Even with question marks surrounding the Pirates pitching staff this spring, Clint Hurdle was able to announce 60 percent of his rotation to open the season before any other team decided on their Opening Day starter. With Chad Kuhl coming off a solid showing as a rookie in 2016, the Pirates most likely have four of their five rotation spots filled. This brings us to the battle for the fifth starter’s job in the Pirates rotation. Tyler Glasnow, Drew Hutchison, Steven Brault and Trevor Williams are the four starting pitchers in the mix for this rotation spot. However, after Sunday’s showing, Glasnow may have emerged as the early favorite to break camp with the Pirates’ MLB club. Six strikeouts in the span of seven batters against the Orioles on Sunday, announced to Pirates Nation that Tyler Glasnow means business this spring training.
Does he have what it takes to get it done? Question marks surrounding Glasnow’s uneven performance in 2016 left Pirates fans doubting the club’s top prospect. A more in depth look at what Glasnow is working on this spring, will help to present a clearer picture of how he can contribute to the Pittsburgh Pirates throughout the 2017 regular season.
So far, this spring Tyler Glasnow has shown the drive that is most often associated with the top competitors in the game of baseball. His desire to be the best that he can be, has become apparent in the strides he has taken in repeating his delivery. With Glasnow’s history of wildness and his significant growth spurt shortly before being drafted, there was some doubt about what he would produce as a finished product. Without showing the ability to command the fastball and hanging curveballs regularly at the MLB level last season, it was evident that Glasnow needed to make some adjustments this offseason. By working closely with Ray Searage in his offseason throwing programs, Glasnow was able to adhere to various timing exercises that have him looking like a completely different pitcher this spring. In the minor leagues, last season, there were plenty of starts where Glasnow had enough fastball command and finished his curveball well enough to put together an efficient outing. Still his mechanics were not tight enough to allow him to keep it together when dealing with the extra adrenaline that accompanied each of his big league starts. A series of checkpoints that are accompanied by pauses in his windup and standing tall before his delivery, now have Tyler in great position to achieve the repeatability that he has strived for without success throughout the early portion of his professional baseball career.
The early focus of camp for Glasnow was the continued development of his changeup now that his pitching mechanics have been altered. In a recent video clip, available on MLB.com, Glasnow demonstrated how he had changed his changeup from a four-seam grip to a two-seam grip. With the size of his hands, it now appears that he is employing what is known in baseball as the “circle change”. This small change has Glasnow feeling very comfortable throwing this pitch, all the while improving the velocity separation between his fastball and changeup. Being comfortable throwing this pitch is the key for Glasnow, as being diverse with his repertoire is a desire that has been fueled by his competitive drive. The results last season at the MLB level were like the results with his curveball. Inability to finish pitches by driving them down in the zone, left many of Glasnow’s off-speed pitches hanging up in the zone where opposing hitters could put a charge into them. With Glasnow now looking to make the mechanical and grip adjustments as part of his second nature habits, the improvement in the results could be significant this season.
In Glasnow’s starts last season, seeing fastballs left up in the zone was not an uncommon theme. This did not yield the worst results for him, since he regularly threw his fastball with significant velocity. It was often taken for a ball and sometimes it produced a swinging strike. Other times the natural sink on his four-seamer caused the ball to wander into an area where opposing hitters were able to take comfortable swings at the pitch. All of this is in the process of changing however, as Glasnow’s first spring outing put a completely different style of pitching on display. By utilizing the natural sink on his four-seam fastball, Tyler Glasnow is now armed with the ability to drive the ball down in the zone while adopting a style like the one employed by Justin Verlander over the past decade. The implications of this breakthrough are significant, because Glasnow will be throwing his fastball the most out of all the pitches in his repertoire. Being able to lean on his fastball as his best pitch will allow Glasnow to have efficient innings along with compiling a noteworthy strikeout total.
Even though recent history suggests that Brault and Williams may represent safer options for the Pirates to have as their fifth starter, the upside that Glasnow brings to the team gives him a chance to be a difference maker. Not only do all the checks in Glasnow’s mechanical adjustments, have his pitches under control, but he is now expecting to have better success against the opposition’s running game by throwing their timing off.
Plenty of hard work was put in by Glasnow and the coaching staff this offseason, as they worked to help him reach his ceiling. The early results suggest that the Pirates could be putting together one of the league’s better rotations, while giving their fans a starting pitcher to look forward to on a nightly basis. Gone are the days of Pirates fans dreading the day of a Jeff Locke start with Pittsburgh featuring a starting rotation that may be loaded with a large portion of the league’s top young pitching talent.