17. Sam Weatherly (145 points, 10 ballots)
In a 2020 draft that saw the Rockies add only six new prospects to the system, each player stood out a bit more than usual. That was the case for Sam Weatherly, Colorado’s 3rd rounder (81st overall) — a left-handed pitcher out of Clemson who signed for full slot value ($755k). The 6’4” hurler only made a few starts in his junior season, but they were so dominant that MLB teams couldn’t help but notice.
In four starts in 2020 with Clemson, Weatherly threw 22 2⁄3 innings and had 43 strikeouts — that’s 17.1/9! In all, the 21-year-old allowed just two earned runs (0.79 ERA) with a 0.93 WHIP before college baseball shut down. This wasn’t completely out of the blue — Weatherly had struck out 14.1/9 in 2019 — but this was as a starter instead of in relief, which is where he spent the 2019 season. Additionally, Weatherly went from 9.2 BB/9 down to 5.6 BB/9 in his abbreviated 2020 — still not great, but acceptable if you can miss that many bats.
Weatherly was drafted initially in the 27th round out of high school by Toronto in 2017 (and was selected as Mr. Baseball in Michigan) but instead went to Clemson as a two-way prospect (as an outfielder). He struggled both ways as a freshman, then pitched effectively wild as a reliever as a sophomore before finding his groove as a Friday starter as a junior. For more, read Thomas Harding’s profile of Weatherly from this past June.
Here’s a look at Weatherly from February of 2020 courtesy of 2080 Baseball:
Baseball Prospectus ranked Weatherly 10th in the system in their pre-2021 Rockies prospect list with a 50 FV tag. Here’s Keanan Lamb on Weatherly:
It hasn’t been long since Weatherly committed to pitching. Since that transition he has become demonstrably better, as his fastball/slider combo needed a ton of work on the control side. After previously walking more than a batter per inning, he took charge as the Friday night starter for Clemson this past spring and put up insane strikeout rates, to the tune of almost two per inning while cutting the walk rate by half. The 6-foot-4 frame offers a lot of arms and legs in the delivery, when he gets out of sync the command issues begin. When repeated, the fastball is TrackMan-friendly with carry up in the zone while sitting in the mid-90s. The real story is the slider, featuring a wipeout quality, oftentimes located better than his heater.
Ensuring he doesn’t take a step back with the bases-on-balls will be necessary if he’s to remain a starter long-term. Additionally, the changeup–which has mostly been a show-me pitch–will also need to come along at some point. Like any other college strikeout artist, you run him out there as a starter as long as possible knowing if things don’t work out he can always rely on a dynamic 1-2 punch as a reliever.
Weatherly’s best pitch is a low-80s slider that consistently grades as plus and can wipe out both left-handers and right-handers. He sets it up with a 91-94 mph fastball that tops out at 96 with good spin rates that create riding life that leads to swings and misses up in the strike zone. His changeup is improving as he uses it more often as a starter and shows the makings of an average third pitch.
Weatherly has the stuff to start and a 6-foot-4 frame built for durability. He’s also more athletic than most pitchers and his arm works well, which makes his struggles to throw strikes baffling. He commands his slider better than his fastball and will land in the bullpen if he can’t do a better job of finding the zone.
Before the 2020 draft (and before his stellar junior year stats), Fangraphs ranked Weatherly 105th as a 40 FV prospect, which would settle him in the 15-25 range in Colorado’s organization:
Into the mid-90’s as as sophomore for Clemson, relief look but transitioning to a starting role for 2020. Working 89-91 with solid average slurve, improved changeup and some starter elements
Weatherly only really recently committed fully to pitching and only got to be a full-time starter for a short time, so there’s certainly risk in the profile. Conversely, Weatherly clearly has strikeout stuff and could potentially continue to refine his command at the professional level (he got a below average 40 control grade in the MLB.com report). He’s a starter for now, but there’s an impact relief fallback if that doesn’t work out. I expect Weatherly to begin 2021 in Low-A in the starting rotation.
Weatherly got some plaudits from national sources, can serve as a starter or reliever, and was thought highly enough to get drafted in the third round. That profile left me to rank Weatherly 16th on my personal ballot with a 40 FV grade.