Baseball is full of stereotypes. When a batter hits for power, we assume he strikes out a lot. When a centerfielder features spectacular glovework and dazzling speed, we assume that he has no power. When a pitcher can dial up his fastball to the high 90s, we assume he cannot locate it. Often, these stereotypes are accurate - stereotypes exist for a reason.
One of the rampant stereotypes is that of the crafty lefty: a left-handed pitcher with impeccable control and command, who uses that ability to spot his pitches to make up for a weak fastball and completely uninspiring breaker. While that may be true for some, Alabama high schooler Jacob Heatherly sports the command to be called crafty, but depending on who you ask, he may also have the fierce arsenal to back it up.
One of the few things that scouts agree on about Heatherly is also his strongest point: his command. He is able to locate all of his pitches with accuracy, earning a plus grade from MLB.com. FanGraphs’ evaluators also cite a “minimalist delivery,” which a very useful skill. A repeatable delivery is key in maintaining good command, and a simpler delivery is easier to repeat, so a simple delivery is a command pitcher’s friend.
The other thing that is a known about the young lefty is that he has a good fastball. His velocity dips as low as 89 miles per hour at times, but it has also been clocked as high as 95 mph. Several reports also cite the fact that he is able to get his fastball to play above its velocity because he is both willing and able to work inside with it. Heatherly also claims that his fastball is his best pitch, saying this in an exclusive interview:
I got it up to 95 this summer and I’m seeing a lot more velocity coming up on it this spring. I’ve been working really hard this fall, and I would say my fastball is probably my best pitch. It runs and it sinks well, and it throws hitters off balance.
Beyond those two points, though, things get sketchy. Exactly how good each of his off speed pitches are is a subject that no one is able to seem to come to any consensus on. MLB.com is the most bullish on him, saying that every one of his offspeed pitches, the slider, curve, and change, are comfortably above average. It is most complementary of his “sharp curveball”, saying it “could become a plus pitch with more consistency.”
Perfect Game, on the other hand, prefers his slider. While his scouting report does say that his curve has good shape and notes his ability to command the offering, it has better things to say about the slider, remarking that it has “sharp bite and good spin” and flat out says it is better than the curve.
FanGraphs was the most bearish on his overall skill set. They were least impressed with his breaking pitches.
He has feel for locating the low-70s curveball, which is average, while the upper-70s slider is frisbee-ish and below average but, again, there’s nascent feel there. ... [None] of his secondaries are presently awe-inspiring.
Perfect Game was also not sold on his changeup. “[Heatherly] tends to slow his arm and body on his change up,” their report reads. This is not an encouraging sign for this offering going forward, as deception is one of the most important parts of a good changeup. Maintaining arm and body speed is, in turn, one of the most important parts of good deception of the changeup.
While a good fastball and highly advanced command may be enough to eventually get Heatherly a spot in the back end of a rotation, if these reports are accurate, then his long-term upside will be very limited. Of course, even if the negative reports are more accurate at present, much can change given his age.
If the complementary reports are accurate, then he is a starter with few - if any - weaknesses who could eventually be a decent mid-rotation starter. Even if the positive reviews are a mirage, his fastball and control still give him a floor as a back-end starter. Either way, his advanced feel for command that will allow him to move quickly through the minors compared to the typical high school arm.
If he is seen as having the stuff that MLB.com reports him having, he’ll certainly go in the first round, possibly near the middle. If he is seen as having below average stuff, then he is not likely a first round selection, but his command won’t allow him to fall past Competitive Balance Round B. The teams that should look into him most are the Phillies, Red Sox, Orioles, Angels, and Blue Jays.
Thank you to Jacob Heatherly for agreeing to speak with us and for providing the picture used in connection with this article. The complete interview will be published on Bless You Boys this May. Stay tuned!