As the Pittsburgh Pirates prepare for another season, right-handed pitching prospect Tyler Glasnow will likely be the most-talked about player in big-league camp. Having reached Triple-A at the age of 21 last year and dominating, there is a legitimate argument to be made that the tall Californian should be slotted in the starting rotation when the Pirates break camp and head north.
There’s about a 0.0001-percent chance of that happening.
Glasnow is likely, right now, a better pitcher than Jeff Locke and Ryan Vogelsong. There’s a good chance he’s better than penciled-in number-three starter Jon Niese. Three-fifth of the Pirates rotation projects to be league-average at best, unless there’s a major does of Ray Searage Magic in the works — arguably the number-three magic in baseball behind St. Louis Cardinals Devil Magic and San Francisco Giants Even Year Magic.
On paper, the National League central may be the toughest division to win in baseball. The Pirates have found themselves in second place for three straight years, forced to enter a sudden-death playoff game. Enter Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta. Exit Pirates. The Chicago Cubs have made last year’s 97-win team significantly better over the offseason. The Cardinals are still the Cardinals. The Pirates have likely taken a step back, losing A.J. Burnett, J.A. Happ, Pedro Alvarez‘s power (thankfully, they’ve lost his glove), and Neil Walker.
The Pirates are not a team that can break the bank every winter. They will forever finish middle of the pack in terms of overall attendance thanks to their small market size. Pittsburgh ranked smack dab in the middle at number 15, averaging just under 31,000 per game last year. The Pirates finished right around the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Los Angeles Angels in terms of capacity filled, but there just aren’t that many seats in cozy PNC Park. The Pirates also have one of the worst TV deals in baseball. So, while the Cubs are out signing Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, and John Lackey, and the Cardinals are offering David Price close to $200 million, the Pirates are left with Vogelsong, John Jaso, and Michael Morse.
The Pirates will admit to having internal discussions about calling up Glasnow last summer. Many talent evaluators are confident that he is ready for the big leagues. Glasnow dominated in his eight starts at Triple-A last year, finishing with a 2.20 ERA and 10.5 K/9 in 41.0 innings. Over his past 253.0 innings of minor-league pitching, Glasnow has allowed six home runs. If there is anything to quibble about with Glasnow, it’s his command of the strike zone. He’s 6’8″; his command of the strike zone may always be a little tenuous.
Tyler Glasnow can take the mound in spring training, pitch to a sub-1.00 ERA, and strike out two batters per inning. He will still be starting the season in Indianapolis. The decision is almost strictly financial, but there are a few other reasons it makes sense, outside of delaying Glasnow’s service time. He threw only 109.1 innings in 2015 due to a minor ankle injury, and has never thrown more than 150 in a single season. The Pirates will need Glasnow’s arm in August and September — without an innings-limit dance — not April and May. Starting in Triple-A will allow Glasnow to be brought along slowly with an eye on a June or July debut. Taking two or three months in the minors to perfect his curveball and build confidence by blowing away Triple-A hitters will not hurt Tyler Glasnow’s development in the long run.
While it may be confusing to Pirates fans, or a little bit frustrating watching Vogelsong and Locke, starting Tyler Glasnow in the minor leagues makes sense on more than one level. The back end of the Pirates’ rotation will do a passable job while keeping Glasnow’s seat warm, and he will eventually be called upon to provide a shot in the arm as the Pirates prepare for another stretch run.