Ken Waldichuk's Fastball Has The Yankees Dreaming Big
In the week before the trade deadline, the Yankees reached deep into their prospect depth. General manager Brian Cashman traded 10 total minor leaguers in four separate deals that brought back power hitters Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, lefthander Andrew Heaney and relievers Joely Rodriguez and Clay Holmes.
They were thrilled that they didn’t have to trade Double-A Somerset lefthander Ken Waldichuk.
“Pitch-package wise, he’s one of those guys who’s got everything you could want,” Yankees pitching coordinator Sam Briend said.
The 23-year-old Waldichuk has been a revelation this season, putting himself on the big league radar for 2022 and beyond.
In 15 starts between High-A Hudson Valley and Somerset, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Waldichuk was 6-1 with a 1.95 ERA. He had 117 strikeouts in 73.2 innings and had notched five double-digit strikeout games.
The Yankees drafted Waldichuk in the fifth round in 2019 out of St. Mary’s and signed him for a slightly below-slot $307,000.
Waldichuk’s fastball—which some evaluators have dubbed an “invisiball”—has been a big key to his success. Briend said it’s not necessarily the velocity that’s making it such a weapon, though his heat has jumped to averaging 92-93 mph and touching 98 after it sat in the high 80s in 2019.
“The fastball shape is really unique,” the coordinator said. “And then you pair a really good, unique shape with some riding life to it. And then pair that with this funky low slot, and (the fact that) he really gets turned and hides the ball well. You get this mixture of deception and pitch shape, which is kind of (the) perfect world.”
Briend said he’s been impressed with Waldichuk’s work ethic and ability to make changes. The California native added a slider, turned his old slider into a curveball and honed his changeup. The pitching coordinator added that his delivery is “kind of funky” and that it helps him hide the ball well.
“If he can tighten it up a little bit more,” Briend said, “he’s going to be somebody to be really excited about.”
—The Yankees have had success helping some of their higher-level arms develop what Briend called a big “sweepy” slider as a swing-and-miss pitch. Perhaps most notably, Nestor Cortes dropped his shorter, harder-breaking slider in favor of the sweeper, and relievers Braden Bristo, Sal Romano and Nick Goody each added it to their arsenals.
—Catcher Donny Sands is in the midst of his best offensive season. He recently earned a promotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and is hitting .257 with 13 bombs. He hadn't hit more than four in any previous season. Hitting coordinator Dillon Lawson said that the bilingual Sands has also been a huge help "increasing buy in" from players throughout the system into the hitting department.