The MLB draft is most often a place teams find their stars of the future, projecting out what they will get from a guy three to four years from then with the idea they will take time to develop. In rare cases that timeline can quickly accelerate, and with the Atlanta Braves calling up Spencer Strider on the first day of October he joins a select group of players. Atlanta surprised everyone quite a bit by even selecting Strider in a shortened 2020 draft, and the fourth rounder has far outplayed that draft spot already. Starting out at Low-A Augusta seemed a fair assignment for what was seen as a raw college arm coming off of Tommy John Surgery two years prior, but Strider immediately proved no one else on that field belonged there with him.
Strider had one of the most memorable debuts of any Braves prospect, throwing an electric three perfect innings with seven strikeouts that should have been eight if not for a blown call. He followed that up with an outing in which ten of his eleven outs were recorded by a strikeout and after four starts at Augusta he was already being promoted to Rome. His numbers in those starts were absurd as he allowed one run over 15 1⁄3 innings and struck out 32 batters. His stint at High-A Rome ran even shorter, as after three starts he was promoted to Double-A where he spent a majority of his season. Double-A for Strider had its ups and downs and his overall numbers aren’t spectacular. He had a 4.71 ERA in 63 innings over 14 starts, but batted ball luck played a huge factor in those numbers. He had an elite strikeout rate of 13.4 batters per nine innings in his time with Mississippi, with his main problem coming in seemingly random points where his command would evaporate for an inning. He walked 4.1 batters per nine with Mississippi, which although not very good still allowed him to have a 3.32 FIP at the level. He does allow quite a few fly balls due to the shape of his fastball (more on that in a bit) but he did a reasonable job of limiting home runs in an abnormally home-run happy Double-A South League. He had flashes of dominance throughout especially when his off speed stuff was working, enough to continue to build the confidence from evaluators that his early season successes weren’t any sort of fluke. A late season call up to Gwinnett ended with him throwing one relief outing and striking out the side and that audition was enough for the Braves to feel confident in bringing him to Atlanta’s bullpen.
Strider hasn’t had much in the way of innings over the past couple of years due to his surgery and the COVID-shortened 2020 college season, but he doesn’t seem to be suffering much fatigue as he has approached 100 innings this year. He seems ready to go and he proved that with Gwinnett. His fastball is the best single pitch in the system and it’s not particularly close. As a starter he typically sits in the 96-99 range and on many occasions this season has gotten into triple digits. As a reliever that velocity will play up even more and in his game with Gwinnett he was consistently 99-101 with his fastball. Strider’s fastball has elite carry (rise) and when located properly has proved nearly impossible to hit. He lives to use the fastball up at the top parts of the zone and is able to use that pitch to produce many of his strikeouts this season. His trouble comes when the ball drifts down or out of the zone, but in general his command of his fastball is ahead of where it was expected to be and projects as average to even a tick above average.
Strider completely remade his delivery and arsenal following his Tommy John surgery, and where that shows up is the inconsistency of his off speed stuff. The changeup flashed above average throughout the season but the command of the pitch wavered between okay and horrible and it wasn't a consistent weapon for him. Some things worth mentioning here are that he did not throw it a lot and that getting a feel of a changeup is incredible important to the consistency of it. As he uses it more it will get more consistent and likely grade out as an average pitch or better at maturity. Another thing to go along with that feel is that he hasn’t pitched much in the two years prior. Getting a changeup back is a process and it will likely be next year before we get a fantastic feel of it. The good news is that as a reliever he won’t need the changeup. That is because he has an easy plus slider that has been havoc on opposing hitters this season. Strider doesn’t even particularly need a second pitch to be effective out of the bullpen given what he can do with the fastball, but when the slider is on he becomes borderline unfair. The hard breaker can explode away from right handed batters or can be thrown harder as a pitch more similar to a cutter, and in combination with his fastball provides the best 1-2 punch that any Braves prospect has had in years. Consistency is however still a bit of a problem here. He focused on the breaker a lot this season, but it’s a relatively new pitch to his arsenal as he developed it after his surgery and that comes with dangers. The pitch just doesn't work for him sometimes and made him one-dimensional, a problem that would really impact him the second and third time through the order. As a reliever I expect he’ll be able to work around the days the pitch isn’t working and go heavy fastball, and when it is working he will be able to feature an elite combination of pitches. You can read more about his arsenal and delivery from this interview from earlier in the season.
Pitching at his FOURTH level of his pro debut season, Spencer Strider casually whiffed 3 in a shutout frame for @GoStripers.— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) September 29, 2021
The @Braves' 2020 4th-round pick out of @ClemsonBaseball has 153 Ks in just 94 IP: https://t.co/lDRRFcGmwJ pic.twitter.com/Q8Pbceirzv
Spencer Strider came in at 6th overall on Talking Chop’s midseason list and as the second best pitcher, and it’s likely he will find his way into the top five at the beginning of next year and will be considered our top pitching prospect. The reason being that he does project in our eyes as a guy who could be a top of the rotation arm for the Braves. With a double plus fastball, plus breaking ball, and changeup that seems to be trending towards average to above average the pitch mix here is everything needed for a team’s ace. There are, however, questions. One is of course his command. He needs to limit his mistakes in the zone with the fastball, as although he can beat guys in the zone he also tends to get on top of bats which can lead to a lot of fly balls going over the wall. He has the athleticism and the approach to pitching that should allow him to refine all three of his pitches, but his command will be the main determining factor in his ultimate role. Even without his changeup his is an MLB starter if the command can get where it needs to be. The second question mark, as with every pitcher, is going to be his health. There is some effort to his arm action and he has that injury history that does make him higher risk for future problems. He also stands at only 6’0 tall, though he has a strong lower half that he drives through that does mitigate the size concerns. We haven't seem him throw 100 innings in a season yet, and until he does it’s hard to place him among elite pitching prospects that we would have more confidence in their durability. Talking Chop is as a whole incredibly impressed by and hopeful of Strider’s future, but he is not perfect. As a reliever most of those concerns go out the window. In one inning stints Strider can let loose his best and has a chance to be an impact player in that bullpen if the Braves choose to give him that opportunity. The jump to Major League Baseball is tough and there’s no guarantee of success, but his stuff is so good he may well already be one of the two best pitchers in that bullpen. It’s hard to know exactly what the Braves will do with jim, but I presume given they are calling him up now that they have every intention of petitioning to get him on the postseason roster. Adding another piece to that crew could significantly bolster a bullpen that has struggled to find consistency among its right handed members. Strider has the ability and the confidence to come up to the major leagues and be a lights out reliever right now and is likely the most significant addition the Braves have made out of their farm system this year. You should be really excited about this one, because this will be fun.