Glasnow vs. Sampson a fun matchup

It might have been a boring September MLB pitching matchup to most people, but if you know and love Curve history, it was a fun, blast-from-the-past showdown.

Monday night, Tyler Glasnow started for the Tampa Bay Rays in Texas against Adrian Sampson of the Rangers. Based on what those guys did in Altoona, it is the best pitching matchup ever between Curve alums in the major leagues.

Glasnow was superb Monday, giving up just two hits over six shutout innings and getting the victory as the Rays won, 3-0. Sampson also had a good night in a losing effort, allowing only two runs on six hits in 52/3 innings.

I ranked the 10 best pitchers in team history in my 20th anniversary Curve book this year, again, based only on their performance in Altoona. Rudy Owens, who led the 2010 team to the Eastern League title, was my pick for No. 1, and it will be tough for anyone to top him.

Glasnow came in at No. 2 in my rankings. As I’ve said many times over the years, Glasnow might be the best minor league pitcher of all time, based on his incredible success all the way through the Pirates’ system. If you think I’m exaggerating, this stat alone is just staggering: He held opposing hitters to a minuscule .172 batting average over 5931/3 innings in the minors.

Glasnow hasn’t fared nearly as well in the big leagues, but I’ll get to more on that in a bit.

Sampson wasn’t a big name coming up in the Pirates’ system, and he was traded away to the Mariners while in Triple-A in 2015. The player the Bucs got in return in that deal turned out to be a steal.

It was J.A. Happ, who had a tremendous run with the Pirates. He went 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 11 starts as the club finished with 98 wins and made the playoffs.

Sampson, meanwhile, pitched in just one game for the Mariners in 2016 before getting hurt, and he never made it back to the big leagues until two weeks ago when the Rangers called him up.

In 2014, though, Sampson was outstanding for the Curve. He went 10-5 with a 2.55 ERA, allowed just 125 hits and 148 innings and had a 1.047 WHIP. I ranked him as the No. 6 pitcher in team history.

Sampson should have started the Eastern League All-Star Game in 2014 at Peoples Natural Gas Field, but the Pirates robbed him of that opportunity by not letting him pitch, even though his family had flown in from Washington state.

He also came the closest of any Curve pitcher to throwing a nine-inning no-hitter, losing it with one out in the ninth on a double by Bowie’s Mike Yastrzemski. He finished with a one-hit shutout.

It’s great to see Sampson, who’s still only 26, getting a shot with the Rangers late in the season. He earned it by going 8-4 with a 3.77 ERA in 33 games (19 starts) at Triple-A Round Rock.

The Curve have had a lot of good pitchers over the years, but many of the ones who dominated in Double-A haven’t been the same guys who have achieved the most big league success. For instance, Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole were just OK in Double-A and did not make my top 10 list of achievements in a Curve uniform, but guys like Owens, Sampson and Brad Lincoln did.

OK, now back to Glasnow.

And the bad trade.

I said it and wrote it on the day the deal was done, July 31, that the Pirates gave up too much in the trade for Chris Archer. The pitcher already had shown many signs of being on the decline since 2016, and just because he was the biggest name available at the trade deadline didn’t mean that he was worthy of so much adoration.

What happened on that trade day, however, was fascinating. Because the Pirates have had a long history of doing virtually nothing to help themselves at the trade deadline, they were heavily praised for finally — FINALLY! — taking a chance and going for it by giving up some prospects to acquire a big-name pitcher.

So many people, however, were so shocked and caught off guard with exuberance that general manager Neal Huntington had finally made a big trade that they never really took the time to analyze the fine-print components of the deal.

Not only did the Bucs give up Glasnow, who I admit was terrible as a starter last season before making some good strides in relief this year, they also traded away Austin Meadows and pitcher Shane Baz, a former No. 1 pick.

My beef with the trade was that I felt Glasnow still had a chance to be every bit as good of a starter as Archer — perhaps even better — if the Pirates would have given him another chance and let him pitch the way he wants to pitch. Instead, they tried to mold him into their cookie-cutter philosophies, messed with his mind and didn’t let him do what he had done to be flat out awesome in the minors.

Pirates fans were happy to see Glasnow go. And that’s understandable after how bad he was in 2017.

But having covered him with the Curve and knowing full well what he had done throughout his incredible minor league career, I always felt Glasnow still had a chance to be great. Besides, he just turned 25 years old, so there was no reason to give up on him yet, especially after the Bucs never even bothered trying him as a starter again this season.

The bottom line is Archer has been a big disappointment so far with the Pirates, while Glasnow has been a nice surprise for the Rays. Just check out both players’ stats since the trade, and Glasnow has a clear edge in just about every category.

Maybe Archer can turn things around next year and become the pitcher the Pirates had hoped for when they traded him. But there’s a good chance that won’t happen, based on Archer’s struggles for three seasons now.

Glasnow, on the other hand, has such great upside and is now in an organization that understands his skill set and is letting him show what he can do. He may never be a superstar, but he’s plenty good enough to make the Pirates regret the trade for a long time.

Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM.

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