TAMPA—The weather caused delays and cancellations on Days 2 and 3 of East Coast Pro, and on Thursday that meant pushing the marquee matchup (Blue Jays vs. Orioles) back to an 8 p.m. start time.
For all the scouts and evaluators who hung around—i.e. all of them—their patience was rewarded with the most electrifying outing from any pitcher so far in the 2018 class.
Already thought to be at the top of a deep 2018 high school pitcher crop, Forsyth Central High (Cumming, Ga.) righty Ethan Hankins solidified himself at that level by mowing through nine straight batters in three innings, including striking out the first six he faced in a loaded Florida lineup.
Hankins’ fastball sat 94-97 mph throughout his outing, and he spotted the pitch to either side of the plate, and up and down in the zone. But it wasn’t just the velocity and location. He used a half wind up, starting from a stretch position, and attacked hitters almost as soon as they stepped into the box. After speeding up the game, Hankins would also occasionally slow down his motion to tamper with hitters’ timing even further.
The up-tempo attack, advanced control, velocity and plane out of the 6-foot-6 righty’s hand was far too much for any batter to handle, leaving some of the top hitters in the class looking lost and confused at the plate.
Hankins said this was the best he’s felt in a showcase environment, and most evaluators would agree, with audible excitement in the scout-heavy crowd throughout his entire outing—which lasted just 37 pitches.
Hankins struck out his first three batters (Triston Casas, Gunnar Hoglund and J.P. Gates) on 95 or 96 mph fastballs, although he threw one mid-80s changeup to both Hoglund and Gates within the at-bat that wasn’t located as well as his fastball, but had solid separation and fading movement.
It looked like the Georgia righty was going to go with a fastball-heavy approach once again in the second inning, after he struck out Mat Nelson with four consecutive, 94-95 mph heaters (three of which were on the outside corner), but started his fifth batter, Elijah Cabell, with a sharp 79 mph curveball to catch him swinging. After a pair of 95 mph fastballs (one for a strike in the middle of the zone and one just off the outside corner) Hankins went back to the curveball for strike three looking on the outside corner.
Hankins’ sixth batter, Raynel Delgado, got a 96 mph fastball down called for a strike, a 95 mph fastball that was fouled off, and two mid-90s fastballs inside before he went back to the breaker for a swinging strike three.
During Hankins’ third inning, he induced two weak groundouts that were hit right into the dirt in front of the plate and a weak fly out to left against Xavier Edwards—the only player who sent a pitch out of the infield.
In a game that featured other touted pitchers such as Kumar Rocker, Luke Bartnicki, Carter Stewart and Mason Denaburg, Hankins stole the show. Always lauded for his deadly combination of fastball velocity and control, the projectable pitcher appears to have taken a step forward with a breaking ball that scouts have been waiting for.
Hankins recently added a slider to his arsenal, but didn’t use the pitch in this outing, as his fastball, curve and changeup were more than enough. He might not need the pitch at all in the future if his upper 70s curve continues to play like it did Thursday night in Tampa.
Whatever Hankins plans on doing with his arsenal moving forward, he can be sure of one thing: he’s set the bar for prep pitchers in the 2018 class. And he’s set it high.