The question: Which pitcher will lead the Minors in strikeouts this season? I have to admit, I feel confident I have Jim beat on this one.
This is to take nothing away from his choice: the Rockies' Jon Gray, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 Draft. Gray certainly has the power stuff and multiple weapons to miss a lot of bats. But he's also thrown just 6 2/3 professional innings, could very well be sent to an advanced level, where hitters are better, and if he ends up spending time in the big leagues this year, it wouldn't surprise anyone.
One thing Jim and I do agree on is the part about multiple weapons. You are not going to win a strikeout crown, regardless of professional level, just by throwing hard. That's one of the big reasons why I believe Tyler Glasnow of the Pirates is the slam-dunk choice.
Glasnow, ranked No. 27 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 prospects list, had a huge breakout in 2013, his first taste of full-season ball. Glasnow was one of the high school pitchers the Pirates aggressively pursued in the Drafts from 2009-11, before the rules changed, signing the 6-foot-7 right-hander for $600,000 in the fifth round of the 2011 Draft. Glasnow started slowly as the Pirates were cautious with him, but after last year, the gloves are going to have to come off some.
Glasnow finished fourth in all of the Minors in strikeouts in 2013 with 164, and he did that in just 111 1/3 innings. The next-closest pitcher in the Top 10, Andrew Barbosa of the D-backs, threw 23 1/3 more innings than Glasnow did.
Glasnow struck out 13.3 per nine innings. That's a full two strikeouts per nine better than the next-closest starter, Henry Owens of the Red Sox. Hitters managed just a .142 batting average against Glasnow in the South Atlantic League. Oh, and he did this at age 19.
Glasnow, like Gray, is not just a rear-back-and-throw kind of pitcher, though he has plenty of fastball. It rates a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, sitting in the mid-90s and touching the upper 90s. His curveball, while inconsistent, is well above average at times and his steadily improving changeup will give him a third pitch that is at least Major League-average. The only real knock on Glasnow to date is his command, which I think will continue to improve in 2014.
He's also going to start the season in the pitching-friendly Florida State League, with a chance to move up to the also-pitching-friendly (though maybe not quite as much) Eastern League. Gray could start in Double-A, but even if he doesn't, he'll start in the California League, then move to the Texas League. Both are better hitter's leagues than where Glasnow will be.
Jim makes the claim that if Gray gets 150 innings, he'll strike out around 180 batters. That would have led the Minors in 2013 and would be a fine season indeed.
I can play that game, too. Let's see ... a rate of 13 strikeouts per nine (we'll round down for easier math) over 150 innings would give Glasnow roughly 216 or so strikeouts, the first pitcher to top 200 in the Minors since 2011.
You can't get more slam dunk than that.