The Tampa Bay Rays like picking on Pirates talent.
Three major players on this year’s team played in the Pittsburgh organization: free agent acquisition Charlie Morton, Monday’s leadoff hitter Austin Meadows and Tuesday’s starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow.
While Morton, who started Monday’s game against the Pirates, was signed to a two-year, $30 million contract after leaving the Houston Astros as a free agent, Glasnow and Meadows were traded in midseason last year for Rays pitcher Chris Archer.
Such a trade can rattle a young player’s (Meadows is 23, Glasnow is 25) confidence.
That doesn’t appear the case in this deal.
Meadows, who was a rookie last year, continued to be a solid contact hitter after the trade, smashing a .344 average during his time with Triple-A Durham and a respectable .250 in 10 games with the Rays (he hit .287 over 59 games in the majors in 2018). He is batting .318 so far this spring.
Glasnow, who faces the Yankees in Tampa today, has been a revelation.
Over 30 ⅔ innings in August after the trade, he allowed just 16 hits while striking out 38. He posted a .848 WHIP, which if it was to be carried for a whole season would be even better than his Cy Young Award winning teammate Blake Snell. Aside from one bad outing against the Blue Jays in September which inflated his numbers (his overall WHIP was still an exceptional 1.096), Glasnow showed he has the brilliance to be a front-end starter.
A heralded prospect who torched minor league pitching, carrying a 2.02 ERA through his time as a starter in the Pirates minor league system, Glasnow struggled in his first year starting in the majors in 2017 as his velocity dipped after what he describes as minor shoulder inflammation. He was able to get his velocity back up last year but found himself in the unusual spot of throwing out of the bullpen.
“The whole time in the bullpen I was trying to convince myself I like this. It was a lot more different than I thought it would be,” Glasnow said.
While Glasnow was tough to hit in the bullpen (batters went .226 against him) and he struck out an exceptional 72 batters in just 56 innings, his 4.34 ERA was not Glasnow-like.
“The thing I was lacking is I really didn’t have a lot of opportunity. I was in a lot of mop-up games. I was trying to get used to being a relief pitcher,” he said.
“It was weird but I was ready to go. I kind of needed the change.”
With the Pirates in town Monday, Glasnow harbored no bad feelings and was looking forward to catching up with his old teammates. “I grew up with them,” said Glasnow, a fifth-round pick out of high school in California.
“A lot of my friends are still there. I’m looking forward to catching up with them. We’re all trying to achieve the same goal. You all have that same strong bond that never ends.”
Growing up in southern California, Glasnow’s passion was not watching baseball, but skateboarding. He looked up to daredevil skaters like Andrew Reynolds and Antwuan Dixon. As a baseball fan, he admired the swagger of slugger Alfonso Soriano, and as a taller guy (he is 6’8 now and says he was 6’6 out of high school) he looked up to the 6’10 Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, and the Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.
“My senior year (in high school) I took it (baseball) serious. I realized this could be my job.”
After landing with the Rays last summer and getting another shot starting, Glasnow said he was able to make adjustments, primarily focusing on the intent of each pitch. Between the confidence the Rays management showed in him and being able to get back to the rhythm of a starter, Glasnow excelled. “The separation between 2017 and 2018 was intent. My intent came back, I really felt like a pitcher again,” he said.
Glasnow has seen firsthand the way a talented pitcher can bounce back from adversity, as he got a closeup look at Jameson Taillon, the celebrated No. 2 pick with the Pirates who lost two seasons to injury before fighting back from testicular cancer to become one of the best pitchers in baseball last year. “Jameson, as a dude, as a human, he’s a phenomenal guy. I learned a lot from how he carried himself. He is wise beyond his years.”
Glasnow throws three pitches: a fastball, a changeup and a curveball. Last year, he threw two different 12-6 curveballs, one with a traditional grip for strikes, and one gripped like a slider to move off the plate.
During the spring, he has been tinkering with his curve to throw it with just the slider grip, but more for strikes. He likes that grip for its better spin.
After three spring training games and just five innings, his ERA may look a little high (as it easily can this time of year) at 10.13 as he prepares to face the Yankees a second time. In his first spring outing against them Feb. 24, he struck out four batters and has seven strikeouts total.
Morton, who has pitched with Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander and knows what a good pitcher looks like, has been watching Glasnow. “He’s got amazing talent,” he said.