Not many prospects have an 80-grade pitch, but 25-year-old righthander Matt Waldron might be developing one in his knuckleball.
One flummoxed hitter called Double-A San Antonio manager Phillip Wellman to voice his frustration after a strikeout. Two knucklers danced through the strike zone, then Waldron painted the outer edge with a 95 mph fastball.
“The hitter just turned around and looked at me and goes, ‘Welly, are you (kidding) me?’ ” Wellman recalled.
Waldron joined the Padres as the player to be named in the nine-player deal with Cleveland at the 2020 trade deadline that brought Mike Clevinger to San Diego. Waldron first used a knuckleball this spring with the Padres and flourished in 13 starts at High-A Fort Wayne.
Inconsistency with the developing knuckler and a shoulder ailment slowed Waldron at San Antonio, but the Padres were intrigued enough to invite him to the Arizona Fall League.
“It’s just about being unique,” Waldron said in July. “And really the whole pitch itself is unique. You don’t even know where it’s moving or breaking, and that’s what kind of makes it feel—I don’t want to say untouchable—but it’s very sporadic and really just has a mind of its own.”
An 18th-round pick out of Nebraska in 2019, Waldron taught himself the knuckler while playing catch with his twin brother while growing up in Omaha. While it was never a serious offering for him, he still managed to turn a few heads during warm-ups in spring training, enough for the Padres to get a reading on the pitch in an official bullpen.
In an age with teams chasing spin rate, Waldron’s knuckleball, which between 75 and 500 rpms, had a chance to be a difference-maker for a traditional pitcher equipped with a 92-94 mph fastball, slider and changeup.
Waldron’s knuckler was even different than most because it sat in the low 80s, so the Padres wanted him to feature it.
As Waldron got more comfortable with the pitch, he pushed its usage over 70%. He struck out 103 and walked just 35 in 103.2 regular season innings.
Not bad for a new start with a new pitch.
— Shortstop CJ Abrams bruised his left (non-throwing) shoulder during a slide in instructional league action, delaying his debut in the Arizona Fall League. The 21-year-old was hitting .296/.363/.420 with two homers and 13 steals in 42 games at Double-A San Antonio when he sustained season-ending leg injuries.
— Lefthander MacKenzie Gore could not get out of the second inning of his second start in the AFL. He has struck out eight and allowed nine runs on 15 hits and six walks in 11.1 innings to start his stay with Peoria.