One of my favorite things to watch in baseball is top prospects coming up for their major league debuts, especially pitchers. Their debuts aren’t always great, but what’s fun is you get to really see these guys in action, you see what got them drafted where they were, or what got them placed where they are on different prospect lists.
It’s especially fun with pitchers. It’s one thing to hear about how Brent Honeywell throws a screwball, it’s a whole other thing to see it.
On Monday, we got to see the debut of one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball—Daniel Lynch
Before we break down his debut, here’s a bit of background on Lynch. Coming into the game, he was ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 24 prospect in baseball, and the second-best prospect in the Royals’ system, behind Bobby Witt Jr. and just ahead of Asa Lacy.
Lynch was drafted by the Royals in 2018 with the 34th overall pick of the draft, and the scouting report on Lynch said he’s a guy who has a high-velocity fastball that can touch 99 MPH with a great slider, an alright changeup, and an average curveball.
So now that we have some background, here’s how Lynch looked in his debut.
I am always interested in what rookie pitchers throw as their first major league pitch. You’re young, you’re nervous, you’ve never faced MLB-level batters before, what do you enter the league with? What’s the first thing you show?
For a lot of guys, it’s their fastball, especially if they’re known for their fastball (and that makes sense, I’d imagine it’s the one they feel safest throwing). Sure enough, that’s what Lynch does.
A 94 MPH fastball that gets whacked deep to center field and is thankfully caught by Jarrod Dyson.
Certainly, Lynch was happy to have Dyson out there.
When you're finally in the bigs and get a major league center fielder pic.twitter.com/Vy972ZZWx1
— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) May 4, 2021
What a way to start off your MLB career.
After starting off the next batter, Amed Rosario, with two fastballs to get ahead 0-2, we got to see Lynch’s slider!
Or, at least, I think it’s a slider. Statcast classifies it as a slider, but take a look at his grip on the pitch (taken from a later video):
That looks like a knuckle-curve grip. But since Statcast calls it a slider, and it kind of acts like a slider in its movement (i.e. more horizontal than loopy and vertical), we’re going to call it a slider.
Maybe it’s a slurve? Who knows.
Either way, that was our first look at it and it looked good! But it was off the plate for a ball, so it’s hard to tell just how good it can be. At least, for now it is (that’s called foreshadowing).
On the next pitch, Lynch tries to get Rosario again with another slider.
Clearly this is one of Lynch’s go-to strikeout pitches, and honestly looking at that pitch, it’s no wonder. If Rosario hadn’t foul-tipped that, I’d be here drooling at how nasty a backfoot slider Lynch threw for his first MLB strikeout. And it’s not like he missed his spot, Rosario just was able to get a piece of it, and sometimes there’s just no justice in baseball.
Lynch didn’t get his first strikeout, but he did get Rosario to lineout to grab him a quick two outs in his first major league inning.
But this is where things started to get dicey, and something that became a bit of a theme throughout the game happened—Lynch struggled with his control and ultimately walked Jose Ramirez. Then, Franmil Reyes comes up after him and on a 1-1 count, we get this:
“Ben, why are you just giving me a GIF of a fastball?” That’s a great question, and I debated on including this one for a while, but something about it man, I just like it.
That fastball is an absolute bullet. It’s 95 MPH, on a rope, with Lynch using all six feet and six inches of his frame to shoot it out of a cannon. And he can throw it harder too! Basically what I’m trying to show you here is Lynch has a really nice fastball.
Maybe that GIF was only for me, but that’s okay because I’m the one writing the article so I get to choose the GIFs.
Anyways, after working to a full count, Lynch tries to get Reyes with a low and in slider and misses.
Two walks in a row now, and Lynch is up to 17 pitches in his first inning—not ideal.
Next up is Eddie Rosario, and on the first pitch of the at-bat, we get to see how nasty Lynch’s slider can be.
Best of luck on that one Eddie.
Fortunately for Lynch, he was able to get Rosario to line out, and the two walks he gave up didn’t come back to bite him.
I’m going to make you a promise—I will not dedicate 600+ words to every inning like I did the first inning. Honestly, of all the innings in an MLB debut, the first is one of the most important, because it’s when a pitcher gets to flash his repertoire and show off why he’s so special.
Now into the second inning.
The first hit of the game for Cleveland is a double and already the second inning isn’t off to a great start. But this is good! Because I want to see what Lynch does under pressure.
Up next is Josh Naylor, and Lynch dominates the at-bat, quickly getting to 0-2 before doing this:
That’s right! It’s Daniel Lynch‘s first MLB strikeout! And it was beautiful! Remember that backfoot slider that Amed Rosario foul-tipped? Lynch went back to the well in the same spot (though, obviously not Naylor’s back foot) and the results were perfect, getting Naylor to swing and miss and look silly doing it.
You want to know why Lynch is in the top-25 prospects? That’s why.
After getting ahead 0-1 to Roberto Perez, Lynch accomplishes another first in his MLB career!
His first balk!
Now, how was this a balk? That’s a great question. I’ll be honest, most of the time with balks, there are such tiny things that get called, I’m totally lost on them. This is one of those instances. I believe Lynch moved his shoulders incorrectly, but honestly, this kind of feels like some nitpicking on the part of the umpire.
Either way, runner advances to third, still just one out, with an 0-1 count to Perez.
And we get another slider, and another nice one at that, drawing out Perez for the check swing to get ahead 0-2.
Lucky for Lynch, Perez grounded out and the next batter, Yu Chang, popped out right after him, and Lynch once again escapes with no damage.
Lynch started the third inning off by working Cesar Hernandez to a full count and then:
Missing his location on a fastball pretty badly to walk him. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s now three walks for Lynch in two innings pitched.
Lucky for Lynch, he’s got a pretty decent defense behind him, and he’s got a nice slider that induces groundballs.
Ultimately the walk didn’t hurt Lynch aside from working up his pitch count some, and following Rosario, Lynch got Jose Ramirez to ground out. Another inning survived with no blood.
Then we get to the fourth inning, Franmil Reyes is up, and after working to a 2-2 count, Reyes takes a fastball outside the zone and whacks it hard (as he is wont to do).
That starts the inning off with a double, and once again, Lynch is in a bit of trouble.
Then up comes Eddie Rosario, and while I know this is a breakdown of Daniel Lynch‘s pitching, I’m going to give a quick moment for Nicky Lopez and the A+ effort into making sure this sacrifice bunt really was a sacrifice.
The dude dodges the umpire, bare hands the ball, faceplants, and gets the out. Way to do it Nicky, phenomenal stuff.
But that means Reyes is over at third now. And after getting Harold Ramirez to ground out, Josh Naylor is back and he remembers how silly he looked in that strikeout and what you said about his mom, Daniel, and he’s not happy about it.
He gets a first-pitch fastball up and in and rips it to right-center, scoring Reyes and getting himself a double to start off the inning, ending Lynch’s brief shutout.
Honestly, with the way Lynch was pitching, walking people and often missing his mark (remember, this is the fourth inning and he’s already at 55 pitches to this point), it was inevitable he would give up at least one run at some point.
Lucky for him, he gets Roberto Perez, and after working to a 2-2 count, he gets the second strikeout of his MLB career.
Once again, it’s the slider, and once again, that slider looks nasty. Was it a generous call by the umpire? Yes. Yes it was. But either way, it’s a nasty pitch, and it got Lynch out of the fourth inning with only limited damage.
Over 60 pitches into his MLB debut and Daniel Lynch is still out there! Props to the Royals for trusting him to keep on going.
And he rewarded that trust at the start of the inning, working Yu Chang to a 1-2 count before we get another nasty slider.
Again, this is Lynch’s ceiling, this breaker, it’s nasty when it’s on.
Then, Lynch starts off Cesar Hernandez with a beautiful changeup on the outside corner for a strike.
This wasn’t the first change Lynch threw, but it was one of the prettiest. Lynch’s changeup doesn’t have a ton of movement, it generally looks like just a straight change, but the key is command, and he nailed his spot on that one.
Then, two pitches later, he comes back to the well again.
Again, fantastic location. If he can command his changeup consistently, that’s going to be an excellent third pitch that can pair well with his high-velocity fastball.
Unfortunately, that command didn’t stick, and Lynch issued another walk, putting Hernandez on first base and bringing up Rosario, where this scary and nearly bad incident happened.
Lynch tosses a slider that induces a nice double-play ball, but unfortunately on the throw from second, the ball nails Rosario basically right in the face. Luckily it hit his helmet, so Rosario was alright and a crisis was averted, but only by an inch or so.
Then Lynch gives up a single to Jose Ramirez and that’s when Mike Matheny pulled the plug. Much to Lynch’s chagrin.
Ultimately, Lynch’s final line for his MLB debut was 4.2 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 3 K with a 27% CSW.
It’s not ideal, but it also could’ve been a lot worse.
So what did we learn from Lynch’s debut? He’s got nasty stuff, first and foremost. That fastball is brilliant. We only saw it get up to 96 MPH at most, but reports say he can touch 99, and I shudder to think what that looks like.
On top of that, he’s got that nasty slider that will play absolutely anywhere at any time, and a decent changeup that, if commanded well, makes for a nice additional pitch. As for his curveball? He threw it twice, and honestly, it wasn’t super distinguishable from his slider (probably because his slider is a bit slurvey) except for the fact that it’s noticeably slower. As of now, it doesn’t appear to be a major part of his repertoire.
I will say though, in addition to the nasty stuff, I enjoyed Lynch’s approach. Take a look at his final pitch chart:
That looks like a guy who wants to pitch fastballs up, sliders down and glove-side. I like that approach a lot, there was a clear plan of attack, Lynch wasn’t just out there throwing gas and seeing what happens. I like that, and I think he can have some success with this approach.
There are going to be two key things for Lynch going forward. First is controlling his pitches. He issued four walks in 4.2 innings and left the game at 74 pitches. That’s not efficient pitching, and he labored out there in a lot of at-bats, even issuing a four-pitch walk at one point.
He was missing his spots somewhat regularly, and that’s not going to fly. Was it because this was his MLB debut and he was nervous? I think that was part of it for sure. But controlling your stuff is the thing basically every young pitcher has to work on, and Lynch is no different.
The second key for him will be to make sure that changeup is a solid, usable pitch. That, or he works on the curveball a bit more.
Being a guy with a bullet of a fastball and a nasty wipeout slider can give you success in the majors, but it’s not likely to get you success as a starter. More like a reliever. Tanner Scott is exactly that type of pitcher—a guy with a high-90s fastball, a filthy slider, and control problems.
Obviously Lynch isn’t that, but if he’s going to avoid becoming a bullpen guy (not that there’s anything wrong with that), he’s got to have a solid third pitch. I think that changeup could be it if he controls it. It doesn’t have loads of movement on it, so it’s going to rely on command and sequencing it as a way of changing speeds (and ideally eye level) for hitters after his fastball.
If those two things happen, and I’m optimistic they can, Lynch looks like he could be a pretty nasty pitcher.
As for fantasy purposes right now, if the Royals keep him in the rotation (and we’ll see if they do and keep Jakob Junis in the bullpen), I’m not rushing to grab him just yet, not until he showcases a bit more control. Without it, the walks will be too high and he’s not going to go far into games.
But if you’re in a deeper league or have an open bench spot and want to snag him as a speculative add, I don’t mind it. If he sticks around, he’ll draw the White Sox next and that makes me a little nervous, given the White Sox are sixth in MLB in team wOBA so far this year.
That said, I think the future is bright for Lynch. He’s got nasty stuff, and watching his debut just shows you why he’s such a highly-touted prospect.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)