Previous write up: Lucas Sims, 5/12
Last week, I was fortunate enough to catch the Lynchburg Hillcats and Lucas Sims as they came into town to take on the Carolina Mudcats in Zebulon, North Carolina. The unfortunate part was that is was one of Sims' worst statistical starts to date - his first start after tossing a combined no-hitter. Many times, one would be hesitant to draw conclusions from one poor start from a top prospect, but with the season Sims in having (5.23 ERA, 5.20 FIP), we can learn a lot from it.
As soon as Sims steps out on the field, you notice the solid muscular build in both is lower and upper half. His 6-foot-2 frame could fill out a bit more as he is only 20, but this is not a lanky or wiry kid. As he delivers the ball to the plate, a high, yet compact, leg kick allows him to load up on his backside. He hides the ball well as he swings the ball back below his hip, coming through at a 3/4 arm slot, eventually finishing on a firm front leg.
The first time through the order, Sims relied mostly on his fastball which sat 92-93, touching 94 a handful of times. When located around the zone, the pitch featured some arm side run. However, it was erratic as many times, missing down and away to righties (his glove side), as if he was holding on to the ball too long. One one batter, he got 0-2, but eventually lost him on a walk as he refused to go to his curveball early on. By the 3rd, Sims was sitting 90-91, with a couple coming in at 89 in the 4th. He very well may have been trying to take something off the pitch, in hope of better location, as opposed to actually losing velocity during his start. Four of his five strikeouts on the night did come via the fastball, but it was more inconsistent than one would have hoped.
Sims eventually went to the curveball the second and third time through the order. Overall, I had him throwing 14 with half of them going for strikes. The pitch featured great 12-to-6 movement, dropping it in between 69-72. However, this too was inconsistent. He lacked feel for the pitch around the zone and couldn't generate swings and misses or weak contact when ahead in the count. In talking with a scout who had seen Sims as an amateur, he believed the pitch had taken a step back since his prep days. As our own Ethan Purser pointed out, this inconsistency isn't all that uncommon with pitchers who have similar shaped curveballs to Sims. One reason I'll favor is that 12-6 curveball's require a pitcher to get his hand on the side of the ball and his fingers on top at release. This is a very unnatural position for one's hand and wrist compared to a more natural positioning while throwing a fastball. Other breaking pitches, such as sliders, are much easier to command because the release is very similar to a fastball, requiring only a slight adjustment of the wrist and fingers. That being said, when the pitch was around the zone, it was a weapon because of it's big time movement.
One surprise was the amount of change ups Sims threw - 12 by my count. Sims featured this pitch quite often the third time through the order, one time throwing it on three straight pitches. From my point of view, it had some arm-side run and a good amount of sink on it, coming in anywhere between 82-86. The pitch did result in some fairly weak contact on a couple of ground balls. Overall, I think it can be a good change of pace, maybe even above average down the road.
Sims allowing seven runs over four innings did see some bleeders and defensive miscues behind him, but he was far too inconsistent with hitters sitting on his fastball early for much of the start. Upon reflecting on this game (and in a way his season), it would be nice to see more polish. It feels weird to say about a 20-year-old pitcher, but for a former first round pick who doesn't show too much physical projection with a plus curveball out of high school, you'd like too see more. Eventually, Sims will have to gain consistency and miss more bats to realize his potential, but as of now, he's not there yet.
Development is a tough road and rarely goes as planned. While not ideal, sometimes bumps in the road are good, they allow a player to adjust, adapt, and get better. At the end of the day, Sims is still young and there is still potential, we may just need to reign in our expectations a bit. I think Sims could project into a middle-of-the-rotation type starter, but realistically see him between that and a back-end guy going forward.