Last week I promised more of a college focus on these previews, since there’s a good chance the Mariners will go with a college player with their first pick in the 2020 draft, regardless of where they’re picking. I am nothing but a lady of my word, so last week you read (please, please tell me you read) about Nick Gonzales, a hit-machine infielder from New Mexico State who made a ton of noise on the Cape this season. This time we stay in the college ranks but shift over to the pitching side with FSU’s CJ Van Eyk, whose mid-90s heater might be his third-best pitch.
One nice thing about writing up college players, specifically those who play in power conferences, is there is no shortage of footage on them. Thanks to a run in the College World Series, CJ Van Eyk (pronounced as in I LIKE IKE) has already been given the Pitching Ninja treatment:
Van Eyk is polished, with your typical accolade-stuffed college draft pick resume and stints on both the high school and college versions of Team USA. His star maybe doesn’t shine as brightly as some of the other prospects in this draft class; at 6’1”, he isn’t the prototypical towering college pitcher, and he finished 2019 with an ERA approaching 4, good enough only for third team honors on the All-ACC team. Van Eyk is excellent at striking people out, with 129 Ks in 99 innings. The bugaboo is command: he also walked 41 batters in those 99 innings. Van Eyk struggled with efficiency this season, needing a great number of pitches to get through certain outings, most famously when FSU faced Michigan in the CWS and Van Eyk used 100+ pitches in 4.2 innings while Michigan’s Tommy Henry (himself a somewhat mercurial pitcher!) threw just 100 in a nine-inning shutout.
Van Eyk does have a fastball which can sit 91-93 or 94-96 depending on the day, and can touch 97-98. (“But Kate,” I hear you saying, “that’s literally all the numbers that start with 9 except 99. I know. Read on.) There’s no publicly available Trackman data, but it looks like his fastball has a fair amount of ride, an attribute we know the Mariners find desirable in their pitchers (see Newsome, Ljay). Located lower in the zone, the pitch has some unique late movement that’s reminiscent of 2018 first-rounder Logan Gilbert.
But the breaking pitches are what really separates Van Eyk in a class that’s heavy on college pitching. His other two pitches are a low-80s changeup and a hard power curve that might be one of the best in the class:
CJ Van Eyk, Messing with Timing (Quick Pitch Curveball and Regular Motion Curveball) pic.twitter.com/B6Q47271QV— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 10, 2019
The changeup is probably the pitch that needs the most work, just to separate it shape and velocity-wise from the curve, but it’s a swing-and-miss weapon in its own right. West Virginia’s piching coach Alon Leichman is a changeup master, and the idea of seeing how Seattle’s pitching coaches could develop the raw materials Van Eyk offers is enticing.
Van Eyk has a big, fun-loving personality; described by teammates as a “goofball,” he got the FSU spear shaved into his hair before the team headed off to Omaha this past season. But he’s also a bulldog on the mound—again described by a teammate as “all gas, no brakes”—who isn’t afraid to express some emotion after netting an important strikeout, pumping his fists or yelling skyward as he strides off the mound.
Van Eyk was expected to pitch in the Cape Cod League this summer but it seems like he didn’t make any appearances. Between that and his consistency problems down the stretch, his prospect stock has taken a bit of a hit. In Baseball America’s most recent re-rank of the top 50 college prospects, Van Eyk fell all the way to #21 after being ranked #10 in the first go-round. FanGraphs has him #23 overall, noting that he has front-of-the-rotation upside but struggles to put it all together. Still, it’s hard to overlook the raw skillset, even if consistency is a problem. On a recent MLB Pipeline podcast (with friend of the site Jordan Shusterman!), Jonathan Mayo named Van Eyk as one prospect he thinks could sneak into the top 5 thanks to his pure stuff.
If Van Eyk is able to perform consistently this season, he’ll work his way back up the draft rankings, because the raw stuff, plus his sense of how to pitch—he’s a pitcher, not a thrower—make for a very compelling package. If he slips from where he is now, or others leapfrog past him (some clubs won’t take a look at a pitcher listed at 6’1” in the first round no matter what kinds of numbers he posts), there’s still a chance the Mariners could pick early enough to have a shot at him in the second round. It’s a shame, because Van Eyk is the kind of pitcher the Mariners would have loved to take at their draft position either of the past two years; his stuff seems like it would play up especially well under the development system the Mariners have. If they want him this year, it will likely come at a premium pick.
(Also, if the Mariners draft him, not only will Van Eyk join fellow FSU alums Cal Raleigh and Mike Salvatore, but we can pose him for pictures with Salvatore and call it Mike and Van Eyk. This is not relevant to anything, but it would please me deeply. )