HomeTrending MLB NewsSunday Notes: Blade Tidwell Has a Five-Pitch Arsenal and a Bright Future

Sunday Notes: Blade Tidwell Has a Five-Pitch Arsenal and a Bright Future

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Blade Tidwell has a five-pitch arsenal and a future on a big-league mound. Two years removed from being drafted 52nd-overall out of the University of Tennessee, the 22-year-old right-hander ranks among the top prospects in the New York Mets organization. “An old school power pitcher” in the words of our lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen, Tidwell has made six appearances for the Double-A Binghamton Rumble Ponies this year and has a 2.59 ERA, a 1.85 FIP, and 38 strikeouts in 31-and-a-third innings.

He’s developed a good understanding of his pitch metrics, a process that began when he was playing with Team USA following his 2021 freshman season at UT. Tidwell “started studying analytics” on his own, and would often discuss the subject with fellow Mets prospect Drew Gilbert, his roommate that summer. He subsequently “didn’t dabble too much into it” during his sophomore year — the Columbia, Tennessee native played just two collegiate seasons due to the pandemic — but that changed after he signed a professional contract. There was a lot more to learn… and to improve upon.

His four-seamer, which sits 94-96 mph and tops out at 98, has grown meaningfully since his amateur days. The 6-foot-4 righty got “around 14-15 inches” of ride in college, and now he gets “around 19 inches on a good day.”

Janzen Blade Tidwell — his father picked his middle name, his mother his first name — also gets good movement on his sweeper. Moreover, he can massage the movement by upping or lowing velocity.

“It averages about what I want it to average, which is about16 inches,” Tidwell explained. “But it depends on how hard I throw it. If it’s 81 [mph], then it’s usually 16-20 inches. If it’s 83, then it’s usually 14-15 inches. If I really try to rip it. I feel like it breaks a little closer to home plate, as opposed to closer to out of the hand.”

A pitch that breaks late is a new addition to his repertoire.

“I just got the cutter, which is kind of like a hard slider,” said Tidwell. “Velocity-wise it’s about 88, and metrically it’s negative six to four, negative seven. I needed a bridge pitch between my fastball and sweeper, because those two don’t really tunnel; the sweeper breaks so much. Now I can throw the cutter off the slider, and the slider off the cutter.”

His curveball, which he “baby spikes,” is primarily used as a different look. If a hitter hasn’t seen it that day, Tidwell can “dump it in there” for a called strike, especially early in the count.

The fifth pitch in his arsenal is much more than a show-me. It’s also a new-and-improved version of the one he threw last year in High-A.

“I’m throwing the changeup quite a bit, especially if there are a lot of lefties,” Tidwell told me. “I throw it with an old-school grip — it’s a three-finger, four-seam changeup — but it’s kind of weird in that it gets reverse gyro spin. I pronate it a lot; I really turn my hand over when I’m following through.

“Last year, I threw pretty much a screwball,” added Tidwell. “Victor Ramos, my pitching coach in Brooklyn, showed me a weird grip. I tried it and it killed a lot of the vert. Throwing that all of last year really taught me to sidespin it, so now I can use my old grip, which I can command a lot better. It’s been an effective pitch for me.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Woody English went 2 for 11 against Dutch Henry.

Gary Varsho went 2 for 11 against Mark Portugal.

Germany Schaefer went 2 for 11 against Rube Vickers.

Swede Risberg went 2 for 11 against George Dumont.

Jim French went 2 for 13 against Jim Palmer.

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Hayden Wesneski has pitched well since being called up by the Cubs in mid April. In five appearances — two out of the bullpen followed by three starts — the 26-year-old right-hander has allowed just four earned runs in 22-and-two-thirds innings. All told, he has a 3.60 ERA over 145 frames for Chicago’s North Side club, which acquired him from the New York Yankees in exchange for Scott Effross in August 2022.

How do the teams differ in terms of how they approach pitching?

“It’s not really that much different,” Wesneski told me. “They break down what your pitches do and where they play best, giving you a good guideline on how to use your stuff in games. Another thing is that results aren’t everything. It’s ‘Hey, did you throw the right pitches? Did you throw them in the right spots? The results may not all have worked out, but this is how it’s done. A bloop single and a line-out to left field are two different results, but which was on the better pitch?’ That’s something both orgs preach.”

What constitutes “the right pitches” has changed for Wesneski since he entered pro ball in 2019. When he signed out of Sam Houston State, he was “a sinker/slider guy,” and along with having added a cutter he’s now primarily sweepers (39.7%) and four-seamers (38.4%).

While the heater is different, the breaker is actually much the same.

“It’s around zero vert and anywhere between 15 and 22 horizontal.” said Wesneski. “It spins a good amount. Metrically it’s a sweeper — a traditional sweeper — and I actually threw it in college, but it was one of those things where I didn’t really know that it was good. I used to get a bunch of takes with it, but I never understood why; I just threw it. I also didn’t know that it was a sweeper. When I got to the Yankees they were teaching the pitch and I asked why they didn’t have me learning one. They told me that I was already throwing a sweeper.”

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A quiz:

Nolan Ryan led the American League in strikeouts each year from 1972-1974, and again from 1976-1978. Which pitcher led the AL in 1975? (A hint: He was a left-hander who had 15 double-digit-win seasons.)

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

An umpire’s panel has been added to this summer’s national SABR convention, which will be held August 7-11 in Minneapolis. Former MLB umpires Jeff Nelson and Tim Tschida, and former minor-league umpire Emma Charlesworth-Seller will be the panelists. More information can be found here.

Mike Wegener, a right-handed pitcher for the Montreal Expos in 1969-1970, died in December at age 77 (per a recent social media post by Alain Usereau, a broadcaster for the Quebec-based RSN TV network). A Denver native who 8-20 with a 4.73 ERA over 270 innings, Wegener was on the mound when Willie Mays recorded his 3,000th hit.

Sean Burroughs, a third baseman who played in the big leagues from 2002-2006, and again in 2011-2012, died unexpectedly this week at age 43. Drafted ninth overall by the San Diego Padres in 1998, Burroughs was the son of former MLB slugger Jeff Burroughs.

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The answer to the quiz is Frank Tanana. Pitching alongside The Ryan Express in the California Angels rotation, Tanana fanned an AL-best 269 batters in 1975.

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I ran a Twitter poll earlier this week asking if the new Detroit Tigers City Connect uniforms are good, bad, or neither good nor bad. A total of 648 votes were cast, and while the consensus wasn’t as negative as I suspected it would be, it was nonetheless far from positive. Just 24.2% had a favorable opinion, while 41.8% were neutral and 34% offered a thumbs down. That a majority landed in the “meh” category is maybe most-telling. We’ve more or less reached the point where fans are resigned to seeing these nontraditional products — only a smattering of which have truly been embraced by their respective fanbases — on an annual basis. Whatever.

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Another poll I ran this week was received a paucity of votes, but I’ll ignore the small sample size and share the results anyway. The question was whether Kirby Puckett or Jim Rice had the better career, and the Twins Hall of Famer outpolled the Red Sox Hall of Famer 56.5% to 43.5%.

If you include the postseason, the edge does go Puckett. He retired with two World Series rings, with his heroics contributing heavily to both. Rice played in just one Fall Classic — it would have been two had he not suffered a broken hand when hit by a Vern Ruhle pitch late in 1975 season — and while he put up solid numbers in the 1986 Series, the Red Sox fell agonizingly short.

If you don’t count the postseason, Rice has a strong argument, He has more hits, triples, home runs, total bases, runs scored, and RBIs, as well as the edge in wOBA (.375 TO .366), wRC+ (128 to 122), and WAR (50.8 to 44.9). Rice also has an MVP award on his ledger — whether he deserved it over Ron Guidry is a matter of opinion — while Puckett does not.

The better career? It’s a matter of opinion.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Shin Soo-Choo has been diagnosed with a rotator cuff injury and will be re-evaluated in early June. The 41-year-old former MLB outfielder has a .680 OPS in 20 games for the KBO’s SSG Landers.

Do Yeong Kim has 11 home runs to go with a .325/.368/.588 slash line in 175 plate appearances for the Kia Tigers, The 20-year-old third baseman is also 15-for-16 in stolen bases attempts, and in April became the first player in KBO history to reach double figures in both homers and steals in a single month.

Takeya Nakamura hit his 476th home run on Tuesday, moving the 40-year-old Seibu Lions infielder into a tie for 10th place on NPB’s all-time homers list. Tomoaki Kanemoto homered 476 times while playing for the Hiroshima Carp and the Hanshin Tigers from 1992-2012.

Munetaka Murakami has eight home runs to go with a .269/.428/.487 slash line in 152 plate appearances for NPB’s Tokyo Yakult Swallows. The 24-year-old third baseman had 56 home runs in his record-setting 2022 season before going deep just 31 times last year.

Jerar Encarnación is slashing .375/.457/1.025 with 17 home runs in just 94 plate appearances for the Mexican League’s Guerreros de Oaxaca. The 26-year-old outfielder homered 26 times last season with the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins.

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A random obscure former player snapshot:

Alberto Lois had a brief career that ended tragically. A native of Hato Mayor del Rey, Dominican Republic, Lois played in 14 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates across the 1978-1979 seasons, serving primarily as a pinch-runner. He came to the plate just four times, the first of his at-bats resulting in a three-bagger off of Jim Kaat. His path to the big leagues had been troublesome. According to former teammate Nelson Norman — this per Lois’s SABR Bio Project entry —the athletically-gifted prospect would sometimes come to the ballpark drunk. That he played his final game at age 23 was a cruel twist of fate. In January 1980, Lois was home in the Dominican Republic when the truck he was driving collided with a train, killing six passengers. Lois was unconscious for six days, and while he eventually recovered, his baseball-playing days were over.

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FARM NOTES

Ralphy Velazquez is slashing .278/.350/.491 with six home runs in 123 plate appearances for the Low-A Lynchburg Hillcats. The 18-year-old first baseman/catcher was drafted 23rd-overall last year by the Cleveland Guardians out of Huntington Beach (CA) High School.

Ethan Salas is slashing .186/.302/.258 in 116 plate appearances for the High-A Fort Wayne Tin Caps. Signed as an international free agent by the San Diego Padres in 2023, the 17-year-old catcher is baseball’s No. 5-rated prospect, per The Board.

George Lombard Jr. is slashing .226/.422/.258 in 83 plate appearances, and has nine steals in 10 attempts, for the Low-A Tampa Tarpons. The 18-year-old infielder — and son of former big-league outfielder, and current Detroit Tigers bench coach George Lombard — was drafted 26th overall last year by the New York Yankees out of Miami’s Gulliver Preparatory School.

Druw Jones is slashing .256/.369/.372 with one home run in 104 plate appearances for the Low-A Visalia Rawhide. The 20 year-old outfielder — and son of former Gold Glove outfielder Andruw Jones — was drafted second-overall in 2022 by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Peach Tree Corners, Georgia’s Wesleyan School.

Cam Collier is slashing .274/.317/.513 with seven home runs in 126 plate appearances for the High-A Dayton Dragons. The 19-year-old third baseman — and son of former big-league infielder/outfielder Lou Collier 클리어 — was drafted 18th overall in 2022 by the Cincinnati Reds out of Chipola College.

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Jacob Young is no longer perfect in the theft department. After being successful on his first 25 big-league attempts — 13 last year and a dozen this year — the Washington Nationals speedster was thrown out trying to swipe second against the Texas Rangers on May 1.

I asked the 24-year-old outfielder about the caught-stealing when the Nats came to Fenway Park on Friday.

“I beat [Jonah Heim’s] throw pretty easily, actually,” said Young, who went in headfirst, as is his norm. “I just came off the bag — I believe I was helped off the bag a little bit — and couldn’t get back before [Corey Seager] got the tag down.”

Young had reached against a righty, but left-hander Jacob Latz was on the mound when he ran. While the pitching change was being made, Young went into the dugout and opened up an iPad, learning what he could about the new hurler. A few pitches into a CJ Abrams at-bat, he went on Latz’s first move, only to be foiled when he over-slid the bag.

“I knew that it was coming to an end eventually,” said Young. “It was a cool thing to have going, but I wasn’t going to remain perfect. I just threw it out the window, knowing that I was going to keep being aggressive.”

Young, who is slashing .275/.350/.341 with a 103 wRC+ on the season, swiped a base against Boston on Friday night and is now 26-for-27 in his career.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

The gambling scandal involving Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter is being turned into a TV Series. Yunaka Inoui has the story at The Japan Times.

Ezequiel Tovar has held onto an unwavering belief in himself amid an up-and-down season with the bat. Thomas Harding wrote about the 22-year-old Colorado Rockies shortstop’s confidence for MLB.com.

The Athletic’s Stephen J. Nesbitt and Andy McCollough teamed up to ask 12 MLB aces about the pitches they could never master (subscription required).

The Salem Red Sox held the Columbia Fireflies without a hit for 10 innings, took an 11th-inning lead on an inside the park home run, then lost on a two-run sacrifice fly.Christopher Smith wrote about Friday night’s bizarre Carolina League contest for MassLive.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Charlie Blackmon recorded his 599th extra-base hit yesterday, tying him with Larry Walker for second most in Colorado Rockies franchise history. Todd Helton had 996 extra-base hits with the Rockies.

Triston McKenzie has allowed just 25 hits and six runs over 48 innings in eight career starts against the Detroit Tigers. The Cleveland Guardians right-hander has fanned 56 tabbies.

Jason Isringhausen had 300 saves and 51 wins. Lefty Grove had 300 wins and 54 saves.

John Vander Wal went 28-for-72 (.389) with four home runs and a .471 OBP in 85 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter for the Colorado Rockies in 1995. All but 33 of his PAs that year came as a PH.

Willie Mays was named to the NL All-Star team every year from 1954-1973.

On today’s date in 2009, Pablo Sandoval hit a two-out, three-run, walk-off homer to give the San Francisco Giants a 9-7 win over the Washington Nationals. An infield hit and a free pass preceded Panda’s blast.

On today’s date in 1962, Julian Javier drove home the winning run as the St. Louis Cardinals beat the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers 6-5 in 15 innings. Bob Gibson went five innings in relief for the win. Don Drysdale took the loss in a game started by Sandy Koufax.

Players born on today’s date include Kenny Greer, a right-hander whose big-league career comprised one game for the New York Mets in 1993, and eight for the San Francisco Giants in 1995. Greer was the winning pitcher in his MLB debut, retiring all three batters he faced as the Mets beat the St. Louis Cardinals 1-0 in 17 innings.

Also born on today’s date was Chicken Wolf, who played for the American Association’s Louisville Eclipse/Colonels from 1882-1891, and for the National League’s St. Louis Browns in 1892. The only player to see action in all 10 years of the American Association’s existence, William Van Winkle Wolf won a batting title in 1890 with a .363 average.

Teams in the 1889 Western League included the Davenport Onion Weeders, Des Moines Prohibitionists, and Omaha Omahogs/Lambs. Prominent among the Prohibitionists were Orator Shafer, who’d previously played with the Cleveland Blues and Chicago White Stockings, and Bug Holliday who went to play 10 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds.

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