The Atlanta Braves 2015 season was a lost one on the big league level in terms of competing. When it came to restructuring and getting younger arms ready for the new stadium, this season was a success. Many top pitching prospects debuted in Atlanta this season and have shown some exciting promise.
Down on the farm however, the enigma known as Lucas Sims has continued. It’s a new era of Braves baseball for sure, when Sims is the only homegrown pitcher considered amongst the top Braves prospects. While Sims began the year as arguably the Braves top pitching prospect, a disappointing start to the season combined with the additions of new promising pitchers has dropped the metro Atlanta raised pitcher's status quite a bit.
Sims is someone I have not yet seen live, but is a prospect that I have watched plenty of action on MiLB TV and in whom I have done quite a bit of research.
So what’s the skinny on Sims?
The 6 foot 2 righty was drafted 21st overall by the Braves in 2012 from high school in Georgia. He has now played three seasons above Rookie level ball, and after a very promising 2013 in Rome, he has been hard to figure out.
Sims has a nice frame. Standing at six foot two and weighing in at 225 pounds, he may be able to still add a tick or two to his max speed at only 21 years of age. He was topping out at 94 according to most reports early in his career and has been clocked at 96 this season. He seems to have settled in with a consistent fastball around the 93-94 mark, but perhaps can top out at 97 as he continues his maturation process.
Here he just overpowers the hitter with his fastball (MiLB.com):
When his curve is working, he can get anyone to chase it, but he has yet to show consistency in harnessing the secondary pitch. When it isn’t tight, it becomes more of a slurve and is sloppy and out of the zone. His changeup is the same way: when he is on, it is a major league ready out pitch. When he is off, he can’t locate it and it causes trouble.
Watch Sims get the batter chasing on his impressive curveball (video courtesy of MiLB.com):
This has been Sims biggest struggle. Not mechanics, not stuff, but consistency. He has been praised by scouts since high school for a smooth and easy motion that is set up to be very repeatable, yet Sims will go through spans that he simply doesn’t repeat it. Most notably, he loses his release and landing points, and in turn will abandon his good pitches and overthrow, missing the zone.
Sims came off an up and down 2014 looking to impress the Braves organization. He had a solid end run last season, but the rest of 2014 was surrounded by mediocrity. He finished 2014 8-11 with a 4.19 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. What was alarming was that the strikeout pitcher Sims had become in his breakout 2013 campaign (10.34 K/9) disappeared completely as he finished with a 6.15 K/9.
This season started off more of the same. He started the season with the High-A Carolina Mudcats. He suffered through a freak injury when the Mudcats bus was in a traffic accident and subsequently struggled to find his mojo. He started the 2015 campaign going 3-4 with a 5.18 ERA, a 1.55 WHIP and allowing opponents to hit .260 against him. A promotion to Double-A was questionable, but Sims has responded to the call.
Since arriving in Mississippi, just one of his eight starts have been bad, and he has been in a groove over his last four starts. Sims has won his last four outings, while watching his ERA sink from 7.41 to 3.54 (just two earned runs over his last 23.2 innings of work) and striking out 26 while walking 11. The walks are still coming in way too high (6.20/9) but his strikeout rate is back to double digits at 10.84/9. He is also limiting opponents to career low .186 average which has helped strand a career high 71.9 % of batters on base.
This is a lot like last season, when Sims turned it on in late July. He is historically a sharper pitcher in August (11-5 in his career) than other months. So is Sims heating up while others are tiring out and getting promoted or is he the real deal?
The bottom line is that Sims is still just 21 years old, and with the bevy of young arms the Braves refueled their system with this season, they have time to let him figure it out. While I don’t think he is the future ace the Braves had envisioned when drafting Sims right out of high school, I think it is still premature to label him a bullpen arm. Sims has the stuff, and should settle in nicely as a back end of the rotation pitcher.