33 months ago, a fresh-faced 18-year-old Kevin Abel was leading the Oregon State Beavers to their third College World Series title ever. It was objectively incredible. He won four games in eleven days in Omaha, Neb., during OSU’s championship run, including a two-hit shutout in the clincher, a 5-nill win over a favored Arkansas Razorback squad.
Abel was on top of the world. His arsenal was devastating. The changeup was nationally revered. He entered his 2019 campaign one of the most feared arms in the country. But after just a few starts and a nagging back injury, Abel shut it down for a couple weeks. When he returned to a throwing program, there was forearm tightness. The diagnosis was fraying inside the righty’s ulnar collateral ligament. He was forced to shut it down again. In April 2019, he elected to get Tommy John Surgery.
Abel subsequently missed the rest of the 2019 season, as well as the truncated 2020 campaign.
We’re 33 months removed from Abel becoming a household name in the amateur baseball realm and he’s finally getting back on the mound. It’s good to have ol’ Beaver boy back.
Abel was draft-eligible after the 2020 season but went unselected despite being close to returning to action. You can understand a team’s apprehension to spend precious draft-pool money on a guy who essentially hadn’t thrown a baseball in two years. After all, most teams only got to select five players total.
Abel got plenty of attention. Just about any front office with an active cell phone plan reached out asking if he’d entertain the $20,000 signing bonus an undrafted free agent could sign for.
He declined, instead electing to bet on himself. That decision was rather easy.
Abel entered 2021 with a renewed sense of expectations. Two years had passed but nothing changed for he and the Beavers. He’s still their workhorse.
At 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, Abel isn’t the biggest arm in the country. What he lacks in size he makes up for in athleticism and stuff.
On the mound, Abel is loose and easy. He has an extremely repeatable delivery with a chest-high leg kick followed by good drop-and-drive into his hips. Abel rides the mound into his glutes and hides the ball well in a spiraled arm action in the back. He follows that up with an over-the-top, vertical-slot release. His delivery is on-time and consistent across all three of his pitches. He does not deviate in his move to the plate.
Abel has some extracurricular wisdom to his game too. He’ll pause with the ball, changing up the timing mechanism to get batters to tense up a bit. He’s happy to pitch backwards. He’s got a wicked pickoff move. All of these things factor into the lore.
Abel is off to a hot start this season building his dam for the Beavs. Over two starts, Abel has logged 9.2 innings. He’s allowed just two runs and four hits. Abel has punched out an extraordinary 18 batters along the way. Control has been an issue for the San Diego native thus far as he’s issued three walks and beaned five batters. Ouch.
Command has been a bugaboo for Abel during his collegiate career, so that’ll need to be an emphasis for the redshirt sophomore going forward. In 107.1 innings, Abel’s doled out 58 walks. That won’t cut it at the next level.
That said, the stuff is really, really good.
Tools (Future Value)
Abel isn’t a power arm. He wasn’t a power arm before his surgery, and he likely never will be one in the future. This season, the fastball has been anywhere from 88 to 91, touching 92. He bumped a few 93s in 2019 before ultimately going under the knife.
Abel has a quick arm and solid mechanics. He’ll probably never throw anything north of 95, but he may not need to. His fastball is a super-high efficiency heater with well-above average spin rates. He comes at hitters from a low release point too. He’s certainly going to fall into the bucket of a guy that gets more out of his fastball than you think he should thanks to a flat approach angle and vertical ride. Despite the velocity, Abel should find some success at the top of the zone, so long as he’s commanding the ball well.
As mentioned earlier, command has been a struggle for Abel in his career, and that starts with the fastball. Getting ahead of hitters will be key for him so he can let his secondaries to do the heavy lifting. The fastball is good enough, but he’ll need polish.
Abel’s changeup is extraordinary. It was really good in 2018 and it’s even better now. The cambio is 79-82, touching 83. It features fantastic fade and tumbling action and is commanded really well against lefty hitters arm-side low-and-away.
His changeup has more than enough separation off of the fastball to induce whiffs. He likes to throw the pitch in just about any count and uses it to induce ground balls as well.
Oregon State RHP Kevin Abel is absolutely dealing here early on. The changeup has been utterly devastating. Mixing in an impressive breaking ball as well. Completely dominating. 6 Ks through 3 innings. #MLBDraft pic.twitter.com/PJjgFKh9Mg— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) February 26, 2021
Abel might command his changeup better than any of his other pitches right now, and that will certainly serve him well during his professional career, especially if he can get his fastball command to a place where the two pitches play off each other on a more consistent basis.
Let me start off by saying you could make a loud case Abel has a 60-grade curveball too. The only thing, for me, holding Abel’s hammer back from being a true plus offering is the command. Also, there are times he casts it a bit and it can get a little loopy when thrown without conviction. But let me tell you, when he drops one right below the knees, good luck.
Abel’s curveball sits in the 76-79mph range. Like his fastball, it’s just a few ticks away from being pretty devastating. What makes it so effective is how it mirrors the fastball. His four-seamer is extremely vertical in how it “breaks”. The 12-6 shape of Abel’s curveball looks like a fastball at the top of the zone out of the hand.
Abel has pretty average command for his breaking ball. It’s not great, but it’s usually not a liability either. Out of the risk of sounding like a broken record, if Abel can find more consistency in his release point here, it would go a long ways toward creating a full arsenal.
There’s a lot to like in Kevin Abel’s secondary offerings. The potential for two plus pitches outside of the fastball is enough to entice a lot of teams in the top 100 picks. There’s a little bit of Kyle Davies in Abel, except Abel has a far-superior breaking ball. Davies, of course, gets the nod in polish and command.
The Oregon State hurler has a chance to flat-out perform his way into the first round this year. That said, I don’t think he makes his way out of the top two rounds of the draft; 72 picks. The stuff is probably just too good for Abel to have a rough 2021 campaign, especially with the Pac-12 being down in offensive talent. If Seattle wants the local boy to stay in town, pick no. 50 would be a pretty darn good value. The Mariners wouldn’t pick again until pick 85, and I feel by then he’ll be gone. Abel has a pretty high floor, but I wouldn’t call him a “safe” pick by any measure. There’s definitive upside here, and the local appeal never hurts either.