First Pitch: Where Did the Pirates Go Wrong With Development?

Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell were both drafted out of high school in the 2011 draft.

Glasnow went in the fifth round, while Snell went in the first round.

The Pirates, often receiving criticism for moving their prospects too slowly, had Glasnow in A-ball at age 19, and had him in Double-A by age 21. He made the majors by age 22, and if you recall, it was almost a guarantee that the Pirates were going to be bringing him up that year. Neal Huntington made comments about a bridge to the future with that offseason’s additions, with the future being the batch of prospects that included Glasnow, along with Jameson Taillon and Josh Bell.

On the other side, Snell arrived in Double-A for the first time at age 22, and dominated the top two levels that year. He returned to Triple-A for the start of the 2016 season, and arrived at age 23 in the majors.

There’s not much that separates the arrival of Glasnow and Snell. They both reached the majors in the same amount of time. Neither was a top 100 prospect when they were drafted, but both soared up the prospect lists as they made the upper levels.

The key difference is that Snell spent three and a half years in A-ball or lower, while Glasnow was moved through the lower levels at two and a half years.

You wonder what that extra development time might have done for Snell in the lower levels. Glasnow arrived in the upper levels with dominant numbers, and the stuff to continue dominating minor league hitters. He didn’t have the stuff to dominate Major League hitters, and struggled in his first run in the majors.

Snell didn’t really dominate in the lower levels, with ERAs around 4.00 in A-ball in 2013 and 2014. Once he made the jump to Double-A, he was much more dominant, seeing a noticeable drop in his walk rate in the process, and an increase in his strikeouts.

Glasnow continued to have walk issues, and while his strikeouts were dominant in the lowest levels, he saw those rates drop in the majors.

I’ve talked about how the problem the Pirates had was with development, rather than talent acquisition. But where was the development problem? We assume it’s the upper levels, since so many highly regarded prospects reached the upper levels and failed to live up to their prospect hype.

I always heard good reviews about how the Pirates worked with their lower level guys. Perhaps they didn’t keep guys at the level long enough for the work to really take effect in the higher levels? Or maybe the development approach that worked there wasn’t used in the upper levels, where players definitely changed their approaches. On the pitching side, for example, you often saw a large focus on command in the lower levels, and individual pitch quality in the upper levels. What if they were both taught in the lower levels? You might need more time at the level, but there are advantages to learning some of these things at an easier level.

Did the Pirates rush their players through key stages of development? I wouldn’t draw that conclusion based on a comparison of two pitchers. But watching the Rays playing with both Glasnow and Snell on the mound, and seeing the slight differences in their development paths, followed by huge differences in their MLB careers, makes you wonder where the Pirates were going wrong.

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First Pitch