Future Four: 2022 Draft-Eligible Righthanders To Know
Welcome to the Future Four, a semi-regular feature I’ll do throughout the winter leading up to the 2022 college season. We’ll focus primarily on four draft-eligible players during each edition. In our maiden voyage and second installment we focused on eight college lefthanders with 2022 draft eligibility.
In this week’s edition we will flip to the other side of the mound and begin digging in on our first quartet of college righthanders. Just as we did in the first two editions of the Future Four, we’ll be diving into each pitcher, discussing what they throw, how they throw it and what outcomes they drive. We’ll encounter a wide net of types and pathways to success, hopefully gaining an understanding of who these players are as they enter their draft seasons.
For a reference point, here is a link to a previous article, with definitions for frequently used terms like induced vertical break, horizontal break and vertical approach angle—all of which are used throughout this post.
Blade Tidwell, RHP, Tennessee
Ranking No. 408 on Baseball America’s 2020 BA 500, Tidwell matriculated to Tennessee with heightened expectations. As a true freshman, Tidwell was immediately slotted into the weekend rotation, making 18 starts during the 2021 season and accumulating 98 innings over the course of the year. Tidwell earned a variety of offseason honors and was named to the Collegiate National Team this summer. He enters the 2022 season as the Volunteers' de facto ace on the heels of the program's deepest postseason run since 2005 and is the top-ranked college arm in the class.
A tall, strong righthander with a muscular and athletic build, Tidwell is high-waisted and broad-shouldered. Tidwell repeats his operation well, which lends itself to a consistent release point and strike-throwing. Tidwell has a shorter, quick arm action with an extremely vertical operation and good arm speed that leads into a high three-quarter slot. His release height is further boosted by his upright, tall-and-fall operation. This combination, coupled with well below-average extension, produces a higher release on his fastball which is typically easier for an opposing batter to identify out of the hand.
The Tennessee righthander utilizes a four-pitch mix consisting of a mid-90s four-seam fastball, a slider/cutter hybrid in the low-to-mid 80s, a high-70s, sweeper curveball and a bat-missing changeup with an 11-12 mph separation off of his fastball.
He sits 94-96 mph, so it’s got to be a plus four-seam, right? Pardon me while I get my John McLaughlin hat on, but wrong! While Tidwell lights up radar guns, he has several characteristics working against him. As previously mentioned, Tidwell’s release is high, which tends to lead to a lack of deception on four-seam fastballs, particularly when your game plan is centered around locating your fastball in the upper quadrants. This is likely the driving force behind two bad outcomes that Tidwell’s fastball drives—a high number of home runs and hard hits (10 home runs allowed in 18 starts). His movement is average to a tick above-average with around 18 inches of induced vertical break and raw spin rates in the 2200-2400 rpm range. It’s higher efficiency, and likely still has some room for growth in that regard. Due to his higher plane, Tidwell will never produce a flatter approach angle but his above-average efficiency allows his approach angle to play a little flatter than his release would typically dictate. In totality, it’s an average fastball with plus velocity, above-average ride, below-average release characteristics and average command.
With Tidwell’s fastball accounting for over 60% of his pitch usage the remaining 40% is split between a trio of secondaries. However, Tidwell’s slider is by far the most used of his secondaries, seeing nearly 70% of his non-fastball pitch usage. It’s a unique offering and I’m not sure calling it a slider is appropriate. It’s a true cutter-slider hybrid, with over eight inches of sweep (similar to a slider) and over six inches of ride (typical of a cutter). It’s a higher spin offering seeing raw spin rates in the 2400-2700 rpm range. While the pitch’s approach angle is steeper than his fastball, its unique movement profile tunnels well off of his fastball before sweeping glove side as it hits the zone. With deceptive traits and a unique movement pattern, it’s no wonder that the slider is Tidwell’s best swing-and-miss pitch, generating whiffs at a rate of 37% (17% swinging strike rate). Beyond just generating whiffs, it’s a hard contact killer, driving a near 50% groundball rate while batters hit just .200/.240/.311 against the pitch in 2021. It's a unique breaking pitch, and likely a primary driver of Tidwell’s early success.
Both of Tidwell’s remaining secondaries are infrequently used, but both flash positive traits, and could develop into larger parts of his plan of attack as he develops. The changeup boasts the higher usage of the two, as well as the highest whiff (39%) and swinging strike rate (19%) in his arsenal. It’s also a contact controller with a 57% groundball rate as hitters batted just .143/.182/.143 against the pitch last season.
His curveball is a high-70s sweeper, with little to no vertical drop but on average over 14 inches of sweep. While his curveball stands out for its shape—and his above-average command of the pitch—it’s not effective as a bat-misser or a heavy groundball driver. While batters' results against the pitch were poor, there was a fair amount of luck involved as the pitch was barreled more regularly than the rest of his arsenal.
There’s a lot to like with Tidwell. He throws hard, repeats his motion, has a deep arsenal of usable pitches with unique movement profiles and a signature secondary in his slider/cutter hybrid. Improvements to his fastball command and spin efficiency could help Tidwell’s fastball to play closer to his velocity, while further refinement of his changeup, and to a lesser extent, his curveball could yield improved results and cement him as a true starting pitching prospect.
Peyton Pallette, RHP Arkansas
Entering the 2022 college season, few players have higher expectations than that of Arkansas’ Peyton Pallette. Rated as our No. 3 pitcher in the 2022 draft, the righthander is looking to cement his place as the best draft-eligible pitcher in the country with a strong season.
A highly-rated in-state recruit for the Razorbacks out of Benton High, Palette made four appearances out of the bullpen in his pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, allowing only one earned run over the course of 5.1 innings of work.
Heading into 2021, Pallette earned an early role in the Razorbacks’ rotation, making 11 starts over the course of the season, including a three-week stint as the Friday night starter. Unfortunately, he dealt with injuries throughout the season and spent time bouncing between the bullpen and weekend rotation throughout March and April.
Pallette returned to make six more in-conference starts, before injuring his elbow during a relief outing against Florida late in the season. MRIs taken in the immediate aftermath of the injury showed no damage to his ulnar collateral ligament. Reports that Pallette was once again throwing last fall have led to optimism he’ll be ready to go for the start of 2022.
Average in height but small in stature, Pallette has a similar build to Dodgers righthander Walker Buehler. He has a well-conditioned and athletic frame that lacks significant projection due to a lack of potential physicality. What Pallette may lack in sheer size he makes up for with power.
A hard thrower who has been clocked as high as 99 mph, Pallette manages to generate plus fastball velocity with an easy and free operation. Blessed with plus arm speed, he delivers the ball from a moderate arm action leading to a high three-quarters arm slot with a cross-body finish. While his mechanics are aesthetically pleasing to watch, he lacks deception on his release, making his premium stuff far easier to time than it should.
Pallette works primarily off his fastball and curveball. His fastball accounts for a majority of his pitch usage. He threw it 66% of the time in 2021. The pitch sits 93-95 mph and touches 97-99 on occasion, with above-average raw spin rates in the 2,300-2,400 rpm range
While the pitch packs premium velocity and above-average spin, Palette’s spin-induced efficiency isn’t high enough to turn his higher raw spin into ride. This is a bit of a problem. When coupled with his higher release height, shorter extension and easy-to-time arm action, Pallette’s fastball plays well below his actual velocity, with its perceived velocity appearing more like 91-92 mph than his actual 93-95. He has a bad combination of generic release traits and a lack of ride.
This helps explain why a pitcher sitting 93-95 mph induced whiffs at a 19% rate last season. Pallette doesn’t induce a ton of weak groundball contact either. His groundball rate on his four-seamer is well below 40%. Hitters didn’t do tremendous damage against the pitch, but they still hit .261/.363/.333 in at-bats ending with a four-seamer over the course of the 2021 season.
All is not lost for Pallette’s fastball. His tilt and spin direction are fairly clean, and his raw spin and velocity are there. Slight tweaks to improve spin efficiency could deliver improved whiff numbers against his four-seam.
For as many questions as there might be around Pallette’s fastball quality, there are few surrounding his breaking ball. His 11-5 curveball is a banger that sits 78-80 mph with more than 3,000 rpm of raw spin and heavy two-plane break. It’s a plus, bat-missing curveball that generated whiffs at a rate of 44%.
Unfortunately, it generated a lower swing rate in large part due to his fringe-average command of the pitch. When batters did swing they either swung and missed or did very little damage. Opposing batters hit just .167/.222/.167 against the pitch with a 76% groundball rate. An uptick in command could pay dividends, particularly if Pallette shows the ability to land the pitch to the lower glove-side quadrant.
His changeup is a firm, high-80s offering with around 5-6 mph of separation from the fastball and relatively straight shape. The pitch was only used around 10% of the time in 2021 but did generate a solid whiff rate. The command of the pitch is very fringy as he’s still learning his best feel for the offspeed. It’s a usable offering, but a work in progress.
It’s easy to watch Pallette throw a ball and fall for his butter-smooth operation, velocity and feel for spin. For all of his strengths, there’s an equal amount of warts from fastball shape issues, to command, to a checkered injury history. He offers mid-rotation traits as well as questions about how much improvement is possible in pro ball after one of the best pitching development schools in the country couldn’t fully optimize his fastball.
A few days after this article was published news broke that Pallette will have Tommy John surgery and miss the 2022 season.
Landon Sims, RHP Mississippi State
Electric. Few words do a better job of describing the Landon Sims experience. From his high-octane fastball and slider combination, to the ecstatic energy he brings with each punch out, Sims delivers electricity to the game. It’s clear as to why Sims has been one of the most discussed players in college baseball from the moment he stepped on campus.
After making seven appearances out of the Mississippi State pen during the 2020 pandemic-shortened campaign, Sims emerged as the Bulldogs closer entering 2021 and never relinquished the role. He racked up 13 saves and five wins over 25 appearances while pitching in multi-inning stints. After playing a large role in helping Mississippi State secure the national championship last season, Sims enters the spring likely to take on a starting role. Can he succeed in longer outings and still maintain his high-end stuff? That remains to be seen, but we can dissect what Sims does well and where he can improve.
Sims certainly fits the mold of a prototypical power pitcher, with average height and a strong, stocky build. Having worked strictly as a reliever throughout his collegiate career Sims works from the stretch exclusively. It’s a simple operation heavily driven by the strength in his lower half and his elite arm speed. Deploying a higher leg lift, and a short fast arm action, Sims delivers the ball from a high, three-quarter slot as he drives hard downhill, getting deep into his front side and strong leg block. He gets between six-and-a-quarter to six-and-a-half feet of extension in his drop and drive. This in turn lowers his release height and allows his four-seamer to play up when elevated. In other words, when Sims throws 95-97 mph, it looks like 95-plus to the batter.
Few fastballs, if any, in the 2022 draft class are on the same level as Sims' four-seam. Sitting 94-96 mph and touching 98 mph at peak, Sims provides easy power from his primary offering. It’s not empty velocity either, as he checks all the boxes of a metrically plus fastball in the modern age. His combination of 18 inches of induced vertical break and a five-and-a-half foot release height culminate in a flatter vertical approach angle. In fact, Sims' sub-4.5 degree approach angle on his four-seamer would rank within the top 10 in the majors among starters. It’s easy to see why the pitch generated whiffs at a high rate in 2021. His combination of velocity, movement, and release traits lend themselves to elevated strikeout totals. Sims eats in the upper quadrants, missing over the top of barrels and challenging hitters to both sides of the plate. It’s a difficult pitch to barrel, and hitters did little damage against it in 2021, batting a paltry .167/.252/.250 against the pitch. It’s an easy plus offering that gives him a strong foundation from which to work from.
To call Sims’ slider his primary secondary would be the understatement of the year, as he threw just three changeups all season. Frankly, I’m not sure Sims needed to. His slider is among the best in the 2022 class. With power and movement the pitch is a bat-missing weapon that keeps hitters off balance. It sits 84-86 mph and gets up to 88 mph with raw spin rates in the 2,400-2,700 rpm range. Much like Tidwell’s slider, Sims’ slider is a power offering with a distinct cutter/slider hybrid shape. However unlike Tidwell’s, Sims’ slider gets ride but also nearly a foot of sweep on average with plus slider velocity. Batters were helpless against the pitch in 2021, batting .097/.111/.113 with an 18% swinging strike rate. It's another easy plus offering that pairs with his fastball to give him a powerful one-two punch.
Having only thrown his changeup three times in 2021, the sample is not nearly large enough to analyze. Whether it will be a larger part of Sims' arsenal as a starter remains to be seen. That said, few pitchers possess the sort of power Sims does in his fastball and slider combination. Even in the best baseball conference in the country, SEC hitters were no match for his stuff. Whether Sims can transition smoothly into a starting role will depend on how economical he is over five- to six-inning turns. If he can maintain 90% of his power and throw strikes, Sims may emerge as the top pitching prospect in the 2022 class.
2022 MLB Draft Stock Watch: 10 Performers, Risers And Popups After Week One
Breaking down 10 players who put together loud performances throughout the country during week one.
Adam Maier, RHP Oregon
Crammed into “the cage” behind home plate at Spillane Field, home of the Wareham Gatemen, I witnessed the beginning of Adam Maier’s ascension up draft lists. An unheralded Canadian collegiate that spent his first two seasons of eligibility at the University of British Columbia, Maier joined on with Yarmouth-Dennis this summer and left with a commitment to Oregon and a strong tailwind of draft buzz.
Due to Canadian school ages running a little younger, Maier will not turn 21 until November of 2022, making him the youngest of all draft-eligible college players.
In attendance for four of Maier’s five Cape starts, I have some first hand data and observations to draw from. For reference, much like with Bryce Hubbart’s slider data in last week’s Future Four, all of the data provided on Maier was pulled first hand from my own radar gun and the league’s Trackman device.
Standing at just 6 feet, Maier would fit into the undersized category. His build is strong, with muscular legs, long arms, and a loose athleticism that drives his no-frills mechanics. He starts from a semi-windup with a short and fast arm action, giving way to a moderate drop and drive, delivering the ball from a true three-quarter slot. He’s a bit of a short strider, and can be inconsistent in his leg block. He does make up for this with good arm speed and a lower release height that helps his three-pitch mix play up.
Maier’s plan of attack and sequencing evolved over the course of the summer season. Early on the righthander featured primarily fastballs, using his slider and changeup mostly when he was ahead in the count. The fastball is a true sinker with heavy arm-side run at 91-93 mph, though he struggled to hold his velocity. The pitch showed well metrically, with less than 10 inches of induced vertical break and over 16 inches of run, ideal numbers for a sinker.
In his fourth start of the season at Orleans, a different plan of attack and a jump in velocity emerged. Working primarily off of his slider and changeup, Maier’s sinker now sat 93-94 and touched 96 mph. Playing off of his plus slider and above-average changeup, Maier loudly announced his presence. The sinker still featured similar metrics, but the way in which it was deployed and the uptick in velocity garnered better results. While the pitch will never be a bat-misser, Maier generates a heavy amount of groundball contact and lets his secondaries do the heavy lifting in the whiff department. While batters did hit the fastball hard, he generated ground balls at a 60% rate over the course of his summer, a high rate even among sinkerballers.
While the sinker may be the lead, Maier’s slider is the story. A 2,800-3,000 rpm, mid-80s sweeper with over 17 inches of break, Maier’s slider is an easy plus offering. While he’s still mastering its location, he did a good job of getting the pitch in the zone, boasting a nearly 65% strike rate over the summer. He has the rare ability to generate whiffs (46%) and ground balls (55%) at a high rate, further cementing his groundball profile and providing him a true swing-and-miss weapon. The pitch became his primary weapon during a few Cape starts and is likely to see equal if not greater usage than his fastball this spring.
While Maier’s slider may earn the distinction of his best pitch, his changeup may have an equally high ceiling. Particularly in his final appearance this summer versus Hyannis, Maier was flashing a plus changeup capable of neutralizing righthanded and lefthanded batters alike. With over 17 inches of run and nearly no induced vertical break, the pitch runs and tumbles at 84-86 mph—making it a nearly impossible pitch to barrel. Cape hitters batted just .120/.120/.160 versus the pitch with a 76% ground ball rate and a 16% swinging strike rate. In terms of results, you can argue Maier’s changeup is his best pitch. While he doesn’t have a tremendous amount of separation between his fastball and offspeed, he does sell the pitch with arm speed and lets its hellacious movement do the rest. There’s a case to be made that Maier has the best tandem of secondaries in the 2022 class.
With a heavy groundball plan of attack and two bat-missing secondaries, Maier is sure to be a name to watch this spring. How he fares against Power Five competition will dictate just how high his star can climb. He’s an exciting young pitcher with age and stuff on his side.