How Chase Silseth Went From An 11th Round Pick To The Majors In Less Than A Year

Image credit: Chase Silseth (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

ANAHEIM, Calif.— When Chase Silseth finished his season last year, he wasn’t happy.

Silseth posted a 5.55 ERA as Arizona’s No. 1 starter, 24th out of 29 qualified pitchers in the Pac-12 Conference. He fell to the 11th round in the draft and allowed seven hits and seven runs (six earned) in 5.1 innings in his pro debut. He showed swing-and-miss stuff, finishing third in the Pac-12 in strikeouts and striking out more than a batter per inning after the Angels drafted him, but when it came to keeping runs off the board, he failed more often than not.

“You can say metal bats, you can say whatever, but when you have (a year) like that, it just comes down to execution,” Silseth said. “That’s why I gave up cheap hits or something like that, because the ball wasn’t necessarily a competitive pitch.”

“Going into instructs that was the main focus because I got a stint in Double-A last year. I threw really well one game but again, lack of execution next game. It wasn’t what I was going for. And that was my last start last year and it left a bad taste in my mouth and I knew what I had to do in the offseason.”

With that bad taste in his mouth, Silseth attacked the offseason with a renewed focus and dedication. The result was a rapid rise not even his biggest proponents could have foreseen.

Ten months after being drafted, Silseth is in the majors pitching in the Angels rotation. He became the first member of the 2021 draft class to reach the majors, and did so after making only seven minor league starts.

For anyone to be in a major league rotation only 10 months after being drafted constitutes a remarkable rise. For it to be an 11th-round pick who had an ERA over 5.00 in college constitutes a nearly unprecedented event.

“I mean it doesn’t really happen, historically,” said Angels bench coach Ray Montgomery, a former scouting director for the D-backs and Brewers who scouted Silseth as the Angels director of player personnel last year. “When you look at it, it doesn’t happen.

“Historically, maybe a lefthanded reliever or somebody comes into the bullpen and has a chance to impact right away. (Brandon) Finnegan did it. Ryan Wagner and some other guys have done it over the years. (Drew) Storen is probably one of the better examples of somebody who had a lengthy career post doing it. But to do it as a starter and having only had seven minor league starts, it doesn’t happen. It’s a credit to him and the people who have touched him along the way.”

Silseth’s turnaround is rooted in improvements in three key areas: his execution, his fitness and his pitch mix.

Silseth flashed plenty of stuff as an amateur, first as a reliever at Tennessee, then as a starter at JC of Southern Nevada in 2020 and at Arizona in his final collegiate season. His fastball sat 95-98 mph, his distinct curveball and slider each showed solid potential and his mid-80s splitter showed flashes of being an out pitch. He even showed solid control, walking only 29 batters in 97.1 innings for the Wildcats last year.

But despite everything looking good on paper, Silseth too often failed to execute his pitches in big spots. He fell behind in counts, caught too much of the plate and, even when he was going well, struggled to maintain it for long.

In his assessment, it wasn’t so much a physical issue as it was a mental one. After a year of getting ripped, he went to instructional league last fall with a single-minded focus on making sure he focused on executing every pitch, in every spot, again and again and again.

“Just command with everything,” Silseth said. “Consistent more with the offspeed to get that in zone for a strike early in counts, and a little bit of fastball command as well because when that’s good, it’s really on. But being more consistent with it.”

The second, and somewhat related task, was to improve his fitness. A big-bodied 6-foot, 217-pound righthander, Silseth often wore down late in starts and lost his delivery and command as a result. After addressing his pitch execution in the fall at instructional league, he arrived at the Angels complex in Tempe, Ariz. early in January to remake his body.

The task was not so much trimming up as it was getting stronger and more explosive. Under the watchful eyes of the Angels strength and conditioning staff, Silseth saw results even quicker than he expected.

“I came in a little bit early in January and then I got especially with the guys and I had those type of people on me to keep going and keep working, that’s what really helped,” he said. “Just being able to stay through and stay stacked and stay strong. Even if I’m not weight strong or whatever, just being explosive has helped me a lot being able to stay in my delivery a little longer, stay in my legs a little longer and be more explosive through the zone.”

The last task was to address his pitch mix. Silseth primarily threw his fastball, slider and curveball at Arizona, with his splitter his least-used pitch. Angels scouts and analysts both noted his splitter was his most effective secondary pitch when he located it and felt he could take off if he threw it more.

When they presented that plan to Silseth after drafting him, it was one he wholly embraced.

“I didn’t throw it as much as I wanted to back in the day,” he said. “… I’ve had it. I’ve been working on it since I was 8 years old, every other pitch throwing it, and I have the most feel out of my offspeeds with it.”

So far through his first two major league starts, Silseth has thrown his splitter the most of any of his secondaries. Batters are hitting .167 against it, and six of his 10 strikeouts have come on his splitter.  

“To make the adjustment to come here and do it as quick as he did … the nice thing is he had the aptitude and the desire, he had the want, which is cool,” Montgomery said. “I know our pitching guys got with him right away. I know there’s that balance of give a guy a chance to adjust, so we let him pitch a little bit and we gave him some information to take into the offseason, which he really took to.”

Still, Silseth is hardly the first draftee to improve his execution, adjust his pitch mix and get in better shape after being drafted. Others, however, didn’t rise to the starting rotation of a winning team in a matter of months.

The final piece that separated Silseth, once he made those fixes, was who he is as a person. Even as he struggled at Arizona, observers described his poise and mound presence as “outstanding.” In the College World Series, facing Vanderbilt ace Kumar Rocker on national television, Silseth outdueled the famed Commodores star, an outing multiple Angels officials said was influential in their decision to draft him and give him an above-slot $485,000 signing bonus.

For Angels manager Joe Maddon, it’s that poise that has stood out about Silseth most of all.

“He’s good, but his makeup permits him to be here,” Maddon said. “That was pretty obvious the first time I saw him. He was not overly impacted in a way that did not permit him to go out there and pitch like he can. First pitch he threw, both games, 94-95 mph strikes.

“I think there is something to be said when a pitcher comes out as a starter and can just nail high velocity where he wants it to go. Good fastball, split, slider, whatever, but I think his makeup permits him to be here.”

When Silseth makes his next start for the Angels against the Blue Jays on Friday, it will mark almost one year to the day that he lasted only 3.2 innings and gave up five hits and four runs against Dixie State, a mid-major program that went 24-32 and didn’t have a single player drafted last year.

To think a year after getting pounded by Dixie State he’d be in the majors, in the rotation for a team with the fifth-best record in the American League, would have been far-fetched, to say the least.

And yet, here Silseth is, starting for the Angels and firmly in their plans for both the present and future. Ten months after posting a 5.55 ERA in college, he’s starting games in the major leagues.

“It’s surreal,” he said. “Again going off all the hard work that I’ve been doing, just knowing that I belong is surreal. Great opportunity and it still is a little bit surreal. These guys are making it great. It’s been fun.”

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