When you have a pitcher who walks too many, but scouts drool over, what gives? Meet AJ Smith-Shawver.
- Born: November 20, 2002
- B/T: Right/Right
- 6’3″, 205-lbs
- Drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 2021 MLB June Amateur Draft from Colleyville Heritage High School (Colleyville, TX)
His raw numbers are listed above courtesy of baseball-reference.com. Let’s aggregate by year then focus on the important numbers for minor leaguers:
After AJ was drafted in 2021, he focused on baseball (he was a two-sport star who had been recruited to be the QB of Texas Tech). He certainly continued showing the ability to strike guys out, but walking a quarter of the batters faced leads to bad things.
In 2022, now at A ball, he still struck out over a third of the batters, but cut his walk rate in half. Yes, that’s still too much, but it is progress, and K-BB% agreed that it could work, and xFIP and WHIP agreed.
The monthlies show steady progress until mid-summer. The Ks are always there, but the walk rate got better and better and better until it slipped again in July.
This is an arm that hadn’t had many reps, and he is just learning how to consistently pitch.
Handedness K% and BB%
A (vs RH): 33%K and 13%BB. (vs LH): 36%K and 13%BB.
He faced almost exactly the same number of lefties as righties, and had basically the same results either way.
He’s raw, with not much pure experience focused solely on pitching. He hasn’t even reached High-A yet, let alone Double-A, so what are we doing here?
I’ll tell you what we are doing here: we are seeing a pitching prospect develop before our eyes, and the potential is so good it’s worth noticing before your league mates do.
He has a plus FB that is now consistently in the mid-90s and he can pump it up when needed. It has 20 inches of vertical break. He has a curve with good break that just needs more consistency. He has a slider with good velocity and two-plane movement that needs practice but could be a weapon. And he’s so athletic (remember, he was a two-sport star) that evaluators expect the develop of a good changeup is just a matter of practice.
He is a pitcher that when his pitches are working can be overpowering on the mound. And when they are not working he walks too many. But he’s in a good organization, he’s athletic enough to dream on, and when it all comes together he could become a frontline starter. If nothing else, he has the pitches to be a #4 starter with some command issues.
I see the trend in his full season and think he will correct his command issues. Word to the wise.