Fort Wayne Unplugged
Fort Wayne’s rotation is arguably the most projectable staff in baseball. According to our preseason Padres prospect rankings, four of the Padres top ten prospects currently reside in the Fort Wayne rotation, including three 2012 first round picks. Max Fried and Joe Ross anchors Fort Wayne’s six man rotation that also includes Zach Eflin and Walker Weickel. I had the opportunity to watch all four pitchers work during my two game swing; however, only one of the pitchers, Zach Eflin, saw game action. The other three pitchers all got their work in during side sessions prior to the games.. Starting with Zach Eflin, here are my thoughts.
Nothing went right for Zach Eflin during his April 22nd start in Bowling Green. Eflin, a 6’4”, 200 pound right hander drafted in the 1st round, 33rd overall, by the Padres out of Hagerty High School in Florida, surrendered six runs on five hits and three walks while striking out only two batters.
Eflin arsenal consisted of a fastball and a slurve. Eflin primarily featured the two seam fastball over a four seamer. He threw both fastballs 90-92 MPH with ease. He’ll find additional velocity as he becomes stronger and starts efficiently utilizing his lower half. He should be driving to home plate with more intensity. The two seam fastball was flat early. As the start wore on, the pitch showed arm side run but there were struggles to command it. The four seam fastball had some late explosion up in the zone but wasn’t commanded very well.
His slurve had a much better showing. Gone was the previously reported mid 70s curve ball, replaced by an 80-82 MPH slurve that showed potential but lacked consistency. Eflin went to the slurve early and often. Either he was compensating for the poor showing of his fastball or it was the game plan to emphasis the slider. At least 30% of his pitches ended up being breaking pitches, an exuberant number for a 19 year old hurler.
I consider my look at Zach Eflin to be incomplete. There is little doubt that he is a better pitcher than this. I watched his worst game as a professional. Since this start, he has rattled off average or better starts. I was really turned off by his breaking ball usage. Recalling all the Sally league starts I’ve watched, I can’t think of one instance where a teenaged pitcher has thrown as many breaking pitches. I hope to get another look at him sometime soon.
I watched Max Fried, Joe Ross and Walker Weickel throw their in between start side session. A side session is a one-on-one tutoring session where a pitcher has the chance to work directly with the pitching coach on specific aspects of the game. Essentially, it’s what batting practice is for hitters, a chance to work on things they can’t work on during a game. It’s the best place for bad habits to be broken and good habits to be honed.
It would be inappropriate to pass off a side session as anything more than that. Left hander Max Fried, the seventh overall pick of the 2012 draft, looks almost majestic when he throws a pitch. Even in practice, his motion looks very clean. Right hander Joe Ross oozes athleticism. The bullpen coach and the 2011 5th round pick worked on repeating release points while also concentrating on arm trajectory. The 55th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Walker Weickel, worked on repeating his delivery. The 6’6”, 195 pound right hander, has plenty of room to get stronger and could be a real sight to see in the coming years.
There is a chance that all four pitchers could show up in various top 100 lists next preseason. Based on performance so far this year, Max Fried and Joe Ross are a bit further along than Zach Eflin and Walker Weickel. It is hard to find another quartet of pitchers with as much promise and upside as these four.