Returning to some 2018 MLB draft coverage, here’s a quick glance at University of Kentucky right-hander and potential first-round pick Sean Hjelle. Casey Mize out of Auburn, Logan Gilbert from Stetson, and the Brady Singer/Jackson Kowar duo out of Florida have garnered most of the attention among college right-handers over the last few weeks, but Hjelle is another first-round possiblity and cannot be overlooked.
Sean Hjelle attended high school in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. There he intrigued scouts with his 6-10, 190 pound build but worked at 86-89 MPH and was undrafted in 2015, instead heading to the University of Kentucky for college ball. Used as a reliever in 2016, he posted a 3.74 ERA in 22 innings with a 29/11 K/BB and collected eight saves.
The Wildcats moved him into the starting rotation as a sophomore in 2017 and he responded very well, posting a 3.89 ERA in 109 innings with a 102/33 K/BB and an 11-4 record over 17 starts. He was named SEC Pitcher of the Year and was viewed as an early candidate for the ‘18 draft. Hjelle has continued throwing well this year, posting a 3.09 ERA in his first 58 innings with a 53/9 K/BB and just 44 hits allowed.
Hjelle is up to 6-11 and has gained some strength since high school, coming in now at a reported 225 pounds, though there’s still not a lot of obvious meat on his bones. Despite his great height he repeats his mechanics consistently and is unusually well-coordinated for such a tall pitcher, resulting in above-average command.
His fastball has gained four to six MPH since high school, consistently at 91-93 now with reported peaks at 95-96. He’s refined a high school slurve into a plus curveball. He has an average change-up and when all three pitches are working his combination of size, stuff, and command seems unfair.
Hjelle’s stock has held up and he is still seen as a first-round candidate, though more likely in the back part of the round than the front. His steady development and college success gives him projection as a mid-rotation starter. If his fastball picks up additional steam he could exceed that.
Here’s some excellent 2080Baseball video, with a good side view starting at 1:28.