Everyone that follows the Pittsburgh Pirates, even the causal fan, is aware that there is somewhat of a logjam at the infield positions between the big league club and the Indianapolis Indians. As the roster currently stands there is at the very least a capable major league starter in each position. Behind three of these players are top 10 prospects within the Pirates system. Will Craig (#10) is being blocked by All-Star Josh Bell at 1st Base, Kevin Kramer’s (#9) progress is being impeded by Adam Frazier at 2nd Base and Colin Moran is currently holding down the hot corner; where Ke’Bryan Hayes (#2) should someday be. At SS, Kevin Newman’s breakout season prevented Cole Tucker from being an everyday starter at his natural position and even forced him to spend some time back down in AAA. The Pirates also have utility players Erik Gonzalez and Jose Osuna in the mix at several of these positions.
Just for fun, I am going to throw one more log into the jam. It is a player who is starting to get some recognition, but has yet to crack the top 30 in term of Pirates prospects. However, if he continues to trend in the right direction I could see him there by the end of the upcoming season. This could force the Pirates front office to make some crucial decisions as to what players to remove from the logjam in order to make way for or move on from the the players in waiting. In the next year, Robbie Glendinning is going to be the player that puts pressure on the guys ahead of him and maybe, just maybe he eventually propels himself to the top.
Robbie Glendinning was drafted as a junior by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 21st round of the 2017 MLB June Amateur Draft out of the University of Missouri. If this was all you knew about him, you would think he had followed a pretty normal path to the big leagues. For Glendinning his path was anything but normal. His journey to the Pirates began back in 2013 when he was in the now defunct Major League Baseball Australian Academy Program. From there he earned the opportunity to play baseball for Northern Iowa University where he set school record for homers (33), doubles (42), RBIs (141) and runs scored (151) in only two years. He then transferred to Missouri where he batted .274/.386/.463 with 7 HRs and 35 BB in 56 games.
After being drafted by the Pirates as the 628th overall pick, Glendinning played for the West Virginia Black Bears (Pittsburgh’s Short Season Low A Team) of the New York-Penn League. His first taste of professional baseball was extremely disappointing for the young Australian. He slashed a lowly .198/.342/.229 with 0 HRs and only 6 RBI. After the season ended Glendinning returned to his native Australia, where he played for the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League (AUBL). The success he experienced prior to his entrance into professional baseball returned as he hit .333/.408/.506 with 3 HRs and 17 RBIs in only 21 games.
With his confidence rejuvenated, Glendinning returned to the Black Bears. He fared slightly better than he had the previous summer, batting .250/.364/.369. In spite of him continuing to struggle to a certain extent and not wanting to see him set back another year in his development, he was promoted to the West Virginia Power (the Pirates Low A Affiliate through 2018). The gamble paid off as he raised his average to .282 at the higher level and hit his first professional homers outside the continent of Australia. When the season ended, just as he had the previous off-season, he returned home to play in the AUBL for Perth. In 28 games for the Heat he batted .364 with an OPS of 1.013. He added 3 HRs and 9 doubles.
When Glendinning returned to the states in the spring of 2019, the Pirates placed him with the Bradenton Marauders (Pittsburgh’s High A Affiliate) of the Florida State League. The hot streak that began with his promotion to the Power and had carried on through his time in the AUBL, continued in Bradenton. Robbie slashed .298/.368/.488 with 8 HRs and 16 doubles through the first 43 games of the season. This made the decision easy for the Pirates as he was promoted to the Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh’s AA Affiliate) of the Eastern League in June 14th. He celebrated his promotion by going 2 for 5, with a home run and 2 RBI. The rest of June went very well for Glendinning as he was able to maintain his hot streak. July was another story, as he began to slump. For the entire month he only batted .198 with a .530 OPS. Luckily he was able to rebound in the last month of the season to a more solid, but still below average, .261 with a .737 OPS and 5 HRs in AA. Since the end of the season Glendinning has once again returned to the AUBL and once again he is lighting it up. Through 17 games he is slashing .323/.389/.662 with 5 HRs, 7 doubles and 22 RBI.
So where exactly does Glendinning fit in the proverbial infield logjam that was discussed earlier in the article? Fortunately for him he plays multiple positions in the infield at SS, 3rd and 2nd Base and fortunately for the Pirates he plays all of them well, although he is better statistically at SS and 2nd. He has a career 4.36 RF/9 (Range Factor per 9) at SS and a 4.18 RF/9 at 2nd, compared to a 2.42 RF/9 at 3rd base. RF/9 is determined by the simple equation, 9 x (Assists + Put Outs)/Innings Played. To put this into a little perspective for someone who is not as big of a stats nerd as me; the National League leader in R/F per 9 last season at SS was Trevor Story with a 4.28 and the Leader at 2nd Base was Kolton Wong with a 4.50. For an even deeper and maybe more relevant perspective, last year for the Pirates, Kevin Newman had a 3.79 RF/9 at SS and Adam Frazier had a 4.18 at 2nd base. I realize this is not the only defensive stat that is measured, but hopefully you it gives you the idea that Robbie Glendinning is an above average fielder with range and flexibility between positions.
So where does he start and ultimately finish the season? Well even though he was eventually able to turn things around at the AA level and is having another successful season in the AUBL, it is most likely that he begins the 2020 season in AA with the Curve. Of course this could change if there are any shakeups; such as injuries or trades involving the players in front of him at either the AAA or MLB level. If Glendinning does start in Altoona I wouldn’t wait too long to see him there because if he begins the season anywhere close to the way he did last year in a Bradenton, a quick call up to the Indianapolis Indians is in his future.
Follow Craig on Twitter: @BucsBasement