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Demystifying Tyler Glasnow

Pirates righthanded pitcher Tyler Glasnow stayed put at the trade deadline, but not before being tossed around as a centerpiece of many a trade rumor. His name, therefore, has penetrated the consciousness of many a fan. The recent swirlings aren’t the only thing that have boosted Glasnow’s stock: 128 strikeouts in 93 1/3 innings in A-ball as a 19-year-old have a way of doing that on their own. The fact that he’s 6’7″ heightens the intrigue–even without seeing him live, the age, size, and numbers all paint the picture of a dominant flamethrower with bigtime stuff. A wunderkind. A legend in the making. Glasnow wasn’t even a can’t-miss amateur who we could all see coming–he was a mere fifth-round pick back in 2011. I won’t say he came out of nowhere, but this is definitely a breakout campaign–he came in as the Pirates’ #19 prospect before the season according to¬†Baseball America, which indicates he was somewhat noteworthy but hardly a central figure in their system like he is today.

If you don’t actually go and see Glasnow, it’s easy to get swept up in trains of thought that bear an aura of mythology, imagining this 6’7″ teenager who rose out of obscurity and became Justin Verlander overnight. But I have seen this fast-rising arm live (on June 14, against Greensboro), and today, I want to separate the reality from the hype on this intriguing young pitcher.

First off, here’s my video of the outing, so you can take a look for yourself. This isn’t every pitch from that night, but it’s all but a couple of at-bats, so it gives a good sense of how he progresses through five innings:

There’s a lot we can take away from this. First off, Glasnow isn’t some Chris Young-esque tall control pitcher–he really does bring the heat. He hit 96 in the outing and worked comfortably at 90-94 with good life. The fastball could definitely be a plus offering at the major league level, and there’s obviously projection remaining that could allow him to hit the mid-90s more frequently as he fills out.

Glasnow’s 73-77 mph curveball also has a chance to be a plus pitch, looking like a tight downer at times. The Pirates emphasize changeup development over breaking pitch development at the Low-A level, so you don’t get a great look at the curve in the video, but there’s enough there to show that the offering has potential but needs consistency. Glasnow seems content to just bury the pitch right now, knowing he can get swings and misses just on the plane change from his fastball, but he’ll have to show he can throw the curve for strikes at higher levels.

Mechanically, there aren’t really any red flags with Glasnow, who has really explosive burst and momentum toward the plate without a lot of wasted motion–key for a pitcher of his stature.

And that’s really the positives for now–two pitches that could be plus and a good delivery to work with. Frankly, that’s a heck of a place to start for a highly projectable teenager. However, areas in need of improvement show up just as clearly as the strengths.

Glasnow’s third pitch is a changeup at 83-88 with occasional sink. You can see a couple of decent ones in the video, but if I wasn’t reading out the pitch velocities, you’d probably have a very hard time differentiating a lot of the changeups from the fastballs, because the pitch is often flat and hard. Honestly, it’s kind of shocking he’s piled up such high strikeout numbers throwing as many changeups as he does–one wonders what would happen if he just threw five a game and worked fastball/curve otherwise. The offering needs a lot of work and is just a 3-grade pitch at present, and he’ll need it to improve dramatically if he’s going to become a starting pitcher.

While the fastball and curveball have bigtime potential, they also suffer from Glasnow’s general lack of control. The curveball is almost always in the dirt, and the fastball is often at the letters or higher. While the delivery is basically sound, Glasnow struggles to repeat his release point and finish and seems like he’s throwing uphill at times, causing the fastball to sail high on him. As a result of his control troubles, he’s walked 50 batters in 92 1/3 frames, a number that will need to decrease if he’s going to start.

Put these strengths and weaknesses together, and you have a pitcher with an immense ceiling–he could be a front-of-the-rotation starter with mid-90s heat, a wipeout curve, and an average change–but a low floor. There’s plenty of time for him to improve his deficiencies, of course–he’s just 19 and will undoubtedly further fill out his brachiosaurian build–but we should remember that just because opportunities for dramatic improvement exist doesn’t mean they will be seized upon. Glasnow probably has the highest ceiling of any pitcher I’ve seen this season–a few could make a case for being in the discussion as well, but he also is considerably less polished than most other prized A-ball arms, and this does need to be factored into projecting him.

If you’re thinking about adding or acquiring Glasnow in a dynasty league, he’s certainly an intriguing target who could pay big dividends. Certainly, it’s not hard to imagine him becoming a bigtime closer even if he flunks out of starting. I don’t think he’s quite a frontline, top-40-type prospect just yet, though–in a prospect-analysis world that seems to be obsessed with upside (for perfectly fair reasons), we need to be careful not to dismiss rawness as a mere temporary obstacle to stardom. He certainly is squarely in the top 100, though, and if you’re looking for a potential boom and can absorb a potential bust, few A-ball arms are superior targets.