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Moving On Up: Tyler Glasnow

MLB: Spring Training-Pittsburgh Pirates at Atlanta Braves Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

It seems as though we have been teased with the possibility of Tyler Glasnow making his Major League debut for months now. We have been forced to watch Jon Niese, Jeff Locke, Francisco Liriano, and Juan Nicasio stink-up the joint, while Glasnow maintained a sparkling 1.78 ERA and .176 BAA in Triple-A. When Gerrit Cole was placed on the disabled list, folk clamored for Glasnow to take his place; fellow top prospect Jameson Taillon received that call instead. When Nicasio was pulled from the rotation, Glasnow was waiting - but the Pirates went with sinker-baller Chad Kuhl. But now, with Taillon on the disabled list and Niese’s knee aching, it is finally Glasnow’s time to shine. He’ll start on Thursday, July 7.

Here is what Michael Schwarz had to say about Glasnow on our Pirates top-ten prospects list:

A 5th-round pick in the 2011 draft, Tyler Glasnow, once viewed as raw and projectable, has rewarded the Pirates for their $600,000 investment and exceeded their most sanguine expectations by developing into one of the minor-leagues' most dominant starting pitchers. In 2013 at Low-A West Virginia, and in 2014 at High-A Bradenton, the young righthander threw a combined 235.2 innings, compiled an impressive 1.95 ERA, struck out a jaw-dropping 321 batters, and won League Pitcher of the Year honors in both seasons. At 6'8"-225, Glasnow brings an overpowering fastball that reaches the high-90s on a regular basis. With the major-league club coming off a 98-win season, expecting to contend for a championship in 2016, but facing serious questions about its starting rotation following the departures of A.J. Burnett and J.A. Happ, Pirates fans will be clamoring for Glasnow's promotion. GM Neal Huntington, however, has hinted that the Bucs' top prospect needs more time in AAA. Indeed, Glasnow sports a troubling 4.18 BB/9 rate for his career. In 2015, he appeared to have conquered his control issues by yielding only 19 walks in 63 innings at AA Altoona (2.71 BB/9), but the problem resurfaced at AAA Indianapolis, where he walked 22 in only 41 innings (4.83 BB/9). Fantasy owners should expect to see Glasnow in Pittsburgh at some point in 2016, though lingering control issues would delay his arrival.

Glasnow is the fifth-youngest pitcher in the International League and, as of this writing, he leads the league in strikeouts (113 in 96.0 IP) and K/9 (10.59), and sits third in ERA. He has surrendered just four home runs, and has given up more than four hits in just four of his seventeen starts (while holding the opposing team hitless three times). In most respects, Glasnow has been utterly dominant this season.

That being said, the control problems that Michael alluded to in our pre-season list have continued to plague Glasnow this year; his 54 BB and 4.88 BB/9 are both the second-worst marks in the International League. He has issued three or more free passes ten times this season, including four starts in which he walked a batter per inning (or worse). Glasnow’s walk rates are trending in the wrong direction, as well - he walked 7 in 21.0 IP in April, 18 in 35.0 IP in May, and 26 in 34.0 IP in June. He was practically unhittable in June, allowing just 9 hits in those 34.0 IP, but it seems unlikely that Major League hitters will chase his offerings with such gusto when he cannot locate the strike zone.

All things considered, it is difficult to fault the Pirates for keeping Glasnow down for so long, despite objections to the contrary. His walk rate is horrendous at this point, and it is quite disconcerting. The run prevention may be there, but can this trend continue? There are currently eight starting pitchers with BB/9 of 4.00 or worse that qualify for the ERA crown; among those, only Danny Salazar has an ERA below 4.34. Last year, only Trevor Bauer finished with a BB/9 over 4.00, and he wrapped-up the year with a 4.55 ERA.

To be fair, Glasnow has two things working in his favor - true top of the rotation stuff, and Ray Searage (the Pirates pitching coach). Searage has worked wonders with Francisco Liriano, who has been known to struggle with his command, and has a stellar reputation overall. If any one coach could cure what ails Glasnow, it’s him. In fact, it would not be surprising if this call up was predicated upon getting Glasnow some one-on-one time with Searage.

Going forward, I suspect that this rotation spot is Glasnow’s to lose. Taillon is hurt, and was on an innings limit to begin with, and there is still a great deal of dead weight in the rotation overall. If Glasnow impresses, he will be here to stay. If he struggles, he will likely be sent back down - particularly if the Pirates continue their frustrating inconsistency.