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Spencer Strider: First Impressions of a Braves Pitching Prospect

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Spencer Strider was stunning with the fastball in his first professional start

NCAA BASEBALL: JUN 03 Vanderbilt v Clemson Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last week, we had Roddery Munoz exploding onto the scene with his season debut and this time around, it’s Spencer Strider who makes his professional debut in grand fashion with three perfect innings and seven strikeouts. Strider is the fourth round pick the Braves took out of Clemson in 2020, and for many was a bit of a surprise pick. Strider had a decent though wild freshman year for the Tigers back in 2018, but a UCL tear led to Tommy John surgery and took him out of the 2019 season. His peripherals in his four games as a redshirt sophomore in 2020 were absolutely phenomenal (19 K/3 BB in 12 IP), but a COVID shortened season didn’t allow him a chance to rebuild his stock. The Braves took him as a risky fourth round pick with very little post-surgery information, though what we all did have hinted at an astronomical ceiling. The Braves signed him on slot at $451.8k and he officially finished his Clemson career with only 63 innings pitched and a gaudy 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings to go with 5.4 walks per nine. Strider was slow to get his first chance at game action in 2021, but that first taste we got of him was an enticing show.

From a standpoint of pure dominance you won’t find anything better. The offense going against Strider really had no chance from the outset and every single number is staggering. Strider struck out the side in the first inning, with the second of those coming on three pitches, and threw 11 of his 14 pitches for strikes. The first batter of the fourth struck out swinging on three pitches, and the next weakly grounded out to shortstop for the first ball in play against Strider. Incredibly enough, the batter should have been rung up on the prior pitch for strike three but a poor from job from Ricardo Rodriguez cost Strider strike three. Now, to be fair to Rodriguez here Strider missed his spot and Rodriguez had to go a long way to get the ball, but it was in the zone pretty clearly and it was late glove movement that likely fooled the umpire. Anyways, the next guy struck out swinging too so that’s five swinging strikeouts in two innings. The first batter of the third inning hit the second pitch reasonably hard, but still routinely at first baseman Landon Stephens, and then Strider came back to strike out the next two batters with the first swinging.

So here is the start by the numbers. 3 innings pitched, no hits, no runs, no walks, and seven strikeouts. He threw 37 pitches and 27 of those for strikes. Six of his seven strikeouts were swinging strikeouts, and in total Strider had twelve swinging strikes for a 57.1% whiff rate. All of this is absolutely incredible dominance, and is made more impressive by the fact that of those 37 pitches, 34 of them were fastballs. Strider from pitch one to pitch thirty-seven had the exact same strategy of just giving the Pelicans high fastballs and there was absolutely nothing they could do to stop him. Some of that is probably bad offense, but with the way the ball comes out of Strider’s hands a well located fastball up is just something a Low-A hitter is not equipped to handle and most major league hitters really aren’t going to do much with.

There’s not an immense amount of data for us to study here because really we got information on one out of Strider’s three pitches and nothing else. The curveball was used a couple of times, but two were well out of the zone and the other was a floater that got taken so it was clear he didn’t have a feel for the pitch and there’s no way to draw any conclusions off of this start. Further complicating matters is that we don’t have velocity readings from this game, so we’re left to speculate based on how the pitch looked out of his hand and off of his prior scouting information. Strider was sitting 94-97 and touching up to 99 mph in college and in camp with the Braves, and based on what we have it’s reasonable to expect that is still holding true. Limited information, do with that what you will, but typically if guys do have significant drop offs in velocity or issues like that someone in the TC crew will hear whispers about it because those kinds of rumors tend to fly around camps.

His fastball also plays up especially when he locates it up in the zone, because he is a shorter pitcher at an even 6’0 and his gets a lot of spin on the fastball so it tends to get a hefty bit of carry on the way to the plate. Strider’s command was actually significantly better than I expected at this stage, though it is fair to point out he wasn’t trying to move the ball around a ton. He wanted to go up and it’s clear he can command that part of the zone. His first inning he seemed to be having a little bit of trouble settling into his throwing motion and didn’t locate quite as well, but once he got into a rhythm he missed on occasion but wasn’t wild. A couple went down towards the middle of the zone, a couple well above, but generally he kept himself in that band where you get swings but the hitter can’t make contact and if he can keep doing that he will cruise through Low-A.

I don’t think Strider’s stock changes a ton from this start because I think it’s clear he had the training wheels on and that he is at a level he doesn’t belong at. Given his late start to the season and that he only threw 37 pitches the fair assumption to make here is that he either got a late start to camp or some sort of injury or other setback put him behind schedule. Haven’t heard anything definitive, but it’s the most reasonable conclusion to come to for a guy who didn’t play until the 11th day of the season. My guess here is that we’ll see Strider get stretched out and ready to make real starts, get a feel for his offspeed stuff and then he’ll probably be promoted to Rome and take a rotation spot there. Augusta is crowded and I don’t see much reason to keep him down when his fastball is enough to dominate the league.

The concerns for Strider are the exact same as when he entered the game and that’s whether he will be able to start. We didn’t see a changeup in this game and he threw very very few in college, so while there is a belief that the pitch has the potential to be a major league third offering he hasn’t developed nearly the consistency with it. He still has an injury history, and he’s still undersized and there’s really nothing he can do to answer those two question marks. He’s strongly built so that’s a definite positive he has going, but his delivery is a bit odd and I’m not entirely sure what to make of it.

I have no real issues with the short arm action that’s become more common, and he uses it effectively with explosive arm speed and a clean arm path. However, I think his lack of a true finish with his lower body is staggering and he doesn’t seem to use his legs as efficiently as other players. He has a strong lower body and he uses it to generate momentum, but his upper body is often behind his lower body, and thus his lower body has limited action in the latter stages of the delivery. He effectively finishes the delivery without using his hips at all, and this sort of motion can put a ton of torque and stress on the shoulder, core, and lower back muscles. Why his delivery, which has been widely overhauled since him TJ surgery, was built like this if it was done intentionally isn’t clear, but when compared to MLB pitchers with a similar arm path and it’s certainly not the norm.

It’s also worth mentioning that it is only a one start sample and things like that can be tweaked and changed as he stretches out more and adjusts. If he is dealing with a minor injury and that’s why his season was delayed that could also contribute to that. It’s concerning to see a player potentially stressing his shoulder out, but it’s extremely early and I’m going to keep a close eye on how he looks mechanically the rest of the season and adjust my outlook from there. An undersized guy with injury history doesn’t really need a mechanical red flag, but I feel I need to wait and see how that plays and evolves across the next few months and how it affects his offspeed stuff before making a final judgement. The fastball is an electric weapon and Strider proved as much in start number one, so now we need to see how his offspeed stuff does and how he reacts to seeing an batting order twice to see whether he has the ability to stick as a starter or not. There’s reason to be excited and I got plenty from the first impression to feed my curiosity, but there’s also some hesitance there where we just haven’t seen enough to go all in on him yet. Regardless, a fantastic pick in the fourth round.