Coming off a 98-win campaign and third consecutive playoff appearance in 2015, the Pittsburgh Pirates had an underwhelming offseason, particularly in the pitching department. The loss of key starters A.J. Burnett to retirement and J.A. Happ to free agency created two gaping holes in the rotation, which the Pirates filled by trading for back-end starter Jon Niese and then signing 38-year-old Ryan Vogelsong. Meanwhile, the division-rival Cardinals expect a full season from ace Adam Wainwright, and the talent-rich Cubs, everyone's 2016 World Series favorite, got a lot richer.
This means the Tyler Glasnow Watch is officially on in Pittsburgh.
Elite prospects have a way of balancing the competitive scales, and the 6'8" Glasnow rates among the most promising young pitchers in the game. Baseball America (#14), MLB.com (#10), and Baseball Prospectus (#11) all rank Glasnow among their top 15 overall prospects and top 3-6 pitchers in the minor leagues. The prospect staff here at faketeams.com rated Glasnow #9 overall because his sparkling 2.01 ERA and otherworldly 11.76 K/9 ratio in 383.1 minor-league IP make him a prospective fantasy stud. When he arrives in Pittsburgh, which should happen sometime in 2016, Glasnow will join Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano to form an imposing triumvirate atop the Pirates' rotation.
Pirates fans and fantasy owners, of course, are eager to learn exactly when "sometime in 2016" will be. Patience will be key, for there's reason to expect that the answer will come in a matter of months.
Glasnow has posted incredible statistics through his first three professional seasons, and yet there remains work to be done. In 2013, as a 19-year-old, Glasnow dominated the Low-A South Atlantic League with a 2.18 ERA and an unfathomable 164 strikeouts in 111.1 IP. In 2014, he repeated this dominant performance in the High-A Florida State League, compiling a miniscule 1.74 ERA with 157 strikeouts in 124.1 IP. He won the League Pitcher of the Year award at both levels. His repertoire includes a high-90s fastball, a devastating curveball, and an improving changeup.
Control, however, has been Glasnow's weakness. His career 4.18 BB/9 ratio alone suggests that he's not quite ready for the Major Leagues. Near the end of the 2015 season, Glasnow made 8 starts with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, where he struck out 48 batters in 41 IP but also allowed 22 walks. He does not yet command his offspeed pitches with the consistency necessary to get deep into games.
Furthermore, the Pirates in recent years have grown leery of premature promotions for both hitters and pitchers. After the club DFA'd 1B Pedro Alvarez in November 2015, GM Neal Huntington blamed himself for rushing the young slugger to the Majors. Indeed, Alvarez received only 242 Triple-A at-bats prior to his promotion. Andrew McCutchen, by comparison, received 780 ABs.
Pitcher Gerrit Cole--the Bucs' only recent, home-grown, blue-chip hurler to make a major impact in the Majors--logged 74 pre-promotion innings in Triple-A, which could serve as a barometer for Glasnow's development plan and eventual arrival. It is worth noting that Cole struggled with control in 12 starts at Double-A Altoona (3.51 BB/9) and again in 12 starts at Triple-A Indianapolis (3.71 BB/9), and yet those issues have not followed him to the Major Leagues (2.18 career BB/9).
Another factor in the timing of Glasnow's promotion could be the Pirates' early schedule, which, notwithstanding home-and-home series with the Cardinals and Cubs, appears fairly light. Through May 22, the season's 45th game, Pittsburgh will face the Reds, Brewers, Rockies, Padres, and Braves a combined 26 times, which means that even with their depleted (on paper) rotation the Bucs are unlikely to be outgunned by their mound opponents for any extended period of time. Coincidentally, this would give Glasnow an additional 7-9 Triple-A starts and would bring his innings total in line with Cole's at the time of promotion.
If I had to guess a date for Glasnow's arrival, I would say Friday, June 3, at home against the Angels. That night marks the beginning of a stretch in which the Pirates will play 17 of 23 games at home. In addition to the Angels, their opponents will be the Mets, Cardinals, Giants, and Dodgers.
Fans might want to visit PNC Park in June.
Until then, the Glasnow Watch will require a bit of patience. Fantasy owners in re-draft leagues with deep benches should view him as a late-round flier who could pay serious dividends from June onward. Meanwhile, Pirates fans and dynasty-league owners will be chomping at the bit for his promotion, which is only a matter of time.