Last week, we took a look at some of the best fastballs outside of the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects. We identified five fastballs that combine strong analytical characteristics with plus performance and outcomes. In that same vein, we move onto another pitch type this week in the slider. It is the most popular breaking ball type at present and a pitch that can be broken into several subcategories of shape like sweeper, gyro-spin cement mixer, slurve, etc.
While there is a somewhat universal desired shape with four-seam fastballs, that’s not the case with sliders per se. To parse through a variety of very good sliders with a case for inclusion in this space, I looked at three factors: sliders 80 mph or above with a minimum of seven inches of sweep, a whiff rate of 40% or greater and a strike rate of 50% or greater. From there, I eliminated pitches below a certain run value threshold and identified what I believe to be the best outside the 2022 Top 100 Prospects.
There is some level of personal bias applied, but my methodology is rooted in control, power, movement, bat-missing prowess and contact management — all of the ingredients that go into any great pitch. Without further adieu, here are five of my favorite sliders outside the 2022 Top 100 Prospects.
Drey Jameson, RHP D-Backs | 85.5 mph SL Avg. | 2,400 rpm | 59% Whiff Rate | 70% Strike Rate
As a first-round comp pick back in 2019, Jameson has continued to defy skeptics around his ability to remain a starter long term. The righthander made 20 starts split between High-A and Double-A and produced a 31.3% strikeout rate and a 7.8% walk rate in 2021. Jameson’s success is due in large part to the quality of his slider, sitting in the mid 80s with heavy sweep and little to no vertical break, playing well off of his high-90s four-seamer. His most used secondary in a deep arsenal, the slider accounts for over a quarter of his pitch usage. Beyond the shape and power of the slider, it’s Jameson’s ability to land it for a strike that sets the pitch apart. With a strike rate that’s befitting of fastballs with above-average to plus command, Jameson shows the ability to land his slider at will without sacrificing whiff-inducing abilities, a rare combination for any pitch.
Future Role: Much debate remains around Jameson’s long-term role, as multiple rival scouts I spoke with still see Jameson’s future in the bullpen. There’s little debate that Jameson’s powerful fastball and slider combination could excel in a high leverage relief role, but after a strong 2021 campaign, his future as a starter seems brighter than ever.
Brandon Walter, LHP Red Sox | 82 mph SL Avg. | 2,750 rpm | 55% Whiff Rate | 63% Strike Rate
An unheralded breakout performer for the Red Sox in 2021, the lefthander performed well across two levels of A-Ball in his full-season debut. After recovering from 2018 Tommy John surgery, the Red Sox saw enough in his 2019 campaign with Delaware to take a chance on Walter in the 26th round of the 2019 draft. He debuted that summer in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, producing strong results, but nothing out of the ordinary for an older player in the complex league. Like many players, Walter used the 2020 cancellation of the minor league season to get stronger and add power to his arsenal. What emerged was a strong three-pitch mix and an improved sweeper. From a stuff perspective, Walter’s slider may be the best on this list with nearly a foot and a half of sweep in the low-to-mid 80s. Paired with a sinking fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, it should come as no surprise that Walter generates ground balls at a high rate. Due to his slider — and also his changeup — Walter can pair a groundball-heavy profile with the ability to generate whiffs, a combination that often points to future success.
Future Role: With an unusual operation and a lack of track record against advanced competition, you’d be right to be skeptical of Walter’s ability to start. Based on these factors and the quality of his arsenal a multi-inning relief role may suit him best. That said, Walter still must navigate the improved competition of the upper levels of the minor leagues in 2022 to fully materialize in a fireman relief role.
Jake Eder, LHP Marlins | 81 mph SL Avg. | 2,650 rpm | 49% Whiff Rate | 61% Strike Rate
If it were not for an ill-timed injury, Eder would likely have made the recently updated Top 100 and consequently would be discussed in the best pitches In The Top 100 article. Unfortunately, Eder was scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery this fall and will subsequently miss the 2022 minor league campaign. Prior to that, Eder had been a revelation. Aggressively assigned to Double-A out of camp in 2021, Eder not only repaid the organization’s faith with strong performance, but he began to surpass prized pitching prospect and teammate Max Meyer in many evaluators’ eyes. Much like Meyer, Eder’s early professional success can be directly attributed to the quality of his slider. A low-80s offering with over a foot of sweep on average and late vertical drop, batters of each handedness did little to no damage against the pitch all summer.
Future Role: Few question the quality of what they saw from Eder in 2021, but his durability is very much in question long term. To complicate matters further, no one knows if or when Eder’s best stuff will return post-Tommy John surgery. If we’re going to assume Eder approaches pre-injury levels in his return, it’s fairly easy to project him in the middle of a major league rotation one day. However, the lefty’s once-bright future is now as murky as ever.
Randy Rodriguez, RHP Giants | 82 mph FB Avg. | 2,800 rpm | 53% Whiff Rate | 63% Strike Rate
Signed by San Francisco during the 2017 international free agency period, Rodriguez made his full-season debut in 2021 and flashed an improved breaking ball and increased power on all three of his pitches. What followed was a dominant 62 innings of work for San Jose, as Rodriguez struck out 101 batters to 23 walks on his way to a 1.74 ERA. Most impressively, Rodriguez did not allow a home run and held opposing batters to a .193 batting average on the season. While Rodriguez’s fastball is plus — sitting mid 90s with a flat vertical approach angle and a high rate of raw spin — his slider is his go-to out pitch. It has a heavy sweeper shape from a low release, tunneling off his mid-90s four-seam before breaking hellaciously glove side, making it an absolute uppercut secondary that keeps righthanded hitters heavily off-balance.
Future Role: Already excelling in a bullpen role and added to the 40-man roster in November, Rodriguez is likely set in his role as a high-leverage reliever. With a powerful one-two punch in his fastball and slider, Rodriguez looks tailor-made for the pen.
Jean Pinto, RHP Orioles | 84 mph FB Avg. | 3,000 rpm | 41% Whiff Rate | 75% Strike Rate
Acquired in December of 2020 from the Angels in the trade that sent Jose Iglesias to Los Angeles. Pinto made his stateside debut in late June of 2021 in the Florida Complex League and earned a promotion to full-season Delmarva within a month. Pinto made nine appearances for the Shorebirds — including seven starts — and performed admirably, pitching to a 2.51 ERA with a 31.1% strikeout rate, 7.2% walk rate and an opponent batting average of .178. Armed with a three-pitch mix, Pinto’s fastball is fairly pedestrian, sitting 91-93 mph with generic shape and analytical characteristics. This means his secondaries have to do a great deal of lifting. While his changeup is a good pitch, it is Pinto’s slider that stands out for its shape, power and its ability to command it. The results agree. Opposing batters hit under .150 against the pitch with a groundball rate above 50% and a whiff rate above 40%. With 3,000-plus rpm on average and mid-80s velocity, Pinto’s slider features heavy sweep and late drop, giving the pitch a true two-plane break. With that combination of power, shape and command, Pinto possesses a true weapon.
Future Role: Much like a less than inspiring shake of the “magic 8-ball”, the answer here is it is uncertain. A 21-year-old undersized righty with less than inspiring fastball metrics and two good secondaries is a player with a wide range of outcomes — from a major league starter to non-prospect. If I were to take a swing with my best educated guess, I’d predict that he is likely a middle reliever with a signature pitch. However, the evaluators I spoke with did not rule out his potential as a starter based on his ability to locate in the zone and work deeper into starts.
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