I was fortunate enough to get out and see Lucas Sims for the second time this season, initially following up Dan's report in mid-May. The Hillcats came into town to face the Carolina Mudcats on a beautiful night in Zebulon, North Carolina.
After watching him churn out his worst statistical performance of the season in July, I was hoping to get a fresh look. Prior to my viewing, Sims had rattled off eight straight quality starts and had this to say in part one of an interview with Damien Sordelett,
"It's definitely getting there. Right now, I feel the best I've had in my career mechanics-wise," he said. "Now, it's just repeating it. Repeating it is that next step. Being able to consistently execute."
Unfortunately, that trend did not continue as Sims only made it through 4.1 innings, allowing four runs on seven hits. His final line also included three walks, a hit-by-pitch and two wild pitches, while only inducing one strikeout. It is poor practice to scout the stat line, but in this case it gives a relatively true picture of how things went down. He threw 97 total pitches, only 57 of which went for strikes.
The first impression you get from Sims when he jogs out to the mound is that he's built like a workhorse type pitcher. His 6'2" frame is relatively filled out in both the upper and lower half, yet is still very athletic on plays around the mound. He begins with his right foot in the center of the rubber, taking a short and quick side step before beginning his delivery. From there, he loads up with a high leg kick where he knee gets around chest level before taking a short arm swing, doing a relatively good job hiding the ball behind his body. After a slight foot wiggle, Sims lands slightly closed before coming through at a 3/4 arm slot, landing on a firm, but slightly flexed, right leg.
In the first inning, Sims pounded hitters with his fastball early, which was consistently around the zone, but struggled to locate accordingly. The pitch sat 92-93, topping out at 94, featuring good arm side run, more so when he took a bit off velocity wise. He only threw three off speed pitches in the first, all change ups, one resulting in the aforementioned strikeout. I again walked away impressed with the pitch as it sat 81-82 and featured good run and sink, inducing some some swings and misses (four by my count) and weak contact later on in the start.
Sims only threw one curveball the first time through the order, which is not necessarily a bad thing, you don't want to show everything the first time through the order. However, I again was surprised to see him throw more change ups than curveballs. There is no denying his breaking ball features a great 12-6 shape, but the feel wasn't there. It has the potential to be a devastating pitch, which he featured a couple of times during the start, but the ability to keep it around the zone wasn't there. Far too often did it just spin at the top of the zone, or get yanked it into the dirt. It would be one thing if he were to miss on competitive pitches around the zone getting hitters to chase every once in awhile, but the inconsistency brings me back to something I mentioned in my first write-up,
"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."
Sims was able to dig out of a crucial spot in the fourth after finding himself in a bases loaded jam with one out. He proceeded to get the next two hitters to pop-out to the infield. However, he seemed to tire in the fifth, despite holding his velocity, as the curveball got flat and the fastball location became more erratic. Two singles, a wild pitch and a four-pitch walk later, Sims was done for the night.
Overall, I don't change my outlook on the righty. There is little projection left physically with Sims, as I don't see the fastball gaining any more velocity despite his young age. Improved command can make it a plus pitch in the future, but that will be part of the overall package of becoming more consistent with his mechanics and delivery. At present, I don't see the change up far behind the curveball, if at all. If he can transition consistency with his mechanics to his breaking ball, it will develop into a plus pitch in the future that should miss plenty of bats. All things considered, I continue to see his probable role as a number 4 starter.
While the numbers suggest Sims may have taken a step back this year, it's important to remember, as Sims pointed out himself, the development process is a long windy road. There are plenty of ups and a downs along the way, the process rarely goes smooth for even the upper echelon of prospects. After reading over the second part of an interview with Damien Sordelett, it was great to hear Sims keep everything in perspective,
"It's been a successful season. It's been successful in that I've learned an unbelievable amount; I feel like I've learned much more than I even did last year... I learned more about myself, my mechanics, about on the field and off the field, how to pitch and I wouldn't trade it for anything."