Best Changeups Outside The Top 100 Prospects
How a batter reacts to a pitch can tell you a lot about that pitch. Do batters lay off of it? Do they make contact? Do they swing and miss? Are the swings ugly? Do batters adjust to the pitch as they see it a second or third time?
Often we get caught up in velocity or movement of a given pitch and ignore the clues right in front of us. This holds true for all pitches but it might be especially accurate when discussing changeups.
Fastballs and breaking balls can comfortably be projected by analyzing their movement and velocity. While it's important to watch a large sample before applying any sort of grade, there's a fairly clear group of traits that all great fastballs, sliders and curveballs have.. The same cannot be said for a changeup. The offspeed offering is a different animal, often described by scouts and coaches as a “feel pitch.” This is why you often see the phrase “feel for the changeup” in scouting reports.
So what is feel for the changeup? It entails not just throwing the pitch for a strike but landing that pitch in a given area. It also is heavily dependent on how a pitcher “sells” the changeup. This trait is often directly correlated with the arm speed and the similarities between the release and arm speed of a pitcher's fastball. In other words, does the pitcher’s arm slow down or does his arm action make it nearly indecipherable from his fastball?
As we round out our best pitches outside the Top 100 series, we look at five pitchers with plus changeups outside the Top 100 Prospects. While movement is a large component, separation in speed off of the fastball is far more important for changeups than it is for breaking balls. So we’ll not just look at movement but the velocity delta between these nasty changeups and their paired-up heaters. As we did in earlier installments, we’ll focus heavily on what type of reactions these changeups garner from hitters. In other words, do hitters swing and miss against them and do the pitchers throw the pitch effectively for strikes?
Ian Seymour, LHP, Rays | Whiff Rate: 61% | Strike Rate: 68%
A second-round pick in 2020 out of Virginia Tech, Seymour was trending up prior to the cancellation of the 2020 collegiate season. After a strong Cape Cod performance the previous summer, Seymour went to work with the Virginia Tech staff prior to the 2020 spring and improved his operation and subsequently his fastball shape. His changeup, already an above-average pitch, ticked up to an easy plus offering, as it played better off of his fastball’s improved ride. The results continued in Seymour’s professional debut, as he climbed to Triple-A by season’s end despite missing the first months of the campaign due to injury. Seymour’s go-to secondary, the changeup, averaged over a foot of run with, on average, 10 mph of separation off his high-ride four-seamer.
Future Role: With a true one-two punch in his fastball and changeup combination, Seymour has the ability to get outs against both righties and lefties. While his breaking stuff is fringe-average to average, he commands it well enough to project as a back-end starter long term.
Adrian Hernandez, RHP, Blue Jays | Whiff Rate: 53% | Strike Rate: 70%
Arguably the most under-the-radar player on this list. Hernandez ranked 33rd in the Blue Jays system after a meteoric rise in 2021. Hernandez signed out of Mexico in 2017 and spent his first two full seasons within the organization in Rookie ball, before making his full-season debut with Low-A Dunedin last spring. By August he reached Double-A, where he made nine appearances out of the bullpen. Armed with just a pedestrian fastball, Hernandez uses his changeup more than any other pitch in his arsenal. He has the ability to throw it in any count to any batter and generate swings and misses. With heavy arm-side run and 10 mph of velocity separation off of his fastball it’s an easy plus offering by every measure and one of the best offspeed pitches in the minor leagues.
Future Role: Already in a bullpen role, Hernandez projects best as a middle relief option. While he lacks the power of other relief-only prospects he does offer a similar skill set to former Red Sox closer Koji Uehara, who sat in the high 80s but lived off of his bread-and-butter splitter.
Nick Swiney, LHP, Giants | Whiff Rate: 53% | Strike Rate: 66%
Drafted out of North Carolina State in the second round of the 2020 draft, Swiney was a standout in the early part of the 2020 season as he made four starts for the Wolfpack after working out of the pen his first two seasons on campus. Swiney is another player whose stock may have been negatively impacted by the cancellation of the 2020 season, as a full season might have answered questions regarding his potential as a starter. Swiney began his pro career with Low-A San Jose but sustained a concussion and didn’t return until late August. Despite his lack of innings in 2021, Swiney’s plus changeup played well, missing bats at an elite rate. It had 13 mph of separation off of his fastball and nearly a foot and a half of arm-side run on average. Playing off of his high-ride, low-90s fastball, Swiney does a good job killing lift in his changeup.
Future Role: A full healthy season would do a lot of good toward cementing Swiney’s role as a starter. While he has two years of experience as a collegiate reliever, I still believe Swiney’s future role lies in the rotation, where he will dominate righthanded batters with his fastball and changeup combination.
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Hunter Gaddis, RHP, Guardians | Whiff Rate: 53% | Strike Rate: 60%
A fifth-rounder in 2019 out of Georgia State, Gaddis made his full-season debut in 2021 and made 19 starts for High-A Lake County. He was up and down at times but showed two key characteristics, the ability to throw strikes and miss bats. This was due in large part to Gaddis’ plus changeup. A higher-spin offering compared to others on this list, Gaddis’ changeup is unique in that it sits mid 70s, providing the tall righthander a whopping 18 mph of velocity separation on average. Like others on this list, Gaddis’ fastball is a high-rise fastball, giving him a high amount of induced vertical break for his changeup to play off of. The changeup features elite horizontal break and some late dive that allows it to dovetail nicely with his fastball. Batters struggled against the pitch, constantly whiffing at a rate north of 50%.
Future Role: While Gaddis lacks power—particularly for a pitcher his size—he does showcase advanced control and true feel for his changeup. He likely profiles best at the back end of a rotation or as an emergency sixth or seventh starter. After an up-and-down season in 2021, Gaddis will look to show he belongs before Cleveland is forced to make a decision on his 40-man roster status next winter.
Devin Sweet, RHP, Mariners | Whiff Rate: 35% | Strike Rate: 69%
A former undrafted free agent out of the now defunct North Carolina Central program, Sweet performed over his first two seasons in the Mariners system, pitching to a 3.01 ERA over his first 146.2 professional innings. Assigned to Double-A Arkansas out of camp in 2021, Sweet struggled over the first three months of the season before an August move to the bullpen allowed him to find another gear to finish the season out strong. Left unprotected for the 2021 Rule 5 Draft, the Mariners perhaps dodged a bullet with the early spring cancellation of the annual event. A non-roster invitee to spring training, Sweet lives off of his fastball and changeup combination. Playing off of his high-ride fastball, his changeup has nearly 14 mph of velocity separation on average. While Sweet’s whiff numbers may not separate him much from the rest of this group, his ability to throw the pitch in any count and land it in the zone is a testament to the righthander's feel for his offspeed.
Future Role: After a late-season move to the bullpen reinvigorated Sweet, it’s clear his future lies as a middle reliever. His fastball and changeup combination can silence lefthanded hitters effectively in the role.