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Towering Tyler Glasnow ready to fill a tall order for Pirates

Uncorking plus stuff from a 6-foot-8 frame, Pirates prospect Tyler Glasnow should be a treat to watch -- starting now. Peter Diana/AP Photo

Tyler Glasnow is familiar with the career path of Randy Johnson. The highly touted pitcher, who will make his major league debut Thursday for the Pittsburgh Pirates, bears many similarities to the five-time Cy Young Award winner and 2015 Hall of Fame inductee. Although it's unfair to expect Glasnow to become Big Unit 2.0, it's relevant to draw a comparison.

Glasnow is 6-foot-8, 225 pounds, and he throws a fastball that touches 99 mph. Johnson was 6-foot-10, 225 pounds during his playing days, and he hit triple digits in his prime.

Glasnow is a Californian who was drafted out of high school in the fifth round. Johnson is a Californian who was originally selected in the fourth round.

Although Glasnow isn't a carbon copy of Johnson -- he's a righty who signed at age 18, while Johnson is a lefty who played three college seasons -- the towering fireballers both struggled to develop their control.

Glasnow is unhittable at times but walks too many batters. Johnson always could overpower hitters, but he was erratic for several years before he became one of the most dominant pitchers in history. Although Glasnow isn't making any predictions about his future, he said he derives inspiration from the success Johnson had after he found his command.

"I just think, when I'm at my best and things are working, I truly believe I can get people out," Glasnow said during spring training at Pirates camp. "When I have my good stuff, I know I can get anyone out."

He's not boasting. Scouts see an extremely high ceiling for Glasnow, who allowed just 57 hits with a 1.78 ERA in 96 innings at Triple-A this season. He leads the International League with 113 strikeouts, but he ranks second with 52 walks.

The combination of unhittable stuff and wildness left the Pirates with a difficult decision:

Do they call Glasnow up now in hopes of buoying a team in the thick of the NL wild-card race? Or do they keep him stashed in the minors to refine his control and keep his arbitration clock at zero?

The Pirates made their move Wednesday, when they promoted Glasnow to start against the St. Louis Cardinals opposite Adam Wainwright. Now that the future is here, don't expect Pittsburgh to trade Glasnow, like the Montreal Expos did with Johnson in 1989.

"His stuff can be electric," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's a power fastball with sink. It's a downhill angle. He spins the ball extremely well. He's coachable. He's confident, and he's finding his edge. He's big on the team concept and the team mindset -- being representative the other four days as well, not just the day he pitches."

While it's inevitable to wonder about Glasnow's control issues, it's important to note that time is on his side. Johnson allowed approximately 1.5 walks and hits per inning as a minor leaguer, and he led the majors in bases on balls three times in his late 20s before he slashed his walk rate and led MLB in strikeouts eight times. Glasnow is just 22, with a career WHIP of less than 1.1. Tall pitchers often take longer to iron out their mechanics -- another reason the Pirates are content to be patient with Glasnow.

"He's still growing into his body," Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage said. "So basically, what he's got to do is figure out the timing with all the levers because he's long-limbed. There's a lot of things that he does extremely well. There's a lot of things that he needs to work on too, but that goes with the territory of being 22 years old. He wants everything done by yesterday, but it's not going to happen. There's a process."

ESPN Insider Keith Law ranked Glasnow No. 6 among the top 100 prospects in baseball entering the 2016 season, and several other lists placed Glasnow in the top 10. He is currently No. 1 in ESPN's fantasy prospect rankings. He appreciates the accolades but is anxious to prove his value on a bigger stage.

"It's definitely a nice honor to have, and I'm glad people consider me that," Glasnow said. "But my ultimate goal is to get off those lists."

Glasnow is diligent about preparation, diet and workout regimen, habits ingrained by a family of athletes. His father, Greg, was a gym rat who swam and played water polo. Older brother Ted preceded Tyler in sports at Hart High in Newhall, California, and was an All-Big East decathlete at Notre Dame. Their mother, Donna, was a gymnast who coached at Cal State Northridge.

"In terms of physical work ethic, I get it from her," Glasnow said. "My dad is really into working out, and his work ethic is extremely grossening. I think just growing up and seeing both of them do that and seeing my brother too [was inspiring]. Hard work honestly seemed like simple work after doing stuff with my family."

It's not all about work for Glasnow. He takes his job seriously but carries himself with a relaxed demeanor that belies his Southern California roots. He enjoys goofing around with teammates, but anything that distracts from baseball during the season is unwelcome.

"I don't really spend that much money," Glasnow said. "I don't really go out. I don't play video games. I don't spend money on that stuff. I will spend money on nice food, though. I'll go to a nice restaurant. Food and things that help me perform. I have no problem spending money on healthy food."

Indeed, when the subject of food comes up in conversation, Glasnow clearly is in his element. He cooks frequently and is much more likely to prepare his own steak than go to a steakhouse. He subscribes to a diet of wholesome foods in mass quantities.

"A lot of chicken, any kind of meat, pork, chicken, steak, pork, a lot of sweet potatoes, oats, lots of vegetables," he said. "In season, when I'm trying to keep weight on, I eat a lot of food. I really try to eat really clean, really healthy, but just a dumb amount of food. Just as much as I can until I don't feel like eating anymore. As long as it's clean and good quality food, I can eat as much as I want."

Glasnow participated in major league camp with the Pirates each of the past two springs, which allowed him to test the waters against the best in the business. Hurdle points out that making a successful transition from Triple-A to the majors doesn't necessarily require raising performance to a new level.

"It's not like you have to hit another gear," he said. "What you've got to be able to do is repeat with consistency."

As Glasnow noted, "The hitters are older and more patient. They know what they can swing at and what they can't swing at."

Hurdle said prospects can be afraid to make a mistake when they get the opportunity to face major leaguers. They sometimes try to nail every single pitch, which isn't the best route to success. In order to stick in the majors, pitchers have to learn how to get outs and eat innings, even when they don't have their best stuff. It's a message Hurdle said he delivered to Glasnow during spring training.

"Just go compete. Let's not overcook things," Hurdle said. "You've got a skill set. You got some gifts. You've worked hard to develop those gifts and put them to use, so give them a chance to work for you out there."

From listening to Glasnow, it's clear the message was understood.

"Early in my career, I always needed to make everything perfect," he said. "If it wasn't, I'd beat myself up over it. I'd work on so much stuff to get that control and take it into games, rather than just going out and throwing. You can't think about the things you're working on. You've got to go out and compete.

"It's a huge emphasis for the Pirates -- being in the moment and not getting too far ahead of yourself. That's been a big focus since I've gotten here. It really does work."

Considering Glasnow's tremendous upside, staying in the moment and not dreaming of the future might be more difficult for Pirates fans than for the pitcher himself.