Written by: John Stewart (@jonance)
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Gene Wilder has always been on my short list of favorite actors. The first time I saw him, I was about 10-years-old; my dad and I, for whatever reason, watched the R rated “Stir Crazy”, a comedy in which Wilder starred alongside Richard Pryor. A few years later, I saw Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, a trippy, technicolor masterpiece that perfectly cast him as the sweet, yet sinister candy magnate. It wasn’t until many years later that I was introduced to a pair of 1974 Mel Brooks comedies: Blazing Saddles, a Western that likely wouldn’t be accepted in today’s world, and Young Frankenstein, a nearly-perfect parody of early horror films that still holds its own today despite being made in black and white.
If you haven’t seen these classic Gene Wilder movies, I implore you to do so posthaste. Young Frankenstein itself is critically acclaimed as one of the funniest movies of all time, and Mel Brooks has proclaimed it his greatest work. In the movie, Wilder players Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, a mad scientist who uses electricity to reanimate a corpse in his grandfather’s laboratory. For the purposes of this story, the star of our show uses an electric fastball to mow down opposing batters without mercy. Ethan Hankins is… Young Hankinstein.
Building the Perfect Pitcher
If Dr. Frankenstein wanted to build the perfect pitcher, the product would look a lot like Ethan Hankins. The right-hander stands 6’6 and weighs 200 lbs. with long, loose levers and fluid arm speed that generates lots of spin. He has the size to regularly throw 200 innings at the big league level if he can stay healthy, which, coincidentally, was the primary concern leading into last summer’s draft that allowed him to fall into the Indians’ lap.
Hankins, at one time, was a sure bet to be one of the first few picks of the 2018 draft. ESPN’s Keith Law had him at #1 overall for a stretch, which would have made him the first prep RHP to ever go 1.1. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury and signability concerns led to Hankins being selected at #35 overall. The injury turned out to be just a mild muscle strain, but Hankins didn’t immediately regain his velocity after returning to competition, which scared off enough teams to allow Cleveland to nab him at the end of the first round. That pick could eventually be considered an incredible steal if Hankins can stay healthy, because he has the arm and arsenal to be a true ace.
Hankins has absolutely electric stuff, with his best offering being an explosive, mid-90’s fastball with wicked, late movement. He pairs his heater with a whiffle ball-like breaking pitch and impressive command of both that is very advanced for his age. That breaking ball usually takes the form of a looping, 75 mph curveball, but sometimes he dials it up and it takes the shape of an 80 mph sweeping slider. Hankins’ pre-draft scouting reports raved about that slider and graded it as plus, but scouts were disappointed that he seemed to have replaced it with a curveball leading up to the draft. We’ll have to wait and see if the Indians have him return to the slider, keep the curve, or maintain both. Each of the breaking balls have potential to make hitters look silly. Hankins also employs an average changeup on occasion which should develop as the right-hander progresses through the minor leagues. The changeup floats in around 80 mph with plenty of velocity variation between it and the fastball.
Once Hankins fills out a bit more and gets into a regular, professional training regimen, there’s a chance the fastball hits triple-digits; the offering is already considered a 70-grade pitch, and adding a tick or two of velocity will pronounce its viability versus opposing hitters.
Words are nice and all, but to truly gain an appreciation of just how good Hankin’s stuff really is, take a look at these snippets of his performance while pitching for Team USA in the World Cup as a 17-year-old.
The pitch runs in on the hitter so quickly that what initially looks like a top-of-the-zone strike crosses the plate close to the batter’s chin. The hitter doesn’t stand a chance….
And another one running-in on the hands at 94 mph.
Curveball / Slider
In this game, Hankins dropped a high-spin curveball on the Korean team at around 75 mph in lieu of the harder slider. There’s plenty of break as it dives into the dirt towards the end of its flight, far too late for the hitter to successfully check his swing.
Here’s the same pitch, this time utilized as a back-foot curve versus a left-hander.
Here is the changeup that Hankins utilizes far less than his other offerings. The pitch floats in around 80 mph and, at its best, shows solid fading action.
If you want to watch the entire video of Hankins’ fourteen strikeouts in this outing (you really should), here it is:
Team Korea was simply dominated by Hankins 96 mph heater and sweeping curve, consistently looking overmatched on the former and hopelessly flailing at the latter time and time again.
Small sample sizes are fun. Hankins only tossed three innings of work in the Arizona League, giving up a pair of runs but striking out six. The two outings were good for a 6.00 ERA, 0.20 FIP, and an 18.0 K/9. The right-hander will continue to pile-up strikeouts in bunches. While the Indians will understandably be careful with him, expect Hankins to start in Short-Season Mahoning Valley in 2019. He should make those inexperienced hitters look foolish.
Hankins is a long way from Cleveland, but if you’re looking to get in on the ground-floor of someone who could someday make a rookie impact similar to that of Walker Buehler in 2018, he’s your guy. He won’t become a staple on your active roster until 2023 or so, but he’ll be a lot of fun to watch between now and then.
Follow P365 contributor John Stewart on Twitter! @jonance
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365