One of the Atlanta Braves 2018 draftees that isn’t talked about enough is 11th round selection Jake Higginbotham. The lefty out of Clemson was taken as an overslot selection to start out their impressive Day Three haul.
Higginbotham is already signed, but as of this writing his official bonus total isn’t public.
Here are some links to videos.
Who is He?
Jake Higginbotham is a 6’0”, 170 pound left hander out of Clemson. The Hoschton, Georgia native graduated from Buford High School in 2015. The undersized but athletic lefty was taken in the 27th round out of high school by the New York Mets- but would have gone much higher if not for a strong college commitment.
Higginbotham comes from an extremely athletic family. Both of his parents were athletes at Duke, his father playing football and mother playing volleyball. He also has a sister who is a swimmer at TCU.
Higginbotham was actually a very highly ranked recruit, but due to an injury suffered as a freshman missed most of two seasons. It was only this year that he really got a chance to play significant time thanks to the 2016 arm injury and 2017 back injury. While he does have some medical issues in his past, the Braves has to feel comfortable with his medicals after a physical to give him an overslot bonus. For this reason I am not overly worried about his health going forward.
It is worth noting that he is a little older for his class. Higginbotham turned 22 years old back in January, and was a draft eligible sophomore last year(though unpicked due to not pitching in 2017).
His delivery is deceptive, helping his stuff play up. It’s been compared to the delivery of Johnny Cueto- one of the league’s more deceptive deliveries today.
2016: 7 starts/1 relief appearance, 33.1 IP, 3-0, 4.59 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 28 K, 21 BB, .379 average against
2017: DNP- Back injury
2018: 16 starts, 80.1 IP, 6-1, 3.47 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 63 K, 32 BB, .236 average against
Higginbotham has a fastball that has been up as high as 94 MPH that has good life particularly arm side. He does sit 91-93 early on, but drops to more of an 89-91 range after a few innings. His not holding the velocity isn’t a big concern, as he does have some room for projection on his 170 pound frame. I’m giving the fastball a plus grade because I think it gets there once he adds a little more strength.
Jake Higginbotham looking strong so far. Scoreless through 2 IP. Here's a K on 91 mph. pic.twitter.com/SWR3uIOhva— Michael Lananna (@mlananna) March 4, 2018
Higginbotham has an above average curve, a 12-6 shaped pitch. It’s definitely the kind of pitch that he’s able to get strikeouts with and his best secondary offering. With some work this can get to being a plus pitch and some think this currently his best pitch.
Higginbotham doesn’t throw it as often as his other pitches, but he does have a solid slider. It’s an effective pitch that keeps hitters off balance, but could get up closer to the 50 grade if he works on it a little more.
Higginbotham has a decent change. It is more fringy than average, but it is a fourth pitch in his arsenal that he can use. For a guy who relies on deception and keeping hitters off balance, that is a big part of his game.
Command isn’t exactly a strength or weakness for Higginbotham. He’s able to throw strikes, but he doesn’t consistently hit his spots because he can lose his release point at times. That isn’t to say he is a guy who is going to walk a ton of batters, but his command can use improvement. It is no surprise that he needs to improve his command considering he doesn’t have a ton of college experience so there is some room for him to grow as he gains more innings under his belt.
Higginbotham isn’t a sure thing, but there is a lot to like about him. He doesn’t have a true plus pitch, but he has four solid pitches and the chance to have a pair of them end up being plus. His deceptive delivery and athleticism help add to the total package, and if his command improves then he looks even better. Same story with him adding a little more projection.
Higginbotham is more raw than most third year college arms, but the raw tools are there once he gets more work in.
I’m not sure how much he will pitch this year as he saw just 33.1 innings in 2016, missed 2017, and then had a big jump in innings already this year. He probably pitches on a very tight workload and gradually gets built up. Because of that along with needing innings, he may move a little slower than most ACC arms.
Despite coming with some medical red flags in his past Higginbotham is a guy I really like. Lefties with his total package could profile well as a #4 starter, or even as a promising reliever if the command doesn’t improve enough to be that guy.