Image credit: Hurston Waldrep (Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images)
Below are reports on 10 2023 draftee pitchers who had standout seasons in their pro debuts.
Earlier in the week, we took a look at standout hitting performers, which you can find here if you missed it. While it can be tough to evaluate any player in a small sample size, notable changes for pitchers are obvious much more rapidly.
That fact, in addition to some of the underlying data that we now have from the minor leagues, hopefully leads to some interesting insights on the following arms.
We take a look at 10 draftees from the 2023 MLB draft class who had standout professional debuts at the plate.
Hurston Waldrep, RHP, Braves
Highest Level: Triple-A
Waldrep ranked as the No. 18 prospect in the draft class but slipped to No. 24 where the Braves signed him to an under slot deal just under $3 million. All the better for Atlanta.
Historically aggressive in pushing prospects, the Braves had Waldrep throw more innings than any 2023 draftee (29.1) and pushed him from Low-A all the way to Triple-A. He led all draftees with 41 strikeouts, which was nine more than the No. 2 player on the list—who we’ll touch on shortly.
In total, Waldrep posted a 1.53 ERA over eight starts with a 33.3% strikeout rate and 13% walk rate. When combined with his Florida innings total, Waldrep’s overall 2023 innings sums to 131. Among minor league pitchers 21 and younger, only three players threw more innings this year—Joey Estes (A’s), Cristian Mena (White Sox) and Hancel Rincon (Cardinals).
Waldrep continued to show the loud stuff that made him one of the highest upside arms in the draft class. He averaged 96 mph and generated miss rates north of 50% with both his upper-80s slider and upper-80s split-change, which had a loud 65% miss rate despite the fact that he threw it for strikes less than half the time.
Kyle Amendt, RHP, D-Backs
Highest Level: Low-A
Amendt barely cracked the BA 500 in 2023, slotting in at No. 499 overall on our final rankings, but the D-Backs loved his fastball shape and signed him for $135,000 in the ninth round. At 23 years old in Low-A, Amendt was old for the competition level he pitched at, but it’s still worth noting how dominant he was and how well his fastball plays.
Among draftees with at least 10 innings, Amendt’s 18.75 K/9 rate was best in class and in 12 innings out of the pen he struck out 25 batters and walked nine. That’s good for a 53.2% strikeout rate and 19% walk rate.
In terms of stuff, Amendt pitched heavily off a fastball that averaged just 92-93 mph, but the pitch has double-plus riding life with 20 inches of induced vertical break. He racked up huge whiffs with the pitch in college and it was more of the same in the low minors, with a ridiculous 43% miss rate and 41% chase rate.
Amendt mostly used a downer, 12-to-6 curveball around 80 mph as his main secondary. The pitch also generated a strong number of whiffs, with a 71% miss rate, but he showed poor strike throwing ability with it and will need to sharpen his control as he progresses to more age-appropriate levels.
Lucas Braun, RHP, Braves
Highest Level: High-A
Braun was second to Waldrep in both innings pitched (27) and total strikeouts (32), reinforcing the fact that the Braves have no qualms pushing pitchers rapidly if they feel it’s warranted. That brings Braun’s 2023 innings total to 118.1 after throwing 91.1 in 15 starts with Cal State Northridge this spring.
A senior who signed for $347,500 in the 6th round, Braun showed a solid pitch mix and advanced feel to throw most of those offerings for strikes. His 1.67 BB/9 rate was No. 4 among draftees with at least 10 innings pitched and overall he posted a 30.2% strikeout rate and 4.7% walk rate.
Braun has just average life on a 91-94 mph fastball, but he threw the pitch for strikes at a 69% clip and does a nice job mixing in a mid-80s slider, upper-70s curveball and mid-80s changeup. Both breaking balls were solid swing-and-miss offerings for him, and the slider has short, tight tilting action with the curveball offering more depth and horizontal movement.
With a chance for plus control and command, Braun has a chance to make the most of a solid-average four-pitch mix.
Xavier Meachem, RHP, Marlins
Highest Level: Low-A
Meachem is a filled out, stocky righthander who flashed impressive feel to spin the baseball at North Carolina A&T. While his overall miss rate with a high-spin slider in college was just OK, scouts loved the potential of the pitch, and in his brief pro debut after signing for $169,500 in the 10th round, it looked excellent.
Meachem racked up 28 strikeouts—tied for No. 3 among draftees—in 20.1 innings thanks in large part to his low-to-mid-80s sweeping breaking ball. The pitch averaged around 2,800 rpm spin and featured nearly 12 inches of horizontal movement on average, and generated a 49% miss rate in the low minors.
It looks like a real plus pitch, and he supports it with a 90-94 mph fastball that he’ll need to throw for strikes more consistently in the future. Meachem was actually in the zone more often with his slider, and he will also mix in a mid-80s changeup, but it doesn’t look like something that will be a major factor for him coming out of the bullpen.
Meachem was on the younger end of the college class and only turned 21 in September, which means his 2024 season will be his age-21 season. Depending on how the velocity, shape and command of his fastball develops, he could be an intriguing relief arm to keep tabs on.
Zane Russell, RHP, D-Backs
Highest Level: High-A
A tenth round pick who signed for $155,000 with the D-Backs, Russell didn’t rank on the BA 500, but he was a lockdown reliever for three years with Dallas Baptist and showed both velocity and swing-and-miss secondaries.
That stuff translated to Low-A and High-A in his pro debut, where Russell posted a 1.02 ERA in 17.2 innings, with a 44.3% strikeout rate and 8.2% walk rate. Among draftees with at least 10 innings, his K-BB/9 of 11.51 was third best.
Russell throws a three-pitch mix and has both above-average velocity and riding life on his fastball. The pitch averaged 94-95 mph, has been up to 97 and features around 20 inches of induced vertical break, which allowed him to generate an elite 48% miss rate against lower minors hitters.
He pairs a quality fastball with two legit secondaries that he had feel to land for strikes at an above-average clip. The first is a low-to-mid-80s slider with short, two-plane break that was his go-to secondary against righties and the second is a mid-80s changeup with soft fading life that he uses against lefties.
Seth Halvorsen, RHP, Rockies
Highest Level: Double-A
Halvorsen was a prominent pitching prospect out of high school in 2018 and once again in 2021, thanks to his two-way athleticism and high-end arm talent. He never quite put things together and dealt with injuries in college, which led to him going unranked on the 2023 BA 500, but was selected in the 7th round by the Rockies, where he signed for $200,000.
As always, the stuff looked good with Halvorsen in his 13.1-inning pro debut. He showed one of the hardest fastballs among draftees with a heater that averaged 98 mph and touched 99/100, and depending on how you classify Paul Skenes’ fastball, it was the hardest four-seam thrown among draftees.
The pitch didn’t generate the whiffs you might expect of that velocity and might be more of a ground ball-inducing pitch that plays better at the bottom of the zone than a whiff-getter at the top thanks to its shape. Still, he threw it for strikes at a strong clip and missed bats with a mid-80s slider (39% miss) and an upper-80s changeup (33% miss).
Halvorsen is old and will pitch in his age-24 season in 2024, but post-hype, post-injury prospects are a potential blind spot to pay more attention to for us (Hello, Spencer Strider.) and he paired great arm talent with strong results in his debut.
Christian Oppor, LHP, White Sox
Highest Level: Rookie
The A’s made a nice gamble by selecting Oppor in the 11th round in 2022 and then watched him as a draft-and-follow with Gulf Coast (Fla.) State JC this spring. Unfortunately for Oakland, Oppor’s stock gained too much helium for him to sign as a D&F for $225,000 and he instead re-entered the draft and signed with the White Sox in the fifth round for $550,000.
He made just one start and pitched 7.2 innings in the Arizona Complex League, but he looked sharp and posted a 1.17 ERA with nine strikeouts to two walks, and showed solid-average control of a 90-94 mph fastball that was a solid bat-misser as well.
Oppor also showed solid feel to land a slower, mid-70s breaking ball that has solid spin and depth, and looks like a pitch that could become an above-average offering with more power down the line.
He has a lean, 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame that should be able to add plenty of mass in the future, and his easy, deliberate operation looks like one that should be able to deliver strikes at a solid rate. Oppor also has thrown a low-80s changeup, but the pitch needs more consistency and feel. On a list of maxed out, older college players, Oppor is a fun projection lefthander with youth on his side to dream on.
Teddy Sharkey, RHP, Orioles
Highest Level: Low-A
Sharkey had an up-and-down college career at Coastal Carolina, but used an excellent 2023 season, where he set career-bests in strikeout and walk rates to earn a seventh-round selection and $215,000 bonus.
He started one game and threw 10 innings in total, without allowing a run and with 16 strikeouts and three walks. Sharkey’s fastball didn’t have the same vertical ride that he had in college, but he sat in the mid 90s with the pitch and still generated an above-average 31.6% miss rate.
He showed impressive feel to spin two breaking balls in college, and that remained the case in his pro debut. He throws a mid-80s slider that was a more effective pitch and more consistently in the zone, but his 80-mph curveball also looks like a quality breaking ball and a reliable weapon with late-biting action and downer finish at its best. Analytically, the slider was an effective pitch in terms of getting whiffs in zone and inducing chases outside of it. If his fastball shape looks closer to the college version in 2024, he’ll have a trio of extremely loud weapons to work with.
Jaden Woods, LHP, Pirates
Highest Level: Low-A
Woods entered the spring with sky-high expectations from scouts and potential day one draft upside, but he never fully put things together at Georgia and slipped to the seventh round, where the Pirates signed him to a $271,300 deal.
After starting in spring, Pittsburgh moved him to the bullpen after signing, where he looked great and posted a 3.14 ERA at Low-A Bradenton in 14.1 innings, with a 38.9% strikeout rate and 5.6% walk rate.
We graded his fastball and slider as his two best pitches prior to the draft, but Woods’ changeup really jumped out in his pro debut—in addition to strong strike rates with his low-90s fastball. Woods threw his mid-80s changeup about 25% of the time in his debut, and he threw the pitch for strikes, generated in-zone whiffs and chases at a high clip and also got strong results on contact.
The pitch doesn’t appear to have much noticeable movement or velocity separation from his fastball, but the deception with his arm speed allowed it to be an extremely effective secondary. Perhaps Woods is simply one of those pitchers who’s able to have more success in a reliever role. So far that’s been the case.
Noble Meyer, RHP, Marlins
Highest Level: Low-A
The industry takes a more conservative approach with high school arms after signing compared to their college counterparts, but Meyer—the top prep arm in the class—was one of the few preps to throw a sizable chunk of innings in 2023.
The No. 10 overall pick pitched in Rookie ball and Low-A, where he posted a 1.09 ERA across five starts and 11 innings, but with peripherals that were better including a 29.4% strikeout rate and 13.7% walk rate. That walk rate is a bit higher than we might have expected for someone who was touted for his touch and feel to the degree that Meyer was, but the pure stuff should still get Marlins fans excited.
He averaged 94 mph on his fastball and touched 96. His fastball is not a high-carry, riding four-seamer, but he still gets misses with it thanks to its velocity and wicked, arm-side running life. Meyer’s slider looked like everything it was cracked up to be pre-draft. The pitch is in the 82-85 mph range and features high spin—around 2,800 rpm on average—and significant sweeping break around 11-12 inches to his glove side. In addition to that, Meyer showed a slower breaking ball, an upper-70s curveball with more depth that he used as a spin offering against lefthanders.
While he used his mid-80s changeup less than 10% of the time, he did show great feel for the pitch when he brought it out, and it looks like a legitimate weapon in left-on-right matchups.
Meyer’s best outing was his first start at Jupiter, when he threw three shutout innings, struck out four batters, walked none and allowed two hits against St. Lucie. The depth of his pitch mix was on full display in this outing: he struck out righthanded-hitting Kevin Parada with an 85-mph slider that darted out of the zone to his glove side; he went up and in with a 96-mph running fastball to strike out righty-hitting Nicholas Morabito; he got lefty Yeral Martinez looking with a 77 mph curveball that was left up but worked as a backdoor offering on the outer rail; and with his fourth strikeout, he got lefty hitting Jefrey De Los Santos leaking out in front of a wonderfully spotted 84-mph changeup low and away to his arm side.
If you want to get excited about Meyer, this is the start to dig into. Establishing his fastball for strikes will be key for Meyer moving forward, and his longer arm action will be something to watch as a potential inhibitor of that, but when the heater is in the zone, everything else seems to follow nicely.