With 25-man rosters set, each team goes into the season looking to compete immediately with the pickups they made in the offseason. But as we saw around the MLB in the 2015, the midseason callups can have as big of an impact as the players obtained in free agency. This series will detail the 5 prospects in the NL looking to make the biggest impact on their respective teams this season.
For the purposes of this series, we will set a few baseline criteria:
- The prospect cannot have any previous Major League experience.
- The prospect must already be reasonably close to the MLB.
- The prospect must play a position of need for his big-league squad, and this need cannot be due to injury.
Be sure to check out the impact cases for the prospects previously covered:
1. Tyler Glasnow, PIT, RHP
Topping the list is Pirates power pitcher, and MLB.com‘s #8 overall prospect, Tyler Glasnow. Having grown into his 6’8″ frame and developed a curveball and changeup to go along with his upper 90s fastball, Glasnow has emerged as a legitimate option to join the Pirates rotation come June. His overwhelming success at each level of the minors suggests that it is only a matter of time before he is having the same impact in the big leagues.
Glasnow began 2015 in AA Altoona, posting a 1.98 FIP, an astonishing 33.1% K%, while keeping his BB% at an average 7.7% rate in 63 IP. While his BABIP was a low .269, his strikeout rate (1.3 K/IP !) suggests that he had sufficiently overpowered and confused hitters at the level. For this reason, he earned a promotion to AAA Indianapolis mid-year, continuing his domination. In 41 IP, he posted a 2.82 FIP and 27.6% K% while holding batters to a .219 average on .314 BABIP. While his walk rate did increase to an unpalatable 12.6%, the low batting average on significantly increased BABIP indicates that Glasnow was still dominating hitters. Glasnow begins 2016 in AAA again, and the Pirates are expected to call him up after the Super 2 deadline. While Glasnow will still need to work on his control in the minors, at just 22 years old he has the frame and the stuff to make an impact on the Pirates rotation this year.
The reason Glasnow tops this list and what sets the Pirates apart from the other teams, is that Glasnow has the ability to contribute immediately to a team expected to contend in 2016. While the Phillies, Reds, Brewers, and Braves will return to contention soon, all of them are currently in the middle of rebuilding phases. The Pirates have qualified for the playoffs each of the last three years, but despite this, did not make any significant or splashy additions to their rotation in the offseason.
Currently, their rotation consists of Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Jon Niese, Juan Nicasio, and Jeff Locke. Fans and analysts have varying expectations for the back end of the Pirates’ rotation that have been explored almost exhaustively around the web. While Liriano and Cole will anchor the front of the rotation, one of Niese, Nicasio, and Locke is likely to underperform the first few months of the season, and Glasnow will slide into their spot. The question in the minds of Pirates fans everywhere, however, is which one?
Niese was obtained from the Mets in a trade for Neil Walker in the offseason. Niese’s performance prior to last year was very consistent: fWAR around 2, below average strikeout numbers, comparable FIP and xFIP in the mid 3-range, and a solid number of IP. In 2015, however, something changed. Niese struck out even less batters than he had been, walked more, and only produced 0.9 fWAR, but also produced almost 5 percentage points more groundballs than he had the previous few years. The main difference seems to be an increased use of the 2-seam fastball and changeup, in lieu of the 4-seam fastball. This also seems to be leading to (generally) softer contact, with less line-drives and hard contact%. However, Niese also saw a spike in his homerun rate, leading to a change in his runs allowed (supported by an xFIP of 4.04 compared to his FIP of 5.53), possibly due to the softer pitches thrown.
All told, something significant happened last year with Niese’s delivery. Whatever the Pirates saw they must have liked, leading to their trade for him. What will remain to be seen is a) did the Pirates see something in the pitcher Niese used to be, and think he was lacking in execution last year, b) did the Pirates see something in the pitcher Niese became last year, and think they can improve him all the way through (more groundballs, etc.) and, c) whatever the Pirates saw, will it last the full year? If it doesn’t, Niese may see a move to the bullpen, opening the door for Glasnow to appear.
Juan Nicasio, former Rockies starter and Dodgers reliever, anchors the fourth spot in the Pirates rotation. Working out of the bullpen and seeing an uptick in velocity and success in 2015, the Pirates are attempting to make Nicasio Ray Searage’s next reclamation project. Nicasio had mixed results in the Rockies rotation, with average K% numbers, but a good opposing batting average in the hitter-friendly Coors Field. He has never produced more than average amounts of groundballs or soft contact, but the Pirates as mentioned above, have developed quite the reputation for refining middling pitchers. As with each of these reclamation projects, it remains to be determined if his Spring Training success will stick. If it does, he will not have to worry about Glasnow’s call to the majors, but a revision to Rockies-form would likely put his rotation spot in danger.
Lastly, Jeff Locke sits in the fifth spot of the Pirates rotation, and initially appears to be the likely candidate to lose his spot to Glasnow. Locke has held the fifth spot in Pittsburgh’s rotation since 2013, and has performed serviceably in the role. While never astounding with below-average K% rates, a fastball in the low 90s, and FIPs around 4.00, Locke has dutifully generated more than 50% groundballs every year in the rotation. This quality certainly has its uses for the Pirates, who focus intensely on the groundball + good defense philosophy. However, the up and down nature of Locke’s starts in combination with his less-than-stellar stuff frequently finds Pirates fans frustrated with his performance.
Walk-Off Hit: Tyler Glasnow 2016 Impact Outlook
Considering the fact that Pittsburgh has fallen just 7 cumulative games shy of winning the NL Central the past three years, the ability to have a top of the rotation talent like Tyler Glasnow called up midseason is a salivating prospect for a contender like the Pirates. Glasnow brings a dominant fastball and a potentially devastating curve to boot. Continued success at AAA Indianapolis will force his appearance in late June, but who he would replace in the Pirates rotation remains unanswered. Subpar starts for any of Jon Niese, Juan Nicasio, or Jeff Locke make moves to the bullpen serious possibilities for each of them. Locke seems to be the leading candidate, as the Pirates are familiar with his results and capabilities, while Niese and Nicasio seem to be more uncontrolled variables. Regardless, Tyler Glasnow tops this list as the midseason callup likely to have the biggest impact in the NL in 2016 because he has the immediate potential to contribute to a pennant-chasing team.
NL Midseason Prospects Recap:
The NL unfortunately has more than a few players that were disqualified from this list because they appeared at some point last season. Notably, this includes Corey Seager, Trea Turner, Steven Matz, Jon Gray and a few others. Then in other cases, there are players who are not at positions of immediate need: Arizona pitcher Braden Shipley, Dodgers pitchers Julio Urias and Jose De Leon, the Washington Nationals Lucas Giolito, etc.
This list ultimately reflects the fact that the NL teams called up a lot of the star prospects in 2015, and the prospects this year, while still strong, are primarily affiliated with organizations that are rebuilding. With the AL exerting dominance the past few years, the NL certainly has hope going forward with many of the young prospects that look to make their debuts. Of note is the resurgence of the shortstop position, with guys like Arcia, Seager, Turner, and the Phillies J.P. Crawford set to appear soon.
Next Up: AL Midseason Debuts: Prospects Looking to Make an Impact
Stay tuned for the AL version of this list! Feel free to weigh-in below in the comments or on Twitter for which prospects you think should appear there. Remember, the same rules apply: the prospect cannot have appeared in an MLB game, they must be at a position of need, and their callup cannot be dependent on an injury occurring (i.e. there must be hypothetical space for them without injury).
What do you think? Will Tyler Glasnow continue to dominant hitters at both AAA and eventually in the majors? What current Pirates pitcher is most likely to be removed from the rotation to make place for him? What other prospects do you think belong on this list, or should the order change? Who do you think will appear on the AL version of this list? Do you think the NL will eventually over take the AL in interleague play? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter @SaberBallBlog. Don’t forget to subscribe to SaberBallBlog by clicking the green “Follow” button in the menu, and follow on Twitter for all of the latest updates on the MLB!