2023 MLB Draft Stock Watch: Evaluating Early Performance & Stuff of 21 Top College Arms
Welcome to the week three stock watch!
Last week I took a look at how the top hitters in the class compared in regards to 90th percentile exit velocity and contact. Today I am looking at some of the top college pitchers in the class and seeing what, if anything, looks different from a year ago.
Who’s throwing harder? Who’s added a pitch? Who’s showing a different approach in terms of pitch mix? How’s the performance? Hopefully there are some interesting takeaways from this exercise, and while it’s still a relatively small sample of work for most of the pitchers we touch on today, it’s also worth noting that our evaluations for pitchers change much quicker than they can for hitters.
With that, let’s take a look at each of the applicable top-100 college arms on our current draft board:
2. Chase Dollander, RHP, Tennessee
16.1 IP, 14 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 30 K, 2.20 ERA
The consensus top pitching prospect in the class might not be so consensus these days, but that’s through no fault of his own and more to do with a player we will discuss shortly. Dollander has shown quality stuff in each of his three outings this year, though his peripheral numbers are perhaps more impressive than his overall numbers, thanks mostly to giving up a pair of homers.
His strikeout-to-walk rate is excellent and he’s continued to sit in the mid 90s with his fastball and collect plenty of swing-and-miss with the pitch. He currently has a 36% miss rate through three games, though in his first two outings he didn’t look to have the pinpoint command of the fastball he showed so frequently in 2022, occasionally yanking the pitch to his glove side or missing up.
In terms of pitch usage, Dollander is relying on the fastball much more heavily in the early days compared to his 2022 pitch usage, with his fastball counting for 80% of his offerings, compared to a 61% usage a year ago. His slider has been used 13% of the time, while his changeup and curveball have combined for just a 7% usage rate.
Speaking of the slider, it has looked noticeably less sharp than a year ago and this is perhaps the biggest critique of Dollander so far. The pitch has backed up and flattened out at times and when that happens and he leaves it up, hitters have shown an ability to do damage against it. Both of the home runs he’s allowed this season came against sliders that flattened out a bit too much.
Watching his secondaries as he begins to face more advanced lineups in conference play will be key as evaluators wait and see if Dollander has a compelling counter punch to quiet the opening salvo from…
8. Paul Skenes, RHP, Louisiana State
Trending: Up on a rocket ship
18 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 36 K, 0.50 ERA
I suppose there’s something to be said for having a big league pitching coach, right?
Under the tutelage of former Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson, Skenes has looked like the top pitching prospect in the class over the first three weeks and he’s solidly entered the 1-1 conversation with Dylan Crews and Dollander.
With 36 strikeouts and just three walks over 18 innings, Skenes ranks as the No. 1 pitcher in the country according to DIGS+, which is a game score metric that combines strikeout and walk numbers and adjusts for age, conference and park. He struck out at least 11 batters in all three of his starts against Western Michigan, Kansas State and Butler, and it’s not just the loud results—the stuff is much better as well.
Skenes’ velocity is up four ticks compared to his 2022 average, going from 93.7 mph to 97.7 mph this year and he has overwhelmed hitters with a 46% whiff rate on the pitch. Some scouts have graded the fastball as a 70-grade offering, while analysts might prefer his slider, which has added a significant amount of sweeping action.
In 2022 the mid-80s slider featured short-breaking action with downward tilt, but in 2023 it has looked like a true sweeper with similar velocity to a year ago, but with around 14 inches of horizontal break. Whatever grade you put on the pitches, they are at least plus and he’s thrown them for strikes at a 70% rate so far.
He’s barely needed to use a 90 mph changeup with a ton of arm-side run that has also received plus grades from scouts. He’s thrown the pitch just 6% of the time so far but might go to it more often in SEC play after using it 14% of the time in 2022.
13. Hurston Waldrep, RHP, Florida
17 IP, 14 H, 9 ER, 7 BB, 33 K, 4.76 ERA
Is anyone surprised to see Waldrep near the top of the NCAA strikeouts leaderboard? No? Didn’t think so. He’s currently sitting No. 2 behind only Skenes with 33 strikeouts, and recently punched out 13 against Cincinnati and then 14 against Miami last weekend.
It hasn’t been super clean for Waldrep, as his 4.76 ERA indicates, and he’s walked at least two batters per game while hitting another and, like Dollander, has also allowed a pair of homers already—both against Miami when Carlos Perez pulled a low slider to left and when Blake Cyr drove a 97 mph fastball to straight away center field.
Waldrep largely has looked like the same pitcher he was a year ago with Southern Mississippi, although there’s perhaps a bit less recoil in his delivery now. He’s continued to sit around 95 mph with his fastball and shown impressive biting action on two breaking ball shapes, though he has used the slower, low-80s curveball more often than his mid-to-upper-80s slider—which is an inversion of his 2022 breaking ball usage.
The split-change is about a tick and a half harder so far, going from 85.7 mph in 2022 to 87.1 mph through his first three starts in 2023—and his feel for the pitch has been tremendous. He’s thrown the pitch for a strike 75% of the time and has collected 23 swings and misses, good for a 72% rate. With how dominant the changeup has looked, it’s nice to see that he’s also doubled its usage, going from 10% to 21%.
No one’s doubting the pure stuff. Now he just needs to show a bit more overall pitchability and polish and put together a few clean games.
14. Rhett Lowder, RHP, Wake Forest
19 IP, 11 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 26 K, 0.47 ERA
In some ways, Lowder is a contrast in style with Waldrep.
He doesn’t have the electric arm speed or blow-you-away pure stuff that Waldrep offers, but he has excellent feel for a three-pitch mix that has tons of movement and absolutely fills up the strike zone. Scouting directors voted him the best command pitcher in the college class for a reason and he’s thrown all three of his pitches for strikes more than 65% of the time.
Lowder’s stuff looks pretty similar to what he was throwing in 2022. He’s sitting 93-94 mph with his fastball that has a ton of running life, his changeup is right in the 85-86 mph range it was in a year ago and his slider likewise has similar power and shape.
What has changed through three starts is his pitch usage. After throwing his fastball 47% of the time in 2022, Lowder has essentially thrown each of his three pitches a third of the time so far in 2023:
- FB: 35%
- CH: 34%
- SL: 31%
That seems like a real challenge for hitters, especially since Lowder has such great feel for his entire arsenal. It certainly seems like his pitches tunnel excellently off of one another and with the uncertainty of what’s coming next in any given count, Lowder is able to both miss a lot of bats and also stay off the barrel given the movement profile of each of his pitches.
He looks like a ready-made back-end starter.
17. Will Sanders, RHP, South Carolina
Trending: Down slightly
15 IP, 16 H, 8 R (6 ER), 4 BB, 18 K, 3.60 ERA
There are a lot of things that seem to be going well for Sanders after three starts. His fastball velo has ticked up, from 92.8 mph in 2022 to 93.5 mph in 2023. The ride on the pitch seems a bit better than a year ago as well, in terms of induced vertical break.
He’s thrown all of his secondaries for strikes at a higher clip and has also almost doubled his curveball usage (8% to 15%) at the cost of his changeup (23% to 16%), and his strikeout and walk numbers are solid.
Even with that, Sanders continues to get hit around more than you’d expect, with 16 hits in 15 innings, including a tough outing against Clemson last weekend when he allowed nine hits in six innings while giving up a pair of homers and four earned runs.
On his preseason to-do list, we mentioned Sanders’ poor results with the fastball and so far this season hitters have teed off on the pitch, hitting .357/.438/.714 with two home runs and four doubles. There’s not much deception and his combination of ride and a high release point just seems to put the ball on an easy plane for hitters to take advantage whenever he misses down.
27. Cade Kuehler, RHP, Campbell
16 IP, 14 H, 8 ER, 9 BB, 26 K, 4.50 ERA
Kuehler continues to throw one of the better fastballs in the class, a mid-90s heater with elite vertical break that hops over bats and has a miss rate of 31% over his first three starts. His fastball usage has jumped from 51% to 61%, though he has continued to show scattered control with the pitch and walked five batters in one outing against Butler, with a hit batter as well.
Like 2022, Kuehler continues to rely on a mid-80s slider as his go-to secondary, but the shape of the pitch looks different. There’s less sweep and it’s a much tighter breaking ball with hard and late downward bite that looks more like gyro spin than he showed a year ago—an excellent pairing with his high-riding fastball.
Another benefit of the shorter horizontal movement of the pitch seems to be his ability to throw it in the strike zone, as his strike percentage has gone from 66% to 75%. While the pitch was always a solid bat misser, both the chase and miss rates of the slider are up in 2023.
35. Juaron Watts-Brown, RHP, Oklahoma State
16 IP, 10 H, 4 ER, 5 BB, 22 K, 2.25 ERA
There’s nothing that jumps off the page as strikingly different for Watts-Brown so far in 2023. He’s been solid over three starts and has struck out eight batters in back-to-back games after an up-and-down opener against Missouri.
He continues to pitch with a fastball in the low 90s and flashes a plus slider as his go-to secondary offering, and while the pitch might be showing a bit more horizontal break in 2023 than it did in 2022, it’s not a drastic change.
47. Patrick Reilly, RHP, Vanderbilt
4.2 IP, 4 H, 6 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 11.57 ERA
Reilly has gotten a pair of starts on Tuesdays so far this spring and the results have been poor as his 11.57 ERA indicates. He’s not faced more than 11 batters in an outing and couldn’t get through two innings against Austin Peay last week after walking three batters and allowing a pair of hits in just 1.2 innings.
Reilly is still pitching heavily off his fastball/slider combination, though his velocity is down about a tick, from 94.5 to 93.7 mph. Control has consistently been an issue for Reilly in his college career and that has remained the case for him so far in 2023, and he’s shown a tendency to spray his fastball to the glove side too often.
49. Grayson Hitt, LHP, Alabama
Trending: Down slightly
13.2 IP, 6 H, 5 R (4 ER), 10 BB, 19 K, 2.63 ERA
Hitt has outperformed his peripherals by about a full run per nine innings according to DIGS and has walked at least three batters in each start so far this spring.
The 6-foot-3 lefthander was a big riser during the fall after showing improved velocity, and his fastball is up two ticks this spring, going from 90.8 mph in 2022 to 92.6 mph so far in 2023. The riding life on his pitch seems to be improved as well, which would all be great if his command of the pitch hadn’t been so poor.
He’s had a number of bad misses with the fastball, both below and above the strike zone, which likely explains the walk totals you see above. Hitt has never been a supreme command pitcher, but he’ll need to rein his stuff in a bit more to take advantage of a power uptick across the board: his slider and curveball are both a few ticks up and he’s also featured a cutter much more prominently after working on the pitch over the summer and fall.
He’s thrown the 87-89 mph cutter 32% of the time over his first three starts and has shown much better feel to land it for strikes compared to his fastball.
50. Wyatt Crowell, LHP, Florida State
14.2 IP, 6 H, 3 R (2 ER), 7 BB, 23 K, 1.23 ERA
Crowell has established himself as a lockdown reliever for Florida State and has continued to pitch in that capacity this spring, despite some questions about how he would look in a starter’s role from the scouting community. Evaluators praised Crowell’s stuff during the fall, and he’s been effective this spring, but that has come in spite of a fastball that’s three ticks lower than it was in 2022, going from 93.6 mph to 90.7.
Crowell is now throwing his slider 50% of the time, up from a 40% usage rate in 2022, and the pitch has been devastating with a 58% miss rate and an opposing slash line of just .081/.171/.081 slash line. Crowell continues to generate a ton of ground balls, but how will the industry view a two-pitch lefty reliever throwing 90 mph with such high slider usage?
54. Brandon Sproat, RHP, Florida
Trending: Down slightly
16.2 IP, 8 H, 10 R (9 ER), 9 BB, 25 K, 4.86 ERA
Sproat has always had great stuff, but his pitchability and command have long been questions. He posted a career-low walk rate in 2022, but he’s walked multiple batters in each game so far in 2023 and posted a 12.5% walk rate with four hit batters tacked on top of it.
Sproat is still sitting with impressive fastball velocity, 96.2 mph to be exact, and he gets a ton of whiffs on both his slider and changeup—he’s just extremely scattered with all of those pitches and gets himself behind in counts too often. He is now throwing his fastball less than 50% of the time with his fastball and curveball usage decreasing year-over-year, while his slider and changeup usage are up.
If he can simply put the ball over the plate more consistently, the success should follow given the quality of his pure stuff.
58. Carson Montgomery, RHP, Florida State
11.1 IP, 16 H, 9 ER, 6 BB, 10 K, 7.15 ERA
Most of the poor results you see on Montgomery’s line came from his most recent start against Florida Gulf Coast, when he gave up seven earned runs on three homers, seven hits and two walks in just 2.1 innings. That ballooned his ERA and has overshadowed what were solid, if unspectacular, starts during his first two outings against James Madison and Texas Christian.
Montgomery’s fastball velocity is up a tick and a half compared to 2022, going from 92.9 mph to 94.4 mph, but batters have still hammered the pitch to the tune of a .448/.556/.862 line. That was the concern entering the season and remains the concern now.
63. Joseph Gonzalez, RHP, Auburn
5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K, 0.00 ERA
Gonzalez has only made one start so far this season and has missed the last two weeks with shoulder soreness. He threw five shutout innings against Indiana back on February 18 but struck out just one batter in the outing.
Gonzalez wasn’t a hard thrower entering the year, but his fastball velocity was still down in the opener, sitting 88-89 mph instead of the 90-91 mph he averaged in 2022. I thought the slider he showed had a bit more downward movement than he showed a year ago as well.
74. Jackson Baumeister, RHP, Florida State
12 IP, 8 H, 7 R (4 ER), 6 BB, 17 K, 3.00 ERA
Baumeister worked to add a slider to his repertoire over the summer, after being a fastball/curveball/changeup pitcher in 2022. The pitch checks in around 80 mph with solid horizontal sweeping action, though it can flatten out at times and back up to his arm side.
The early returns for Baumeister are solid. He pitched well in his first two starts before a bit of a rough outing against Florida Gulf Coast this past weekend and continues to get whiffs with a low-90s fastball that has some of the best movement characteristics in the class—the pitch has a 36% miss rate so far. The velocity is down a tick but the shape is still great.
While the slider still needs some work, it gives him a secondary he can throw for strikes more consistently, and with the fastball and slider now first and second in usage, his control looks improved from the 2022 season.
77. Nathan Dettmer, RHP, Texas A&M
13 IP, 12 H, 8 R (5 ER), 4 BB, 16 K, 3.46 ERA
Dettmer cruised through his first two games of the season and allowed just one earned run combined to Seattle and Portland before running into a strong Louisville team that chased him after just two innings and a bit of extra-base damage.
He’s still sitting around 93 mph with his fastball like a year ago, but he has added more power and tightness to his slider. After throwing the pitch in the low 80s in 2022, he has averaged over 85 mph on the breaking ball so far this season, with better miss and chase rates.
There’s been some research that suggests it's hard to throw a bad slider over 85 mph so that added power is an encouraging sign, as is the near 70% strike rates for both his fastball and slider.
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79. Tanner Hall, RHP, Southern Mississippi
16 IP, 13 H, 8 R (7 ER), 4 BB, 15 K, 3.94 ERA
Hall has been solid over three starts, with similar velocity to a year ago and similar overall usage, with a fastball around 89-90 mph that he is throwing 55% of the time and a changeup with 43% usage.
The changeup has been Hall’s bread-and-butter and is regarded as one of the best offspeed pitches in the draft class, so it’s notable that this year the pitch is about a tick and a half firmer and the velocity gap between it and the fastball has narrowed after three starts.
He’s also allowed a pair of home runs on the pitch already, both against Illinois, after allowing just one home run against the changeup in the entirety of the 2022 season.
87. Levi Wells, RHP, Texas State
11.2 IP, 8 H, 1 ER, 5 BB, 15 K, 0.77 ERA
Wells pitched solidly in both of his first two games against Northwestern and Oral Roberts, but he missed last week with an injury. His stuff looks similar to a year ago in terms of both velocity and shape, though he mostly scrapped the slider in his first two starts and instead relied heavily on a low-90s fastball and old-school overhand curveball around 80 mph.
89. Jaden Woods, LHP, Georgia
12.2 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 8 BB, 22 K, 2.84 ERA
Woods had a tough opening season start against Jacksonville State, when he walked five batters and allowed a pair of homers, but he was excellent against both Princeton and Georgia Tech, striking out 19 batters and walking three in 10.2 combined shutout innings.
His slider usage is up year over year, going from around 20% in 2022 to 30% so far in 2023 and the pitch also has shorter horizontal sweeping action than a year ago. Perhaps that’s helped him throw the pitch for strikes more consistently, going from 45% to 60%—which is more of the same improved control he showed over the summer.
92. TJ Nichols, RHP, Arizona
16.2 IP, 16 H, 9 R (8 ER), 4 BB, 15 K, 4.32 ERA
Nichols has allowed just under a hit per inning so far this season after three starts and his velocity is down about a tick across the board. He sat 95-96 mph with his fastball in 2022 and this year is around 94 mph with the pitch.
He’s upped his slider usage at the expense of his changeup as well.
His walks are down on a rate basis so far, though his overall strike percentage is similar to what he posted in 2022. The delivery also looks a bit less violent so far this season. There’s still a bit of head whack, but it’s not been nearly as aggressive as it seemed to be in 2022.
93. Ross Dunn, LHP, Arizona State
9 IP, 10 H, 9 R (5 ER), 5 BB, 11 K, 5.00 ERA
Dunn hasn’t been able to pitch four complete innings in a single start so far this season and, like Nichols, his velocity is down from 2022, but his delivery looks a bit easier. In particular, Dunn seems to have better balance and tempo on the mound in a few quick looks compared to what he was doing a year ago. He’s not getting much swing-and-miss against his fastball and opposing batters have hit .304/.429/.391 against it so far. The pitch has great vertical break, but perhaps a high release point helps negate that movement.
99. Kade Morris, RHP, Nevada
18.2 IP, 18 H, 10 R (6 ER), 8 BB, 19 K, 2.89 ERA
Morris has looked like an entirely different pitcher this year compared to 2022.
Perhaps unsurprisingly as he’s transitioned to a full-time starter his pitch mix has become deeper and his secondaries have taken on a much larger role. After throwing his fastball 64% of the time in 2022, that has decreased to 41% so far in 2023, with his curveball and changeup becoming significantly more common offerings—particularly the curveball, which jumped from 1% usage to 14%.
The fastball and slider are still his primary offerings, accounting for around 70% of his total pitches, and both the fastball and slider have increased power, going from 93 mph to 93.9 mph and 81.9 mph to 85.8 mph, respectively.
While the stuff is different, he still needs to touch up the command and miss a few more bats.