80 Grade Velocity: The Top Fastballs Scouted In 2014
Triple digit velocity is rare. In six seasons at the ballpark, only one pitcher has hit triple digits. Not a household name, former Dodgers and Braves farmhand Luis Vasquez’s top fastballstouched 100 mph several times as a member of the Chattanooga Lookouts in 2012. An elite, 80 grade fastball is clocked at 97 MPH or higher. And while the Aroldis Chapman‘s of the world make velocity look easy, few pitchers are able to push triple digits with top fastballs.
For scouts, velocity equals a greater margin for error. Every professional hitter from the low minor leagues to MLB can pummel mistake fastballs regardless of speed. But while 88-mph is all but guaranteed to be hammered by opposing hitters when left at the letters, each additional mph on the radar gun increases the chances of a hitter missing a fat fastball. Those extra milliseconds have exponential value when it comes to escaping trouble.
The downside? Even the best power pitchers struggle commanding 95-mph heat. Plus, faster pitches have a tendency to be overthrown and flatten out up in the zone. Poorly commanded, flat 97 MPH fastball are feasted on in the Major Leagues. Take the 28-year-old Vasquez. His elite fastball hasn’t translated into a Major League career because of an inability to corral it.
Only five pitchers scouted this season have thrown an elite fastball. Three of them have already leveraged top fastballs into MLB service time.
Scouting Foltynewicz with Triple-A Oklahoma City, Foltynewicz’s four-seam fastball was beastly. Maintaining 95-97 mph throughout a six inning start, he overpowered hitters with explosive late movement. Capable of throwing even harder, Foltynewicz struggles over-throwing the pitch. Despite an explosive fastball and a potentially plus breaking pitch, below average command will force the Astros into converting the top-100 prospect into its closer of the future.
Talking with a scout prior to a June Stephenson start for Double-A Pensacola, he remarked the Reds prospect had hit triple digits in the Southern League All-Star game. Expecting big velocity, the 21-year-old disappointing by sitting 92-94 MPH throughout, touching 96-97 a handful of times. With late arm-side run and sink, the mid-90s fastball was hit around more than expected. Reds fans want a quick debut from its prized right-handed pitcher, but the top-100 prospect needs additional seasoning at the MILB level.
Simmons’ plus velocity was eye opening. Scouting the 23-year old in 2013 with Single-A Rome, he sat low-90s, touching 94. By May of this season, he was touching 98-mph on scout guns. A max effort right-hander at five-foot-eleven, Simmons’ small frame puts him at an increased injury risk, something he’s already struggling with. In recent years, the Braves have developed impressive bullpen pieces from within and Simmons belongs among them. However, genetics aren’t on his side, making it difficult to project a long and successful MLB career.
After scouting Baez as a third baseman from 2010-2012, the former infield prospect has made a successful transition to relief pitcher. The 26-year-old lit up the radar gun during an early April appearance. Sitting 96-97 MPH, Baez relied on late movement and strong command to overpower Double-A hitters. The development of a solid secondary pitch will dictate his role in the big leagues, but Baez is proof an elite fastball can lead to a Major League career.
J.R. Graham – Atlanta Braves (2012 Scouting Report)
Delving into Graham’s 2014 difficulties is a future feature in itself. After a 2013 derailed by injuries, the right-hander has shelved a big fastball for more of a command/control approach. It’s not working. A heater which once sat at 93-97 mph has dipped to 90-92 mph this season. However, Graham can flash a big fastball when needed. After touching 97 against Chattanooga, a Mississippi Braves teammate charting in the stands commented, “I don’t know why he doesn’t throw that (fastball) every time.” It’s true. J.R. Graham won’t recover prospect value unless he attacks with the hard stuff.
Top Fastballs: A Formula For Success?
Possessing an elite fastball doesn’t guarantee MLB success, but it helps. Like the aforementioned Vasquez, command and control play a major role in projection. Add a fringy breaking pitch and the two-pitch mix is passable for a reliever at the big league level. For each player listed, top fastballs fuel future MLB roles. Unfortunately, big velocity also means accepting a future trip to an orthopedic surgeon.
14 Aug 2014 / Chris Blessing /
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