GIF Breakdown: Chris Paddack’s Spring Training Debut
Spring training is spoiling me.
For the uninitiated, Paddack put up video game numbers in the minors last season, boasting a 41% strikeout rate in 52.1 frames in A+ ball and allowing a sparkling 1.19 ERA and 0.72 WHIP in 37.2 IP of Double-A. The reports hint at 95+ mph velocity with a well-commanded fastball with a strong changeup and a developing curveball.
Those were gathered from a spreadsheet and written reports. Today, I finally got to see exciting prospect in action. Here is the GIF Breakdown of Chris Paddack’s spring training debut in 11 GIFs.
As expected, we see heat right away. I thought I would just show the first pitch of his outing, but instead Paddack did this:
One. Two. Three. Paddack’s transparent approach is rooted in a very strong four-seamer, one that appears to have above-average rise (and thus spin-rate) and a pitch he can place around the plate.
The strikeout pitch is specifically fantastic, busting Arcia up-and-in and just off the plate. Paddack doesn’t want this to be a strike, instead intended to bore in on Arcia and seduce a swing. You know the ending: Paddack executed, Arcia swung, and we rejoiced.
What an impression out of the gate. Everything makes sense in a brief moment as Paddack is a man built on a hard fastball with excellent command – something that will carve up the low minors in a heartbeat and get a little less effective at each rung of the minor league ladder. Our curiosity shifts quickly: What else can Paddack bring to the table?
Well, we had to wait a little for that. Paddack tried to give us a taste with his first pitch to Travis Shaw, but he bounced a curveball well before the plate. That led to a fastball up-and-in (I love that he’s trying to jam batters with heat regardless of their handedness!) that just missed for ball two (Spoiler alert: this is foreshadowing), presenting a 2-0 that called for a changeup.
And that’s what we got:
It’s hard to get a real sense of the movement here, but I’m excited. This ball was hit off the end of the bat despite not ideal location (should be lower and a bit more away), exhibiting plenty of drop compared to the elevation of his heat.
In other words, his four-seamer/changeup 1-2 punch dramatically changes eye-level and speed, while hovering the plate often.
This should make you very excited. It’s just two batters in, but I can feel the electricity in San Diego. The hype, the buzz, the hope that maybe, just maybe, they have a future ace.
Again, I have to reiterate that this is spring training and we’re just two batters in. There’s more to see and I’m getting way ahead of myself.
Paddack’s first three pitches were all outside fastballs to Jesus Aguilar -a pair of close misses and one accurately nibbled for a 2-1 count – followed by a change of scenery in a heater catching the inside corner for strike two.
Indulge me as I showcase the pair of heaters that earned a two-strike count:
I love this. Just a moment ago I was infatuated by Paddack’s ability to travel high to low by pairing his fastball with his changeup and now we see him – inside the same at-bat – locate fastballs in-and-out and along the edges. The strikezone can become a small dot for struggling pitchers, and inflate like a balloon to painters. I’d throw Paddack into the latter.
After seeing four straight heaters, Paddack mixed in a pair of changeups hoping to catch an off-balance Aguilar but he failed to execute either properly, sending the first slow ball too far into the dirt and the second too far into his hands. With the lower velocity and varied locations, it allowed Paddack to come back with this fastball in a full count:
While Paddack tried to get crafty with secondary pitches, it was his fastball that got the job done, all without throwing a single hittable pitch in the entire at-bat. Fantastic.
I was itching to see Paddack’s third pitch proper and I had to wait a little longer as Mike Moustakas went to the plate. Paddack tried to attack with heaters up-and-in – I approve of this heavily – but slightly missed on two straight, resulting in a fisted double down the left-field line:
It was an unlucky result – Moustakas was still jammed and a bit fortunate to have this land on outfield grass – but if Paddack doesn’t let this ball fall thigh-high and peel over the plate, it’s either another foul ball or a clean whiff.
This carries over a bit into the Yasmani Grandal at-bat that followed, but first we saw what will likely be the general approach from Paddack against left-handers:
That’s a fastball away followed by a changeup that starts in the same spot but falls just out of the zone. That second pitch is arguably a strike as well and we got another fantastic look at the vertical separation between his four-seamer and changeup. You will see this a lot. I’m impressed Grandal was able to lay off this changeup, and you can expect few to do the same from the left side of the plate.
After Grandal took a changeup over the middle for strike two, Paddack turned back to his heater to jam Grandal inside:
It’s a strikeout, yet I’m a little disappointed. Including both Shaw’s and Moustakas’ at-bats, Paddack has now missed five straight fastballs intended to hit the up-and-in corner of the zone to a left-hander. This is spring training and any sort of prolonged judgment for this year and beyond would be every synonym for naive, but I wanted to see it. I wanted to fuel my anticipation and present a glowing review of everything from Paddack and now I have to question – slightly – if Paddack can nail this spot consistently to lefties.
On the other hand, he missed his spot but still elevated it enough and Grandal couldn’t hit it. Bonus points to
Now with one out in the second, we finally saw a true exposition of Paddack’s breaking ball:
It’s a good pitch. Not one that I think will become a heavy whiff pitch, but this should turn into an offering that helps Paddack earn early strikes and keep batters off-balance in hitters’ counts. It did seem a little slower on the delivery and its consistency may not be there yet, but as a third option, it could turn into what Paddack needs.
Back to the at-bat. With the early strike in his pocket, Paddack went to his money pitch and jammed heaters to Hernan Perez for a weak grounder to second:
Great execution and I wonder if Paddack overall has an easier time hitting this spot against right-handers than left-handers.
We saw more of the same attack with fastballs to Manny Piña, though I want to focus on this pitch:
Paddack has tried a few times to execute a changeup to right-handers, but has yet to execute it properly. We want this pitch to fall under the zone and above the dirt and Paddack hasn’t quite gotten there yet. I’ll be keeping an eye out for this when Paddack gets his call and it does stress the importance of nailing that high-and-tight heater if he can’t find it in a given at-bat (or even game).
Paddack lost Piña nibbling away leading to a walk before this carving of Tyrone Taylor:
Fastball outside corner – strike one.
Curveball (!) perfectly placed at the bottom of the zone – fouled strike two.
Fastball landing just off the plate inside – ball one (with a purpose!).
Fastball painted outside corner that now looks like it’s located at the back of the opposite batter’s box – called strike three.
This was lovely. Seeing the curveball instead of his changeup for the second strike is a big plus as it makes me believe that Paddack could work through the moments he doesn’t have the right feel for his changeup.
The final seal of pushing Taylor off the plate inside before spotting away with another heater elegantly concludes our taste of Chris Paddack. If you didn’t carry a sense of wonder as he walked back to the dugout, I don’t know why you’re here.
There is a lot to love about Chris Paddack. His fastball is a fantastic foundation to build a repertoire upon, showcasing the ability to hit all four quadrants of the zone regardless of batter-handedness (almost!) while rarely missing wildly over in the heart of the plate. The heater sets up his changeup effectively, featuring wide velocity and eye-level gaps and is sure to keep batters off-balance frequently. There is concern in his changeup’s consistency given its Vulcan grip, though his curveball looks to be above the “good enough” threshold to prevent Paddack from turning into a one-pitch pitcher when the slow ball isn’t there.
I wouldn’t expect Paddack to make his major league debut until June at the earliest given the question of San Diego’s competitiveness in 2019 and how heavily playing time and arbitration clocks are favored. When he does get the call, however, I can see Paddack making a quick impact. I’m not quite sold on his changeup just yet, which makes me hesitant to classify him as a potential top-of-the-line arm, though his fastball command presents the possibility if he were to display consistent command of his changeup and curveball – again, this is all taken from two innings in spring training, so it is subject to change.
Be ready when he gets the call and get excited with the city of San Diego. Paddack will be a fun one to watch.