During this year’s shortened MLB Draft we had the privilege of watching players get drafted out of dozens of BCTeam college programs. This week we will be doing a mini blog series highlighting some of these draft picks and looking at the stats and metrics that make them so special.
Cole Henry was selected with the 55th pick of the draft, making the draft-eligible sophomore a Washington National. LSU’s Friday night ace has only 77.1 innings pitched under his belt but has the makings of a future middle of the rotation starting pitcher. Over two seasons, Henry pitched to a 3.02 ERA, 11.1 K/9, and 2.8 BB/9.
Henry was a highly regarded pitching prospect out of high school, but wasn’t selected in the 2018 draft until the 38th round due to a high signing bonus demand and a scholarship from an SEC powerhouse. As a freshman at LSU, he battled arm injuries, which arguably affected his draft stock this time around. Despite the time lost in the Fall of 2018, he made his way to the front of LSU’s weekend rotation and continued in that role this year. In just 4 starts, he posted a 1.89 ERA over 19 innings with 23 strikeouts. Henry competes with what scouts call three potential solid to plus pitches.
Henry is a fastball heavy pitcher, and he has a reason for throwing it so often. His heater sits low to mid 90’s with the ability to ramp it up to 97 mph. Not to mention its spin rate averages approximately 2500 RPM, which is already above Major League average for four-seam fastballs. With a profile like this, it’s wise to throw up in the zone and that’s exactly what he does. The heatmap below is filtered to show swing and misses on fastballs. As predicted, Henry’s fastball thrives up in the zone.
57 of Henry’s 95 strikeouts in his college career came on his fastball and a good chunk of them being up in the zone. He punches the zone with good command, accumulating a 69% strike percentage on the pitch. Batters own a weak slash line of .233/.312/.338. Despite relying on the pitch often, it’s not the best weapon in his arsenal.
Henry’s curveball sits around 74-78 mph and gets lots of downward action from his 6’4” frame. Henry only gets batters to swing 26% of the time but when they do, they don’t make great contact. The heatmap below shows exit velocity in each zone against the curveball. Batters own a .120/.170/.140 slash line against the breaker and whiff at a rate of 36%. This pitch has been labeled a potential plus pitch and scouts view it as his best potential put-away pitch. Henry throws this pitch 26% of the time in two strike counts and induced 31 strikeouts over the span of two seasons.
The development of Henry’s changeup is going to play a big factor in whether he sticks as a starter or moves to the bullpen. The pitch currently plays well off his fastball, providing depth and runs more horizontally. He doesn’t quite trust the pitch yet, throwing it just 10% of the time in two strike counts. Batters swing and miss on the pitch 46% of the time but produce an impressive slash line of .345/.387/.552. The pitch averages 85 mph and 2300 RPM, but there may need to be some adjustments made to induce better results. The positive news is that he is inducing swing and misses at an above average rate. The bad news is that he is not limiting the damage on contact. The heatmap below shows changeup swing and misses versus left-handed hitters.
Henry is a big, power pitcher, with somewhat of an injury-plagued history. His development in professional baseball will come down to staying healthy and polishing his three-pitch mix. He bounced back well in 2020 after battling injuries towards the end of the 2019 season. If he’s looking like he did in this video from last week, he seems to be in shape and so does his arsenal.
The right-hander possesses three potential solid to plus pitches and projects to be a middle of the rotation starting pitcher. If only the fastball and curveball play at the professional level, we may see a transition to the bullpen later down the road. His changeup is still developing, and he doesn’t quite trust it yet in two strike counts. If all three pitches take a step forward in 2021, we may see the makings of a pitcher throwing every five days and putting up impressive numbers.