(Photo via Scoopnest, seen here)
Nick Sandlin, the nation’s leader in ERA and WHIP, was picked 67th overall by the Cleveland Indians on Monday. Obviously, there’s more that goes into a draft pick than great numbers at Southern Miss, but how could someone with so much success be passed over by every team?
Sandlin is one of the funkier guys in this draft class. Throwing overhand, he throws a four-seamer that can touch 94 mph and a curve, but his best pitch comes as a sidearmer, where he uses a lethal combination of a two-seamer and a wipeout slider.
Take a look at Sandlin’s sidearm action here. Sandlin hides the ball for so long in his delivery, that the batter, Mississippi State’s Justin Foscue, doesn’t have any time to recognize the pitch.
Not to mention, once Sandlin delivers the pitch his movement is pretty nasty. He showed a consistent ability to command this pitch wherever he liked, which is essentially any right-handed hitter’s worst nightmare:
That sidearm delivery logically makes Sandlin seem like a good closer-type arm. Good command, and a big, sweeping slider is an excellent relief arsenal. And that’s what Southern Miss coach Scott Berry thought for Sandlin’s first two years on campus.
While serving as the Golden Eagles closer, Sandlin had a 2.38 ERA over 55 games in his first two seasons. His 11.4 K/9 proved that his stuff was legit, but the walks were his biggest issue.
That changed when they moved him to the Friday night spot. Sandlin’s BB/9 dropped from 4.48 over his first two years to 1.42 this season. Those first two clips were from his first career start, the opener this season against Mississippi State. Sandlin threw seven shutout frames with nine strikeouts and no walks against the super regional Bulldogs.
It’d be one thing if Sandlin’s story ended there. A funky college sidearmer with a bunch of success will garner some MLB Draft interest, but most likely not day-one material. What makes Sandlin so much more fascinating is his mix of sidearm action and his more traditional, over-the-top delivery.
That pitch was clocked at 93 mph, and with some significant arm-side run. Regardless of the delivery method, Sandlin’s excellent command does not change as well.
The one thing holding Sandlin back is something he has no control over: his small frame. He’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds. That’s hardly an MLB pitcher build at all, let alone the body type of a successful starting pitcher.
His size leads to durability concerns, some of which have already manifested. He was pulled from a start and missed his next one in April due to a shoulder issue this year. If Sandlin was 6-foot-5, 220-pounds, everything else consistent, he’d be a surefire first-round pick.
Now the question becomes whether Sandlin is a starter or reliever at the MLB level? His sidearm delivery and small build seem to suggest a relief role, but on the other hand he was the best starter in all of college baseball.
For now, the Indians will most likely try to keep Sandlin in a starting role, with the one caveat being, as a contending team, they may try to hurry him to the big leagues to help out in their bullpen right away. Sandlin was so polished at the collegiate level, if he keeps his excellent command going he could fly through the Cleveland system.
Such a move is not unprecedented. The Royals called up first-round pick Brandon Finnegan just months after drafting him for bullpen help during their pennant race in 2014. The 2010 White Sox came up short in their playoff push, but that didn’t stop them from bringing up prized first-round pick Chris Sale just two months after drafting him.
While it is undoubtedly rare, there are certain scenarios where a contending team will bring up a recently drafted arm for some bullpen help. Sandlin’s combination of a nasty slider, sidearm delivery, and excellent command might be the mix that the Indians are looking for.
His viability as a starter long-term will depend mostly on his durability, but if you lead the country in ERA and WHIP by significant margins, you’re doing something right.