23. Will Ethridge (91 points, 10 ballots)
Will Ethridge was Colorado’s 5th round pick in 2019 out of Ole Miss, signing for slot value of $327.2K. The right-hander was only a full-time starter during his junior (draft) year, in which he threw 93 innings over 17 appearances with a 3.39 ERA and 7.1 K/9 rate in the SEC.
After the draft, Ethridge was assigned to Short Season A Boise, where he was slightly younger than average. Unsurprisingly, coming off a full college season, his usage was metered, with none of his appearances lasting longer than five innings or 80 pitches. In all, Ethridge made nine starts for Boise, throwing 30 2⁄3 innings with a 3.82 ERA, 6.2 K/9, and 1.14 WHIP. Those numbers are par for the course for a high drafted major college pitcher in the pitcher-friendly Northwest League.
Here’s some video of Ethridge from 2019 at Ole Miss courtesy of Perfect Game Baseball:
Ethridge has all the ingredients to be a durable workhorse of a starter, beginning with his 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame. He stays down in the zone with his 91-93 mph fastball, which touches 95 at times. He gets ground-ball outs with the pitch, but he has enough fastball to miss bats, too, and there could be a bit more velocity to come as he strengthens his arm via professional throwing programs. He has quality secondary pitches that should sharpen as he continues to get the chance to start. His slider can get a little slurvy/sweepy when he doesn’t stay on top of it from his low three-quarters delivery and his changeup also shows glimpses of being at least an average offering.
The fact Ethridge can command all three pitches, limiting walks and keeping the ball down to avoid home runs, works to his advantage. He’ll primarily pitch off of his fastball and if his secondary stuff can be consistently average offerings, he has the chance to be a No. 4 or 5 starter.
FanGraphs ranked Ethridge 24th in the system before the 2020 season with a 40 FV tag:
A prep projection case who finally had the velo show up during his draft spring, Ethridge was working 92-95 with heavy sink last year, his first as a starter since high school. Like Castellani, Ethridge’s delivery is a little Scherzer-y, and his arm slot helps create impact, tailing movement on his changeup. He’s on the fifth starter/reliever line due to stuff quality, not control/command.
In Baseball America’s 2020 Prospect Handbook, Ethridge was ranked 29th:
Ethridge throws three average or better pitches for strikes while mostly pitching to contact. His fastball sits 90-93, topping out at 96 mph which sets up an above-average changeup he can throw to either side of the plate, serving as his chase pitch. He refined his hard slider in college to the point that it’s now an average pitch. Ethridge threw the slider more in Boise, where it generated the highest swing-and-miss percentage of his mix. Ethridge’s key is being comfortable throwing strikes and generating soft contact with all three pitches at the bottom of the zone.
In prospect circles, prospects like Ethridge are known as “pitchability righties” — high-probability starter prospects with questions as to whether their lack of a plus out pitch will be successful against more advanced hitting. With that profile, it’s likely the 23-year-old will start 2021 at least in Low-A or possibly even High-A ball — assignments I fully expect him to do well in. For me, it will be Double-A and above that are the bigger questions for Ethridge.
In a system where the potential starter depth is quite thin, that’s a profile worth ranking. Ethridge was 24th on my ballot with a 35+ FV grade as a player whose likely big league role would be as rotational depth or long relief.