While it seems like fastballs are less and less en vogue of late, the power that comes from a great fastball is undeniable. While it’s a misnomer to believe you need a great fastball to be successful in professional baseball, it certainly helps. A quick look at average fastball velocities of the top 15 qualified starting pitchers in the major leagues for fWAR will show you as much. Twelve of the top 15 average 94 mph or higher on their primary fastball. A look at the top 15 relievers in fWAR will only further drive the point home as all 15 are averaging between 94 and 99 mph this season.
While we’ll save the overall best fastballs article for later this offseason, today we’ll discuss five fastballs from under-the-radar prospects that rank among the best in the minor leagues. We’ll discuss a few areas of each fastball; its traits, how fast it moves and how each pitcher impacts its approach to the plate with their unique characteristics. Then we’ll discuss the results, or in other words how many whiffs, chases and strikes the pitch generates.
Cole Waites, RHP, Giants
Drafted in the 18th round out of Division II West Alabama, the right-handed reliever has climbed three levels of the minors this season, ascending to Triple-A Sacramento by late August. Waites works almost exclusively off of his fastball and slider, with his fastball seeing more than 70% of his overall usage. There’s a good reason behind the heavy usage as it’s arguably one of the best performing fastballs in the minor leagues this season. The fastball sits 95-97 mph, touching 99 mph at peak, with plus vertical break, getting 20 inches of induced vertical break or more on a regular basis. Beyond his power and movement, Waites generates a flat approach on his fastball plane, making it difficult for hitters to square up consistently. His release height sits in the 5-foot-5 range, allowing Waites to create outlier vertical approach angles around 4 degrees. That approach translates to success in the form of whiffs and chases. Waites’ 38% whiff rate and 28% chase rate against his four-seamer are well above the minor league average, and his 69% strike rate on the pitch is nearly 10% above the minor league average. A combination of power, movement, release traits and execution make Waites’ fastball among the best in the minor leagues.
Luis Perales, RHP, Red Sox
After debuting stateside earlier this summer with the Red Sox’s Florida Complex League squad, the 19-year-old righthander made the jump to Low-A Salem in late August. While Perales’ results have not been pretty thus far in the Carolina League, his fastball has been as good as any pitcher in Low-A this season. Perales sits 94-97 mph, touching 98 mph at peak, with spin rates in the 2,400-2,500 rpm range and 19-20 inches of induced vertical break. While Perales’ strike and chase rates are just fringy, he has been able to induce whiffs on around 40% of swings this season, a number well above the minor league average. Perales’ fastball features a combination of power, movement and the ability to generate a difficult angle to the plate despite a fairly generic release. Command and strike-throwing are an issue at present, but at just 19 years old the fire-balling right-hander has time to hone his craft in the coming years. He’s one of the top arms among a promising complex league group for the Red Sox this season.
Daniel Palencia, RHP, Cubs
Acquired by the Cubs from the Athletics in the Andrew Chafin trade prior to last year’s trade deadline, Palencia signed as an older amateur out of Venezuela in April of 2020. He made his professional debut with Stockton of the Low-A California League last spring and struggled prior to the trade to the Cubs. Over six starts with the Ports, Palencia allowed 11 earned runs over 14.1 innings, but flashed impressive stuff over those six starts. After he was traded to the Cubs Palencia seemed to settle in, making seven starts for Low-A Myrtle Beach to end the season on a high note, pitching to a 3.67 ERA over his final 27 innings. Palencia has spent the entirety of the 2022 season with High-A South Bend of the Midwest League. He’s fit into a hybrid starter/opener role for the Cubs, rarely going more than three innings in his 19 starts.
While command has been an ongoing area of needed improvement for Palencia, his stuff, particularly his four-seam fastball, is among the best in the Cubs organization. Sitting 97-98 mph and touching 102 mph at peak, Palancia is one of the hardest throwers in the game. He gets above-average ride and run on his fastball with spin rates in the 2,300-2,400 rpm range, and a flatter vertical approach angle to the plate makes it hard for hitters to square up if they can time up his plus-plus velocity. He’s an average strike-thrower with the pitch, getting whiffs on over 30% of swings and a slightly above-average amount of chases. There are still some improvements needed from an execution standpoint, but there are few fastballs you’ll see thrown in a minor league game with a better combination of power and movement.
Emmet Sheehan, RHP, Dodgers
Boston College’s de facto ace in 2021, Sheehan was arguably one of the more underrated players in the ACC, often going deep into starts to help the taxed Eagles bullpen. The Dodgers selected Sheehan in the sixth round of the 2021 draft and have seen immediate results from the 6-foot-5 righthander as a professional. In fact, Sheehan’s career ERA as a pro is nearly a run and a half lower than his college number. While the Dodgers have certainly put Sheehan into advantageous situations as a professional, he’s also shown growth and an ability to consistently pitch to his strengths. What Sheehan does well is throw his fastball and play a trio of secondary shapes off of it. The quality of his fastball allows him to execute this game plan effectively. Sheehan generates ride and run on the pitch, which sits 94-95 mph and touches 98 mph at peak, from an outlier release height. His ability to get downhill, combined with his extension and lower three-quarters arm slot, allows him to generate a flatter approach plane to the plate when combined with power and movement. Sheehan has a perfect combination of good movement and physical length which allows everything to work. Against his fastball this season, Sheehan has generated promising results overall, with above-average whiff, chase and strike rates on the pitch.
River Ryan, RHP, Dodgers
Acquired by the Dodgers for Matt Beaty in the days leading up to the 2022 season, Ryan was a 2021 11th-rounder by the Padres out of Division II UNC Pembroke. A two-way player in college, Ryan debuted as a position player last summer for the Padres’ Arizona Complex League squad, hitting .308/.349/.436, although he was more than two years older than the average age of competition. Since the trade to the Dodgers, Ryan has transitioned to the mound full-time. Over 15 appearances and 13 starts at the Class A levels, Ryan has a 2.45 ERA, with 70 strikeouts to 21 walks over 47.2 innings. While Ryan’s command is still improving, his stuff speaks for itself. He mixes five pitches but works primarily off of a four-seam fastball, cutter and changeup. While all of his primary pitches grade well on Stuff+ models, his fastball’s combination of power, movement, release traits and results make it a noteworthy pitch. Sitting 94-96 mph and touching 99 mph at peak, Ryan generates an above-average ride, sitting consistently between 18-19 inches of induced vertical break with raw spin rates north of 2,500 rpm. His above-average extension allows his higher three-quarters slot to play up, which in turn has induced an above-average rate of whiffs and chase swings. Ryan has followed an unusual path to pro ball but has a good arsenal of pitches rooted in a strong foundation in his plus four-seam fastball.
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