The Best Fastballs Outside The Top 100 Prospects
Traditionalism and progressivism are constantly engaged in a tug of war, a staunch dichotomy that leaves little room for a gray area of crossover. This is as present today in baseball as it is in any area of our society. Every day on social media this tug of war commences, as traditionalists debate analytics and progressives argue against foundational beliefs of our game. While each side has its merits, it’s not often both sides agree. Who or what can be the conduit for harmony? What can be a unifier of the great baseball divide?
A great fastball.
Everyone loves a great fastball. How could you not? Watching a ball fly from a pitcher’s hand at 95 mph or faster moving viciously as it approaches the strike zone, popping the catcher's mitt with the crisp smack of ball hitting leather is a sound and image as deeply entrenched in the fabric of our game as the crack of the bat or the inaudible grunts of an umpire calling balls and strikes.
In this vein, today we will shine a light on some of the top fastballs in the minor leagues. Having already discussed and dissected the top pitches in the Baseball America 2022 Top 100 a few weeks back, I’m expanding upon that exercise and identifying some elite pitches within each pitch type thrown by a pitcher not ranked inside BA’s Top 100.
This week we begin with fastballs and will repeat the exercise for other pitch types over the coming weeks in anticipation of the forthcoming minor league season.
Colby White, RHP, Rays | 95.5 mph FB Avg. | 2,400 rpm | 45% Whiff Rate | 71% Strike Rate
A 2019 sixth-round pick by Tampa Bay out of Mississippi State, White spent his first two collegiate seasons with Pearl (Miss.) JC. The rare relief pitching prospect, White spent all of his time in Starkville in the bullpen and has continued on that course in pro ball. While the task of drafting and developing relief-only prospects is often a fool’s errand, the Rays seem to have struck gold with White. In large part due to his fastball quality, White climbed three levels in 2021, making nine appearances with Triple-A Durham to end the season. While averaging 95-97 mph with high-spin efficiency and a 5-foot-5 release height, White is able to create plus vertical movement and a flat vertical approach angle. He has the prototypical modern fastball designed to miss above barrels in elevated quadrants of the strike zone.
Future Role: After being eligible to be added to the 40-man roster in November, White could be the next Rays bullpen ace in the making, with high-leverage innings likely in his future.
Christian Chamberlain, LHP, Royals | 96.5 mph FB Avg. | 2,450 rpm | 23% Whiff Rate | 70% Strike Rate
The cancellation of the 2020 collegiate season impacted players in a variety of ways both good and bad. It certainly can be said that the 2020 shutdown impacted Chamberlain as negatively as any player. After starting the season in Oregon State’s rotation, Chamberlain was trending upward, posting a 0.82 ERA and 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings over four starts. The season then abruptly ended, and Chamberlain lost an opportunity to push his way into the top two rounds of the draft and slipped to Kansas City in the fourth round.
Things didn’t get easier in 2021, as Chamberlain sustained a hamstring injury in spring training, meaning he had to wait a little longer to make his pro debut. He joined Quad-Cities in late May and made a two-inning appearance against Peoria, striking out a pair and earning the win. In the following appearance disaster struck as Chamberlain injured his shoulder, and after just two appearances his 2021 season came to an end. Back healthy and throwing early in camp, Chamberlain is all systems go for 2022, and he'll be armed with one of the best fastballs in the minor leagues. Chamberlain has a rare combination of power, shape and unique release characteristics that make his fastball one of the best four-seamers thrown by a lefthander in the minors. He sits 96-97 mph and touches 98 with—on average—20 inches of induced vertical break from a low release height. This combination of power, vertical movement and a low release is rare in general, but even more so for a lefty.
Future Role: With a plus fastball and one of the better breaking balls in the Royals system Chamberlain looks ready-made for a high-leverage bullpen role in the future, but he may not be done starting for now.
Bryce Miller, RHP, Mariners | 96 mph FB Avg. | 2,500 rpm | 40% Whiff Rate | 79% Strike Rate
A senior sign out of Texas A&M, Miller showed well early in pro ball in 2021 out of the draft, striking out 15 batters across five appearances with Low-A Modesto. Video of Miller hitting 100 mph emerged on social media early in camp, but there’s more to Miller’s fastball quality than just velocity. The Mariners pitching prospect pairs a low release and high-spin efficiency with high raw spin. This combination creates a flat vertical approach angle and elite vertical movement on his fastball. Miller has the rare fastball that checks nearly every analytical box. Albeit in an extremely small sample size, Miller’s early numbers speak for themselves.
Future Role: While Miller spent time starting at Texas A&M and early in his professional debut, his future likely lies in the pen, where he can let his elite fastball fly.
2023 Top 100 Prospects Breakout Candidate: Righthander Bryce Miller
Miller combines elite stuff with above-average command, as his fastball, slider and changeup all grade out as plus pitches on Stuf+ models.
R.J. Dabovich, RHP, Giants | 96 mph FB Avg. | 2,350 rpm | 42% Whiff Rate | 66% Strike Rate
One of the nastiest relief-only prospects in the minors, Dabovich spent two years at Arizona State after a single season at Central Arizona JC. The fire-balling righthander closed seven games for the Sun Devils during 2019 and the Covid-shortened 2020 campaign, flashing a mid-90s fastball and a mid-80s curveball that kept hitters off-balance. Dabovich was selected by the Giants in the fourth round of the 2020 draft and made his professional debut with High-A Eugene last spring.
He dominated High-A West competition over the first month and was promoted to Double-A Richmond, where he made 20 appearances, closing six games and striking out 42% of the batters he faced. While Dabovich’s curveball is a plus pitch in its own right, his fastball is a double-plus offering that neutralizes both righthanded and lefthanded batters equally well. Dabovich pairs an extremely vertical release point with high-spin efficiency, leading to elite vertical break and a flat approach angle that is particularly unusual from a pitcher with a release height above 6-foot-2. While his movement and arm slot aid the fastball’s effectiveness, his ability to hide the ball behind his head during his arm stroke adds a bit of deception to the pitch beyond its unique release characteristics.
Future Role: Dabovich looks positioned for high-leverage innings in the bullpen where he can lean on his explosive four-seam fastball.
Nick Nastrini, RHP, Dodgers | 96.5 mph FB Avg. | 2,500 rpm | 41% Whiff Rate | 67% Strike Rate
A three-year member of the UCLA rotation, Nastrini was taken by the Dodgers in the sixth round of the 2021 draft. Despite mediocre results during his collegiate career, Nastrini was a model darling with the type of stuff that jumps off the page. Armed with a four-pitch mix, Nastrini mixes in a hard slider, a curveball and a changeup, but it’s a powerful mid-90s fastball that is the former Bruin hurler’s bread and butter. Sitting 96-98 mph, Nastrini generates elite vertical break from his high, three-quarter slot, and while his release is higher and his approach isn’t very flat, he does a good job of hiding the ball during his delivery. His high rate of raw spin and good spin efficiency create shape that, when coupled with his power velocity, make it a difficult pitch to barrel. Nastrini allowed just three extra-base hits against the pitch during his six appearances with Low-A Rancho Cucamonga during his professional debut.
Future Role: Nastrini made six truncated starts for Rancho out of the draft, and with his deep arsenal of pitches and previous starter experience it’s likely Nastrini continues as a starter in the interim, even if he eventually ends up in a bullpen role.