Pirates' No. 1 prospect is 7-2 with 1.70 ERA in Triple-A
By Sarah K. Spencer
INDIANAPOLIS -- If you think about walking, after a while, it becomes a little weird.
"And if you think about breathing, it's like, 'This doesn't really feel right,'" said Tyler Glasnow, his 6-foot-8 frame tipping back slightly as he gulped in air.
By the same logic, years of experience have taught Glasnow not to overthink pitching. That's his mission, though his perfectionist tendencies muddle the process. The Pirates' No. 1 prospect leads the Triple-A International League in strikeouts (105) and has gone 7-2 with a 1.70 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP this season, which recently earned him a spot on the league's All-Star team.
Glasnow also leads the league in walks, with 51 in 90 innings pitched. In six starts in June, he averaged 4.33 walks per game. Command issues blur his path to the Majors, and his desire to be perfect means he doesn't cut himself much slack.
It's the last piece of the puzzle for Glasnow, a pitching archetype in almost every other way. His long limbs allow him to release the ball closer to the plate, giving hitters less time to react, especially with an upper-90s fastball and a swing-and-miss curveball charging toward them.
"He's the guy you create in a videogame and you play as as a kid," said Josh Bell, a teammate of Glasnow's for four years in the Minor Leagues.
The Pirates' rotation has struggled this season. Pittsburgh's 4.47 ERA ranks 22nd in the Majors. And the team is still missing its ace, with Gerrit Cole out with a right triceps strain for the time being.
It begs the question of why Glasnow hasn't been called up by the Bucs already.
Yet every development Glasnow, the No. 8 prospect in MLB Pipeline's Top 100, makes in Triple-A increases his odds of staying with the Pirates after his eventual debut, as opposed to the revolving door of getting recalled and optioned. According to general manager Neal Huntington, Glasnow locates his pitches better when he stays aggressive and gets hitters swinging -- that's their new strategy for him, though it's not foolproof.
In Glasnow's start against the Gwinnett Braves on June 22, he threw seven hitless innings, posting five walks and striking out eight.
"So Tyler [Glasnow] in his last start was very aggressive with it, interestingly enough still walked more than you'd like," Huntington said. "But there was a sequence where he backed off to try and throw strikes, and that's where the walks came in a hurry. When he was aggressive and attacked the zone and attacked hitters, he was really good again."
Teammates, coaches and management echo that Glasnow is aware of what he needs to work on. Perhaps hyperaware. Still, that was the third time this season he restricted opponents to zero hits and runs.
"When he comes in, even after a really good outing, he'll pinpoint certain things, and it's like, 'Man, it really wasn't that bad,'" the recently called up Chad Kuhl said.
So does anyone ever tell Glasnow he's actually pretty dominant?
"All the time, but that's just the way he is," Kuhl said. "I think that's what makes him so good."
Glasnow comes from an athletic family, with a mom who coached gymnastics at California State-Northridge and an older brother who was a decathlete at Notre Dame.
He's worked toward playing in the Majors for years, since being drafted out of William S. Hart High School in Santa Clarita, Calif., in the fifth round of the 2011 Draft. As that goal looms, the pressure to perform increases.
Kuhl made his first start on Sunday, and pitcher Jameson Taillon debuted on June 8. To his mom, Donna, Glasnow holds himself to high expectations because his fate ties into that of the Pirates.
"He doesn't want to let people down," Donna said. "He wants to be the best. And I think as you get older, you mature to the point where you just want to be your best. And I think that's what's driving him."
To be his best, Glasnow tries not to overanalyze what should be a simple thing: Taking a ball and throwing it.
"When I was younger, I'd just be like, 'Clear your head, clear your head.' And the second you tell your mind not to do something, it's going to do it," Glasnow said.
Like rehearsing "Don't trip, don't trip," in your head might increase the odds of stumbling when walking across the stage to receive your diploma.
But Glasnow has made progress, both physically and mentally, and he is so close to graduating to the next level.
"Once a pitcher can figure out it's really not the end of the world when you do badly, that's when it starts to come together," Glasnow said. "When you're young and you fail, it's the end of the world and I don't want to talk to anyone. Everyone fails, everyone doesn't do well sometimes. It's the job title. You've got to learn how to emotionally balance through the entire year."
Then, like walking or breathing, it becomes natural.
Sarah K. Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.