Former Atlanta Braves first-round pick Lucas Sims has drawn attention since his first-round selection in the Draft, but his rise to the big leagues hasn't always been a smooth one.
Selected as the 21st-overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft out of Brookwood HS in Snellville, GA, Sims was a Clemson commit before the Atlanta Braves made him an offer he couldn't refuse ($1.65 million) and he made his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League. He was there long enough to get his feet wet, or at least dip a toe in the water (3 games, 7 IP, 10 K), before moving on to the Danville Braves in the Appalachian League. There he made eight appearances in the rotation, amassing 29 strikeouts in 27 innings while walking twelve.
It was the 2013 season with the Rome Braves in the South Atlantic League where he really started to hit his stride (12-4, 2.62 ERA, 134 strikeouts in 116 2/3 IP), a season that he entered as the top prospect in the Braves' system according to MLB.com.
After that performance, it was off to the Carolina League and the Lynchburg Hillcats. All things considered, Sims more than held his own against much-older and more-experienced competition, compiling an 8-11 record on a respectable 4.19 ERA in 28 starts. His strikeouts dipped considerably (107 in 156 2/3 IP), which was to be expected, and his K/BB ratio dipped below 2 (1.88) and would remain so over the next two seasons.
During his return to Class-A Advanced ball with the Carolina Mudcats, Sims was one of six players injured in a bus accident that sent three to the DL. He suffered few, if any, ill effects in the weeks following, advancing to Double-A Mississippi in the Southern League (4-2, 3.21 ERA, 47 2/3 IP, 56 K, 29 BB). He returned in 2016 to start the year, posting a 5-5 record with a 2.67 ERA in 17 starts, striking out 101 but walking 55 in the process.
On the strength of those numbers, Sims made his Triple-A debut at 22 years old. With Gwinnett in the International League, he struggled mightily (7.56 ERA in 11 appearances, 50 IP, 58 K, 37 BB), while surrendering a whopping twelve homers. His 2017 encore was definitely an improvement, as he compiled a 3.75 ERA over 115 1/3 IP, striking out 132 batters but gave up 19 homers. One bright spot: he more than doubled his innings pitched from 2016 while his walks total actually decreased by one (36) for a 3.67 K/BB ratio.
On August 1st, Sims made his MLB debut vs. Kenta Maeda and the Los Angeles Dodgers at home in Atlanta. He pitched a strong game despite picking up the loss, giving up three runs on six hits, one of which was Cody Bellinger's 29th homer of the season. He struck out three and didn't walk a single batter, dealing 62 of 92 pitches for strikes. He did hit a batter (Pederson). He also gave up 12 fly balls vs. 7 grounders.
Fast forward to August 6th, when Sims made his second start vs. Jose Urena and the visiting Miami Marlins. Again, it wasn't an awful performance for a guy making ML start #2 (6 IP, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 K) but he surrendered two more homers and hit another batter (Stanton). Sims gave up 14 fly balls vs. seven grounders.
There's a reason I mention specifically the stats above: over 656 1/3 minor-league innings, Sims has a 0.82 GO/AO ratio, has hit 64 batters, and surrendered 55 homers. None of those are especially good stats, though the HRA totals are almost all from his time in the IL. I mention it specifically because of his tendency to pitch up at times, and his slightly-above-average velocity.
Sims primarily takes a high-low approach in the zone with a 90-93 MPH sinker and a four-seamer, working to change the eye level of the batter to occasionally great effect. Sims' improving change-up comes in at 82-84 and tails away from lefties with a bit of sink.
His mid-80's slider typically has roughly-equal horizontal and vertical movement, but could become a true strikeout pitch as Sims adjusts to ML batters. Add to that an 11-5 curve in the mid-to-upper-70's, and Sims can give batters several different looks from at-bat to at-bat.
All of his pitches appear to be solid-average-to-potentially-plus (I'd like to see more than two starts in the ML, first), but he seems to have a history of sporadic command. Sims should be able to continue to work up in the zone with his four-seamer, as he can get it up to 94-95 when he needs it, and consistently produces higher-than-average RPM vs. the typical MLB heater.
Higher RPM often means more movement, which is fantastic if you can command it. His numbers since 2015 seem to point to a fly-ball pitcher with command issues, and how that might hurt him in the big leagues is easy to understand. Sims might benefit from focusing on the better breaking pitch and scrapping the other, or perhaps it's just a matter of feel and maturity. He's still only 23 years old, and even with six years in the minors it's certainly a different environment in the big leagues.
At this stage, I like Sims as a possible #3 starter candidate in the future. Hitting his spots and mitigating the home-run numbers as he continues will help him a great deal. He's got a good health history and he's in a low-pressure environment from a developmental standpoint. That's a big help. I do like how he's handled his two starts, thus far.
As for his peak, if it all comes together for Sims, I could see annual totals of 15 wins, 3.50 ERA and perhaps a notch above 7 K/9 IP by his Age 25 season.