WINSTON SALEM, N.C.—Although Maryland righthander Jake Stinnett’s statistical line against from his weekend start against Wake Forest may not look impressive, the stuff he showed demonstrated why he is one of the biggest risers on draft boards this spring.
A third baseman to start his career, Stinnett began pitching full-time last year as a junior and did not sign after being drafted in the 29th round by the Pirates, but could go in the top three rounds this spring after taking big developmental strides.
“The arrow is really pointing up on him as a converted guy that is now dedicated to pitching,” a National League scout said.
Stinnett’s start against Wake Forest began with three hits in the first, including a three-run home run on a slider. He pitched off his 93-95 mph fastball in the opening frame that often finished up in the zone.
The premium senior then settled in, sitting down 13 of the next 14 hitters. The lone baserunner, a walk, was erased on a double play. He struck out six during this stretch.
In the second, he settled in at 92-94 mph with his fastball and sustained that velocity throughout his seven innings and 111 pitches. Stinnett, using a four-seamer and two-seamer, began pitching down in the zone and throwing quality strikes with plus fastball life, heavy sink and arm-side run.
“Once he settled in, his command improved and he started getting some pretty good life,” the scout said. “That was definitely plus life.”
Working from the third base side of the rubber, the athletic Stinnett got extension out front and hid the ball well from a three-quarters arm slot.
Wake Forest cleanup hitter Matt Conway interrupted Stinnett’s groove in the sixth inning by hitting his second home run of the game on a same-side 89 mph changeup that faded back over the heart of the plate.
Stinnett then threw what scouts termed “angry fastballs” for his next 10 heaters in the seventh inning, all but two of which were at least 95, with one hitting 97.
He finished with six earned runs (after two inherited runners scored following his departure with no outs in the eighth inning) on five hits in seven innings, striking out nine against two walks.
Stinnett was primarily a two-pitch pitcher who relied on his heavy fastball, throwing his heater more than 70 percent of the time with his 79-84 mph slider his favored offspeed offering.
The California native often used his fastball in breaking ball counts. Seven times he had a hitter down 0-2 and six times he went to his fastball, although he showed confidence in his breaking ball by tripling up on the pitch twice that flashed average.
“His fastball is going to be his strength,” the scout said. “His slider is going to be a pitch that he is going to have to match off of his fastball with its arm-side life and the plus velocity, then kind of expanding the plate with the fastball and the slider. His slider is probably a 40, but when he matches the two together it has a chance to play as average or better.”
His breaking ball had slurvy action and three-quarters tilt, varying the shape depending upon the handedness of the hitter.
“He has a tendency to throw it a little bit different to lefthanded hitters and righthanded hitters,” Maryland pitching coach Jim Belanger said. “When he throws it to lefthanded hitters it almost has a little hump in it and it is not as tight of a pitch. Whereas when he throws it to righthanded hitters it has more of that sharp, late, power break to it. It is something he is continuing to work on. He is kind of in between right now, but it works right now and it is really improving.”
Given Stinnett’s inexperience to pitching full time, he is continuing to gain greater feel for his offspeed stuff.
“Last year if I broke out his pitching charts he probably threw 90 percent fastballs,” Belanger said. “The slider was not a pitch that he could throw consistently but now it is a pitch that guys will swing and miss at.”
His below-average high-80s changeup was thrown fewer than five times on the day.
“It was a little firm but I thought he threw some really good ones to the lefthanded hitters,” Maryland coach John Szefc said. “It is still a work in progress but when it is down in the zone and he gets good extension on it, it has some life to it. It almost has a split-like action where the bottom falls.”
Stinnett, who was used out of the bullpen and in the rotation last year, has had a sizable increase in his velocity.
“We started to see the velocity improve last fall,” Belanger said. “Last year out of the bullpen he would get it up to 93 and touch 94. But when he would start for us last year he would pitch in that 88-91 range. But when he came back this fall he looked different and it looked different coming out of his hand.”
With two plus fastball components in his velocity and life, he has shown heavy groundball tendencies with a groundball-flyball ratio of 2.7. Stinnett’s third fastball component, control, has also taken a step forward.
“The biggest thing for him is that he is going from being what I would call a moderate strike-thrower to a consistent strike-thrower,” Szefc said. “His walks have decreased dramatically and he makes you beat him.”
Stinnett’s walk rate of 3.4 per-nine last year has decreased by more than 40 percent to 1.9 per nine. Stinnett struck out 6.8 per-nine last year, which pales in comparison to his rate of 10.4 this year with a strikeout-walk rate of 5.5.
Stinnett, who has worked with renowned trainer Eric Cressey, has a strong, athletic pitcher’s body at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds with a large frame, physical lower half and strength through his body.
“There is not much loose on that body and he definitely passes the eye test as an underwear model-looking guy,” Szefc said.
Although Stinnett has demonstrated strike-throwing ability this spring, his delivery has some funk. Stinnett keeps the ball close to his body from his takeaway out of his glove, hiding the ball from the hitter. He has some shoulder tilt and his strike foot occasionally hops back after releasing the ball. This is similar to Braves lefthander Alex Wood, but much less pronounced.
“It doesn't affect his arm strength or his command,” Belanger said. “He just has so much force going through his delivery. It is just his way of slowing his body down. When he lands he almost has another hop where his foot will hop up and move. That is just the way he throws and we haven't messed around with that.”
Although Stinnett will be 22 at draft time, there is projection with his stuff that is not typical of someone his age given how much mound time he has accrued.
“Jake is only going to get better,” Belanger said. “You look at most college guys and when they come in they make their velocity jump from their freshman to their sophomore year because they have a full year to get stronger and focus on their routine. Then all of a sudden they make the big jump that next year. This is kind of where Jake is now.”