I didn’t get a chance to see Brandon Waddell pitch when I was in Morgantown last week. The left-hander threw a sim game, and made his season debut a few days after I left town. He has gotten off to a great start, combining for one run on four hits in seven innings during his first two outings, with a 7:1 K/BB ratio. I did get a chance to talk with the fifth round pick, getting some good insight on his approach in the game, along with his delayed start in pro ball.
Waddell was a College World Series hero this summer, leading the University of Virginia to victory by throwing seven innings and allowing two runs on four hits in the final game against Florida.
“Being in an atmosphere like that, especially against an opponent like that, it’s something that you can definitely look back on and learn from, and pull experience from that,” Waddell said of the game. “You get confidence from that. There’s a lot of things that you can look back and take from it. I think it’s definitely one of the benefits of being able to go as far as we did during the season.”
Since Waddell pitched a lot in college late in the season, the Pirates told him to get some rest before joining the pro ranks. He spent some time at home with his family, then signed right before the deadline in mid-July. He worked on getting built up and adjusting to pro ball, which included throwing every day — something he didn’t do in college.
“It actually differs a lot,” Waddell said of the work in pro ball. “In college, I didn’t throw every day, so that was also something big for me. Having to recover every day and come back and throw again. I didn’t know how it would go, coming into it, but I’ve liked it a lot. My arm feels great. And the Pirates obviously know what they’re doing. They have a lot of experience with it, and they have a lot of really talented arms in the system.”
The entire story is very similar to another situation the Pirates had in 2008. That year, they took left-hander Justin Wilson in the fifth round. Wilson went on to lead Fresno State to the College World Series that year, pitching the deciding game as well. Waddell is another lefty, taken in the fifth round, who also pitched the deciding game of the College World Series to lead his team to victory.
“I didn’t know that. That’s awesome,” Waddell said when told of the comparison.
That’s about where the comparisons end though. Wilson was a power lefty with the ability to throw mid-90s, but some poor control issues. Waddell is more of a finesse guy, relying on command, movement, and mixing up his pitches to be effective. I haven’t seen him pitch yet, but just based on the reports and my conversation with him, it seems like he compares more to Altoona pitcher Steven Brault, based solely on his approach to the game.
“I don’t have a lot of overpowering stuff, and not only that, but even if I did, I think my mentality would kind of be the same,” Waddell said on his approach. “Throughout my life, and even in college and everything, it was always location over velocity. That’s not only with the fastball, but with every pitch. It makes it that much harder on the hitter if you can make them basically hit pitches they don’t practice hitting. I really like the mental game of pitching. It’s what I enjoy, and especially watching a game, you can get a lot out of it beyond just the physical side and participating in it.”
Waddell throws both a four-seam and two-seam, and said that the usage of each pitch varies based on the day. He can touch 92 MPH, but usually sits in the upper 80s. He also has a bit of deception in his delivery. That’s almost an identical profile to Brault, who can touch low-90s with his four-seam, but relies on the two-seam more often and gets a lot of deception with his delivery.
Waddell also mixes in a curveball, slider, and a changeup, giving him a five pitch mix. The curveball shows potential, but has been inconsistent in the past, while the slider is more of a cutter with late movement. He said that his goal is to keep all of his pitches, allowing him to mix it up and keep batters guessing.
“If they know you have it, it’s something that puts doubt in their mind,” Waddell said on his pitches. “You can show it, even if you don’t have command, you can show it down, and they know it’s there. It’s definitely a strength to have. It’s something that I like having and I like working on.”
A pitcher who relies on command and movement definitely needs a big arsenal, especially if one of those pitches isn’t working that day.
“You’re never going to have all your pitches, whether you’re a three pitch guy, a four pitch guy,” Waddell said. “It’s just the nature of the sport. You can’t be perfect everyday. It’s nice to have a little bit more options.”
None of Waddell’s pitches project as anything better than above-average, but he’s got a chance for several average pitches and great command. He’s got the profile of a guy who could move aggressively through the system, getting the push to Bradenton next year that only a few college pitchers have received from the Pirates in their first full season of pro ball (Adrian Sampson, Chad Kuhl, Tyler Eppler, and Justin Wilson are the other examples after the first round, and Gerrit Cole is the final player on the list, but his promotion was obvious as a first rounder). Sampson made it to Triple-A at the end of his second full season, and Kuhl will almost definitely start there next year, if he doesn’t go up at the end of this season.
Waddell’s progress will depend a lot on his command and how his pitches develop. Based on the reports, he still has some work to do to improve his offerings. But the eventual upside could be a back of the rotation starter with good command and an ability to pitch, which only helps to build the left-handed pitching depth in the system.