While the 2020 baseball season remains in limbo, the draft marched on. Abridged to only five rounds, each pick held more weight and each draftee can be more closely examined. In this article, three left handed pitchers will be analyzed by comparing components of their games to current MLB pitchers.
First off the board of the three was Wake Forest’s Jared Shuster at pick 25 by the Atlanta Braves. Shuster had walk issues with Wake Forest in 2019, but 2020 saw him walk only four batters in 26.1 innings while improving his strikeout rate (14.7 K/9). He was poised to continue dominating college baseball, but how does he compare to MLB pitchers?
Shuster’s best pitch is his changeup with a 60 rating from MLB Pipeline. Interestingly, its movement best profiles to the changeup of Patrick Corbin who uses the pitch to little success. Despite locating well, Corbin’s changeup struggled to generate whiffs or weak contact in 2019. However that might be due to Corbin having a fastball with subpar vertical movement for the changeup to play off of.
Shuster’s fastball received a 55 from MLB Pipeline and best compares to Andrew Heaney’s two seam fastball. One of the more unique two-seamers in the game, Heaney has a lot of success high in the zone with the pitch generating whiffs and fly balls – a particularly helpful trait in the launch angle era. If his fastball continues moving like Heaney’s, it might make sense for Shuster to keep more fastballs up.
Finally, Shuster’s slider received a 50 from MLB Pipeline. Best compared to Clayton Richard’s slider, it was rarely thrown by Shuster and should probably remain that way in its current state. In terms of speed and movement, it sits somewhere between a slider and curveball. Richard has a slow, heavy sinker meaning his plays off his repertoire like a true slider. With Shuster having a fastball with more ride, it would probably make sense to make the pitch more spin efficient and operate as a true curveball.
With the 51st pick of the 2020 draft, the Chicago Cubs selected Dallas Baptist’s closer, Burl Carraway. Featuring an electric fastball and diving curveball, Carraway is an archetypal high-walk, high-strikeout rate pitcher. In the past two years with Dallas Baptist, he’s walked 13.3% and struck out 42.4% of the batters he’s faced. How does Trackman say he’s able to produce these results?
For one, his mechanics make Carraway quite unique. Despite being only six feet tall, an extension of 7.21 means he’s releasing the ball more than a foot closer to the plate than the average MLB pitcher. As if hitting a 96 mile per hour fastball was not hard enough, this gives the hitter even less time to react.
This also means his fastball has less time to drop due to gravity. Aroldis Chapman’s fastball serves as the best comparison being another high velocity, high-backspin fastball. Even though Chapman throws his harder, Carraway’s fastball drops significantly less making it appear to rise to the batter. It’s thrown hard, close to the hitter, with great ride and is well deserving of its 60 rating from MLB Pipeline.
As incredible as his fastball is, MLB Pipeline scored his curveball higher at a 65. It struggles drawing a good MLB comparison as a hard curveball with a lot of movement. Drew Pomeranz was the most similar amongst left handed pitchers throwing his harder, but with less horizontal movement. There is a large separation with his fastball both in speed and movement. In the shortened 2020 season, Carraway struggled to command the pitch, but the potential is there for a devastating one-two punch with his fastball and curveball.
Although it went unrated by MLB pipeline, Carraway does also possess a slider which is interestingly most similar to Andrew Chafin’s. In 2019, Chafin had a whiff rate of 54.2% and a putaway rate of 30.1% with his slider. It is a highly successful pitch so the similarity raises an eyebrow, but the lack of command shatters the hope of replicating Chafin’s success with the pitch. Command takes precedence over trying to keep both a wild curveball and slider in the arsenal. He should choose one of those two breaking balls to hone in and curveball seems to be the clear choice.
The last pitcher I will be covering from the 2020 draft is Sam Weatherly. Taken 81st by the Colorado Rockies out of Clemson, Weatherly has a lot of parallels with Jared Shuster. For one, Weatherly is a high strikeout-walk guy who improved both rates in 2020. Although his 5.6 walks per nine innings is far higher than Shuster’s, so is his 17.1 strikeouts per nine innings. The parallels continue into MLB comparisons.
Just like Shuster, Weatherly’s best fastball comparison is Andrew Heaney. Weatherly has a slightly lower velocity and more ride, but it is funny that out of the 252 lefty fastballs to compare to there was a duplicate. MLB Pipeline rates his fastball as a 55; fittingly the same rating as Shuster.
While both have a changeup and slider, Weatherly’s wipeout pitch is his slider. With a MLB Pipeline score of 60, it is most similar to the slider of Derek Holland. Both hold the plane of a fastball well, but unlike Holland’s slider, Weatherly’s has a good amount of horizontal movement. In 2020, it yielded an incredible whiff rate of 65.3% despite being thrown 44% of the time. It is his best weapon and should carry him through the minor league ranks.
Weatherly has been struggling to find a third pitch to complement his fastball-changeup combo thus far in his career. Pitching out of the bullpen in 2019, he would occasionally throw in a curveball or changeup. 2020 saw no curveball cameos and changeups only 3% of the time. It is a hard changeup most closely resembling Eric Lauer’s and receiving a generous 50 score from MLB Pipeline. If Weatherly wants to remain a starter, he will need to develop a third pitch whether that be this changeup or something else. Slowing down his changeup or reintroducing a slow curveball could be beneficial if he wants to succeed in the MLB with a slow slider like Matthew Boyd and Patrick Corbin.
Comparing to major league players provides a lense into the numerous ways to be successful. In the age of information, these comparisons can not only be more accurate, but the derived insights can be more precise. However, these players ultimately have to carve their own paths. The work they put in to develop their abilities will be the determining factor in whether they reach the show or not. All three of them are on the right track and now only time will tell what is to come.