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2023 MLB Draft Preview: College Pitching

COLLEGE BASEBALL: MAY 19 Wake Forest at N.C. State Photo by Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome back to Seattle Mariners 2023 MLB draft previews! Throughout this series, we are yet to cover any amount of pitching, something some may consider malpractice considering the Mariner’s affinity for developing quality arms from the college ranks. I assure you this was not done out of negligence, but rather a conscious choice on my behalf. The reason? To be blunt, the class for college pitching kind of stinks. It’s generally a weak class, but especially for the range at which the Mariners are selecting. The premium guys will almost assuredly be gone, leaving them in a spot where they are likely reaching for an inferior prospect. That said, there are some names that could slip to the Mariners, and I will be sure to specify at what range they are expected to be selected at as to not get anyone’s hopes up. With that said, let’s take a look at perhaps the most electrifying arsenal in all of college baseball, Hurston Waldrep.

Hurston Waldrep

In all honesty, I do not think Waldrep will be available at 22, the Mariners first selection. He’s really come into his own during the college post season and has flat out dominated some of the best competition in the country on the biggest stage. Saying this, crazier things have happened. Paul Skenes gets most of the talk due to his consistently upper-90’s fastball and excellent slider, but Waldrep has the most complete arsenal in the draft if you’re analyzing pure stuff. With four pitches, all of which should be quality big league offerings, Waldrep represents a chance to be a true ace at the highest level.

When he’s on, he’s basically unhittable. In his two most recent starts, both in the NCAA tourney, he’s combined to go 15 innings of one run ball, striking out 25 and walking four. Absolutely filthy. The fastball is up to the high 90’s and he throws a truly elite splitter in the high 80’s. He throws a plus curveball in the mid 80’s and a firm slider in the high 80’s. Hearing this, your initial thoughts may question how on Earth Waldrep could possibly be available for Seattle to select. Waldrep, unfortunately, was not nearly this dominant for the bulk of the season. He’s struggled with command in a pretty serious way and got thoroughly knocked around in the regular season with an ERA consistently hovering around five. People were looking for Waldrep to dominate, and he simply didn’t do that.

At the end of the day, I expect Waldrep to go early and I would personally have him going in the top 10-14 picks if Florida makes a deep run and he continues his dominance. The stuff is simply too good not to bet on and I expect a team higher than Seattle to make that bet. This years class, however, is especially deep with really good hitters, an inherently safer and higher value demographic of player to draft than pitching is. Who knows! Most outlets mock him in the mid to late teens. It’s not crazy to say he could slip on draft day. Only time will tell.

Rhett Lowder

Rhett Lowder is kind of the antithesis of Hurston Waldrep. You will not find a starting pitcher with better numbers than Lowder. Considering the high level of competition he consistently faces every single start, it’s borderline unbelievable at how good of a season Lowder had. With a season ERA currently sitting at a minuscule 1.92 and a K/BB ratio of 131/31, it’s safe to say Lowder was one of the most impressive pitchers in all of college baseball this season. He’s done everything you could possibly ask of a pitcher and more. What’s not to like?

The answer, at least for me, is a less obvious path to truly elite production. I am incredibly confident Lowder will be able to be a quality piece in a major league rotation. As he currently stands, however, he’s probably a mid rotation arm. His fastball typically sits in the low 92-93 range and can touch higher, but it’s not a plus offering in its current form and that makes me a bit hesitant. He’s got a really nice changeup that is his best offering, fading down and away from lefties with some serious movement. He also throws a solid slider. He’s got really quality command and control, using it to toy with hitters on a nightly basis. I really like Lowder as a prospect and can all but guarantee he’ll be off the board for the Mariners, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

My analysis essentially boils down to this: Lowder is a really good pitcher that makes a ton of sense for a different team and that will almost certainly mean the M’s won’t have a shot to draft him. He’s a damn good pitcher with a super high floor, but frankly that’s not what Seattle should be targeting in the first round of this year’s draft anyway. The M’s need upside, and there’s more to be had elsewhere. The one scenario where Lowder is a Mariner is if the Pitching Lab firmly believes they can get his stuff, particularly the fastball, to tick up AND no one else buys the upside AND no one else buys the floor. If that is the case, you take Lowder and laugh in the rest of the league’s face. How likely is that? I’d wager not very.

Cade Kuehler

Of the three arms covered this week, Kuehler is the only one where a “slip” in stock would not be required for him to get to the Mariners pick. A fun arm in his own right, Kuehler doesn’t quite have the same pedigree as either of the two arms preceding him. Featuring a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90’s and flirts with triple digits, his deceptive delivery and excellent ride make the pitch a real weapon. His primary offspeed weapon is a really nasty slider that sits in the mid-80’s. He’s experimented with a cutter as well this year, but I personally haven’t seen it enough to really gauge it.

Kuehler is probably an early second rounder or perhaps a Comp round A pick. The fastball is really, really good, grading out incredibly well on pitch models. The slider is no slouch either, itself a plus offering. There is some reliever risk in the profile as right now he’s only got two pitches that are well developed. That said, he’s thrown a variety of other offerings scarcely this season, leading people to believe with the development of even an average third offering, Kuehler could provide some nice upside as a starter with a floor as a high leverage reliever.