That is based on his team’s need this winter, after he played every game at shortstop last winter. This year however, Perth has Peter Kozma played shortstop every day.
When your winter team has a current Major League player with seven seasons and 341 games in the majors to his credit, he’s going to get regular playing time. That’s great for Glendinning though, because he gets to play alongside him every game and work with him during practice.
“His reputation is a defensive specialist,” Glendinning said about Kozma. “And he’s been around quite a while because he can play on that side of the ball, so it’s been cool seeing what he does and what he pays attention to, and then getting to know him. We have come to be pretty close.”
This is quite the winter for Glendinning so far and he has at least three more weeks left, plus possibly playoffs. He’s seeing a better level of play than last winter and still putting up solid stats on offense. He has a Major League veteran to his side in the infield, who has become a mentor of sorts. He’s making up for those at-bats lost as a youth due to where he grew up and the popularity of baseball. It’s a tough journey from Perth, Australia to the big leagues, but all of those positives from this winter combined can only help him towards his goal of playing in the majors some day.