A little bit of Friday news to make two of our staff writers well-pleased:
Why were Joe and John so stoked about Ian Hamilton? Well, this is not your run-of-the-mill waiver wire pickup. Hamilton’s fastball has a 60 grade on FanGraphs and a 70 grade on MLB Pipeline, where he was listed as the White Sox’s 18th-ranked prospect. He throws his fastball around 98-99 and locates it well at the bottom of the zone, and pairs that with a power slider.
At WSU, Hamilton set the school record for saves before being moved into the Cougars’ rotation, which was disastrous for him and damaged his draft stock. The White Sox took him in the 11th round in 2016, put him back in his rightful place in the bullpen, and watched him jump levels like Q-Bert, reaching Triple-A by 2018 and making his MLB debut late that season. His quick rise to the majors, however, was derailed by a car accident prior to Spring Training in 2019 that left him with some lingering shoulder soreness. Then, just 16 innings into his season with the Triple-A Kannapolis Intimidators, he got hit in the face with a screaming line drive that broke multiple bones in his jaw and knocked out several teeth, requiring several surgeries and ending his season. He only pitched four innings with the White Sox this season before being DFA’d for the Mariners to scoop up the Vancouver, WA product.
The biggest thing Hamilton will need to improve upon is his fastball command. The 45 percent Zone% (fastballs in the strike zone) will need to improve should he reach his late-inning high leverage ceiling. His fastball velocity was down this year, due in part to a myriad of injuries. With a full offseason of recovery ahead of him, one would expect Hamilton pumping 96-98 again in 2021.
His fastball spins to the plate near 2400 rpms and has a little bit of life up in the zone. The heater runs in on righties and has a bit more ride than the average arm. To date, he’s tried to throw the pitch low in the zone, though a change in organizational philosophy may improve his outcomes as the Mariners really look to deploy high velocity with ride up in the zone. It’s the reason guys like Ljay Newsome and Nick Margevicius throw heaters at the letters consistently despite a lack of velocity.
Hamilton’s slider is a pretty
underwhelming average offering right now. He does get a good amount of swing and miss on the pitch, but when it gets it, it gets hit hard. It got touched up particularly hard this season with an average exit velo of 94.7 mph. He hasn’t shown the inherent ability to spin a breaking ball yet, most of which churn to the plate at 1700 rpms — among the worst in baseball. It’s got a good spin axis and has fringy depth, but it lacks much horizontal break, relying heavily on gyro-centric spin to create vertical separation.
It’s a quick, whippy arm and sound mechanics. The whole package is certainly enticing to Dipoto who’s had a tendency to turn fringy relievers into serviceable, if not impressive big leaguer out-creators. Hamilton is some pretty exciting clay.
At the end of the day, the former Coug (Once a Coug, always a Coug) will almost certainly live and die on the fastball. He’ll need to show improved command and the velocity will need to re-present itself for Hamilton to break camp with the team in 2021. That being said, he’s one of the higher ceiling arms in the Mariners future bullpen as it stands today. With Hamilton, as well as guys like Kendall Graveman, Gerson Bautista, Yohan Ramirez and Andres Muñoz, Seattle has the potential to break camp next season with five different arms that can shove 97+. That’s a pretty imposing bullpen and a lot of very uncomfortable at-bats.