Written by: Mason McRae
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We’re less than ten months away from the 2021 MLB Draft.
At this point of the draft cycle—especially in the world we’re currently living in—certain data points from certain prospects are extremely hard to attain. Trackman data is admittedly hard to get from high school arms, making it harder to find pitches – specifically sliders (release angle, movement) at that – with elite characteristics, so college arms are easier to judge this early on. Of course, most draft prospects are only at the genesis of their development, so it’s entirely possible a list like this one looks completely different six months from now. That’s the fun in evaluating draft prospects!
With that aside, here’s a look at a handful of pitches getting elite (or close to) marks from scouts and evaluators at this point of the 2021 draft cycle.
Jack Leiter’s Fastball (RHP, Vanderbilt)
Using his six-foot frame to his advantage, Leiter’s fastball has a fantastic release profile and decent movement profile, but it’s a combination of everything (deceptiveness, flat trajectory, location) that makes the pitch arguably the best heater in the class. Thrown on average at 91.9 mph, his lack of velocity has been a common topic of conversation within the industry, but Jaden Hill, a supposed power pitcher, threw his fastball (on average) just 1.8 mph harder last spring. Leiter’s fastball has above average vMov, elite extension and a short release height. Put it all together, and you’re looking at a ~4.2 VAA that’ll get into the 2.8-3.0 range on pitches up in the zone. If Leiter velocity jumps to 94-95 next season – which is within the realm of possibility as he’ll be on the back end of an advanced college thrown program – the pitch is probably an 80-grade offering relative to its peers. For now, it’s a 70-grade pitch.
Seth Lonsway’s Curveball (LHP, Ohio State)
Pick your poison with Lonsway, both his slider and curveball could be 70-grade pitches, but the curveball gets the edge here because of it’s combination of elite vMov, plus spin rates and steep approach angle. The pitch missed 26.0% of bats last season, and hitters against slashed .143/.273/.143 in 33 plate appearances with 22 strikeouts during the shortened 2020 season. It’s an amazing pitch and probably should’ve made him six figures this past June. Instead, he’ll be back as a cost-effective option for pro clubs following the 2021 season.
Kumar Rocker’s Slider (RHP, Vanderbilt)
One of the few pitches that is blatantly elite based on the eye test, Rocker’s slider appeals to everybody. Some will look at the spin rates and presume an average movement profile, but there’s so much more to it. Thrown on average at 85.04 mph with optimal hBreak (-4.44) and ideal vMov (3.88 IVB). Any pitch thrown north of 85 mph with little-to-no north/south movement is ridiculously tough to barrel, and the pitches VAA is in the 8.2-8.4 range on average, but up to 9.1 on pitches down in the zone. Thrown for a strike 76% of the time, the pitch’s movement and release profiles could miss bats at the big league level today.
Rodney Boone’s Fastball (LHP, UC Santa Barbara)
Boone’s fastball has a ridiculously flat VAA (3.9). Throwing from a 5.3 release height and producing around 25 in of IVB is an easy plus pitch, and most models will put a 70-grade on it. A max of 90 mph on the fastball is far from good, typically working in the 86-87 range later in outings. Boone will need to get higher velocity to climb on boards, but teams who draft players based on approach angle alone (TB, BAL, HOU) should already have Boone high on their boards. His velo has also been climbing this summer, which will set up Boone for a Ian Seymour (2nd Round Pick in 2020 by Tampa Bay) like rise on boards thanks to his model friendliness.
Eric Cerantola’s Curveball (RHP, Mississippi State)
Cerantola has one of my favorite secondary pitches in the class, a curveball thrown north of 80 mph with spin rates around 2,750 rpm. It’s quite possibly the best curveball in the class simply because of the fantastic vMov combined with ideal velocity behind it, and the spin rates to make the pitch play harder. The pitch has a 9.94 average VAA, which is ridiculously steep; combine that with the ~10 IVB & -5.3 hBreak to get a 60, maybe 70 grade pitch.
Jack Perkins’ Slider (RHP, Louisville)
Perkins will throw his slider around 82 mph and for strikes often, it’s both a bat-missing pitch and a get-ahead offering that will range anywhere from 2,700 to 3,100 rpm. The pitch possesses a lot of movement (-3.2 hBreak, -2,6 IVB) and can sometimes look like a slurve-type offering, but when it’s tight and down (around 8.5 VAA) it’s a ridiculously tough pitch to hit. Thrown at a 5.4 release height makes it so tough to gauge for an opposing hitter.
Jackson Jobe’s Slider (RHP, Heritage Hall)
Jobe’s slider caught everyone’s attention in June when he threw it north of 3,000 rpm a handful of times and then again this past week at the PG All-American Game. That’s the only number available unfortunately, but the majority of its movement comes within the last 15 feet—which is advanced. Because of his release height being somewhat high due to a poor posture at release, the approach angle is probably steep. While ideal for a lot of pitchers, higher spin rate sliders are often times better thrown at lower release heights because of their abilities to kill spin much easier.
Steve Hajjar’s Slider (LHP, Michigan)
Joining Rocker in the ‘there’s more to movement profiles than spin rate’ category is Hajjar. Thrown just shy of 80 mph but with far less hBreak & vMov (that’s a good thing). His slider’s release profile is one of the bigger reasons it’s so good as the VAA gets into the 9.0-9.2 range and it’s got a negative release angle, which means the pitch’s movement comes late. Hajjar throws it for a strike 66% of the time and for a swing-and-miss 16.8% of the time. Another interesting facet of Hajjar’s slider is his average release height of 6.8, which is basically a hitter’s nightmare from a pitch trajectory standpoint as it possesses a steep plane and sees most of the break come late in a cutting-esque shape.
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Featured image courtesy of Mississippi State Athletics