Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Giants 2018 Second Round Draft Pick: Sean Hjelle, RHP

The Giants selected University of Kentucky's Sean Hjelle, with their second round draft pick of 2018, second overall.  He's 6' 11" and there has been only one other pitcher that tall to pitch in major league history.

Looking over the drafted players, this is probably the first draft under Sabean where their first four picks were all around where they were ranked, at least ranked by MLB Pipeline in 2018 (I've usually used Baseball America, but everything is behind a paywall now).  Per Fangraphs, the first three picks.

  • Joey Bart:  selected 2nd, ranked 6th Pipeline/3rd Fangraphs
  • Sean Hjelle:  selected 45th, ranked 44th/53rd FG
  • Jake Wong:  selected 80th, ranked 72nd/93rd FG
  • Blake/Jake Rivera:  selected 106th, ranked 111th/worse than 130th overall FG 
Generally, the Giants select amateurs who are ranked far behind where they selected him in the draft, usually at least one round (30 picks) ahead of where he is ranked by talent.  

ogc thoughts

Fangraphs called this one, noting the Giants long interest, all spring, in him.  Given how cautious the Giants are in following amateur prospects, I'm surprised that Fangraphs was able to figure out that he was their pick, I would think that the Giants showed a lot of interest in other draft possibilities in that range as well.  Somehow FG knows it again (they called both picks, Bart and Hjelle, though obvious the first one was much easier, calling Hjelle is even better than their noticing their interest in Arroyo). 

The Giants have shown interest in abnormally tall pitchers, having drafted one guy,  Andrew Barbosa, 6' 8", in three different drafts (2006, 2017, 2010), before they let him go to another team (2012).  They were also reportedly interested in CC Sabathia (6' 6"), but didn't draft him because the ownership back then (Magowan could not get the minority investors to chip in more) was unwilling to give the proper amount of bonus at that time.   Makes sense, given the team's name, given because their first team was full of tall (for back then, 6-footers) players. 

"A Veritable Giant"

If you have seen a picture of Hjelle, he looks abnormally thin (see below).  Like a human toothpick figure.  So he most probably can add significant weight, especially if David Bell has instituted facilities and processes that the players can access to guide them in gaining strength/muscle in a systematic way, so that he don't lose his coordination.  So he might be able to get himself into the mid-90's regularly with added mass to his tall and thin frame. 

Image result for photo "Sean Hjelle"

Image result for photo "Sean Hjelle"

I Like "Jelly"

I like Hjelle (pronounced "jelly") as a prospect, but have no idea if there was better value that was draftable instead.   Ranked 53rd overall in talent  (The Board).  There were 11 other prospects ranked higher by Fangraphs on their ranked list.  Mix of a lot of position players, but only two pitchers ranked higher were available at that point, Adam Kloffenstein, ranked 42nd but drafted with the 88th overall pick and Konnor Pilkington, LHP, ranked 52nd but drafted 81st. 

Three first round-ish talents were still available among drafted players (there were a handful of prep players who were not selected, no doubt about signability issues, so I can't say that the the Giants could have selected them):  Grayson Jenista, RF (27th rank; drafted 49th); Jeremiah Jackson, 3B (31st rank; drafted 57th); Alek Thomas, CF (35th ranked; drafted 63rd).   Apparently, the Giants disagreed, unsurprisingly.   The Giants have usually gone their own way once past the first or second round. 

This article has a nice rundown of his background and history.  There are also some early scouting reports from before the season began. 

Following are profiles from some sites:

MLB Pipeline
Scouting grades: Fastball: 55 | Curveball: 60 | Slider: 50 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 55 | Overall: 50

If Hjelle reaches the big leagues, he'll match 6-foot-11 Jon Rauch as the tallest player in MLB history. After tying Kentucky's freshman record with eight saves in 2016, he moved into the rotation last spring and won Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year honors. With an even better junior season, he has a chance to follow Joe Blanton (2002) and Alex Meyer (2011) as the only Wildcats pitchers ever taken in the first round.

Hjelle's best pitch is his low-80s knuckle-curve, which has impressive depth. His fastball velocity has improved from the upper 80s as a high school senior to the low 90s at Kentucky, and he intrigued scouts by hitting 96 mph during fall practice heading into 2018. He has good feel for a changeup, mixes in a slider/cutter and throws all four of his pitches for strikes.

Hjelle has remarkable coordination for such a tall pitcher and consistently repeats his delivery and throws strikes. While he's not overpowering, his huge size adds plane and angle to his pitches that make them difficult to hit. His stuff has gotten better as he has gotten stronger, and his frame still has room to carry much more than his current 215 pounds.
"Players are graded on a 20-80 scale for future tools -- 20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average."  So they see him as average, which in the majors is still pretty good, And I wonder why he's only average overall, as he's got an above average fastball and curveball, plus above average control.  And the Giants love strike throwers, and he can throw all four of his pitches for strikes.  This sounds a lot like Stratton's profile, from what I recall, he started as reliever too, then shifted to starting, and when the Giants drafted him, he had four pitches he could throw for strikes.  The Pipeline ranked him 44th overall. 

Remarkable athlete for his size, pedestrian stuff plays up due to plane created by height.
Could have probably wrote this myself.  They ranked him 53rd overall, as noted above, on their The Board.  And they did rank him among their Top 10 collegiate pitchers

Prep Baseball Report
PBR Draft Board: 19 
FB: 55/60            CB: 55/60            SL: 45/55            CH: 55/60 
Hjelle has an extra tall, long-bodied and long-limbed frame at 6-foot-11, 225 pounds. He’s surprisingly athletic and repeats his delivery, leveraging the ball from a high-3/4 slot with a loose arm swing and good arm speed. Hjelle’s two-seam fastball sits 91-93, peaking at 94 early, and shows tail and sink in addition to steep downplane. His knuckle-curveball flashes plus at 80-83 and he throws it to both sides of the plate. He also showed an 85-87 slider and 83-86 power changeup. (David Seifert)
This has nice details that I didn't see anywhere else.  This is the highest I've seen Hjelle ranked on a draft board. 

River Avenue Blues (Yankees fan site where I got "veritable giant" from)
Despite his build, Hjelle is not an overpowering pitcher – at least in terms of velocity. His fastball sits in the low-90s, peaking around 97 MPH; it does have a bit of run to it, though, and his height and release point help it play up despite its modest heat. And, given his height and potential to add good weight, there’s some room for projection. Hjelle’s best pitch is a knee-buckling knuckle-curve in the low-80s, which is a true swing-and-miss offering when he’s on top of it, and his change-up has flashed above-average in spurts. He also throws a slider, but it’s clearly his fourth pitch at this point in time. 
The primary selling point here is his command. Hjelle has garnered praise for his ability to locate all of his pitches, and that is largely attributed to his clean, repeatable delivery – and that’s not a statement that is often made about pitchers of such great heights.
He also reported where Hjelle ranked per a number of different sources, showing the wide range of opinions on him:
  • 24th, as per Keith Law (subscription required)
  • 30th, as per Baseball America (subscription required)
  • 44th, as per
  • 54th, as per FanGraphs
So Law would have seen Hjelle as a great pick by the Giants, Baseball America too, but MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs thought it was about right for him.  And a service I'm new to, Prep Baseball Report, just above, would see him as a great pick as well, having him 19th on their draft board. 

Overall Assessment

Overall, I think we got good to great value with Sean Hjelle.   His height generates a wide opinion as to his talent, ranging from 19 to 54th rankings.   I'm leaning towards the higher end because of the things I've read so far on him. 

He looks like he has a good skill set, particularly control, with four average to plus pitches.  That's similar to what I recall both Stratton and Suarez being described as when they were drafted.  In addition, just like those two, he gets a lot of "I don't see anything special from him that strikes out batters."  So I think that is why some services don't see him as all that good, and thus ranked him in the low end of Top 50 rankings.

However, I agree with the assessment that his tall body presents difficulties for hitters not used to seeing pitches come at them the way he throws, which gives him an advantage.  Throwing three-quarters adds extra difficulties.   I think that is what is special for him that strikes out batters that the ones ranking him at a lower rank is missing.  Given the Giants (and Tidrow's) interest in tall pitchers, I look forward to seeing what they can do with this Hjellebean (that's his Twitter handle, a play on jellybean).

I think all the rankings agree that he has some good pitching skills.  He can throw in the 92-93 MPH range consistently, and reach mid-90's.  So I believe that if he can add some muscle and weight, with monitored training program, he can get to mid-90's regularly (no Lincecum In & Out Double Double weight gain diet for him).  That would make his stuff even less hittable. 

And I have to think that Tidrow, the Pitcher Whisperer/Ninja, will be able to help him out, like he did with Bumgarner.  His guidance provided to Bumgarner has been well documented, and he helped Madison be more consistent with his pitching mechanics, learn to how to be a better, more consistent pitcher.  For example, in his first full pro season, he was totally lost in his first few starts, and Tidrow makes a visit and suddenly all is well again.  Bumgarner has shared the story that he didn't know what his mechanics look like when he's successful, and Tidrow taught him, so that he could learn it, practice it, and repeat it. 

I think he has a high side potential of being a #2 starter, combining velocity and difficulty with facing someone that tall, plus Tidrow's guidance.  I've seen some say his potential is back of the rotation, #4/5, but that don't jibe for me based on the scouting ratings I collected above, as he has 3-4 average or plus pitches, which to me means at least average pitcher, which means middle of rotation starter to me. 

Nice Pair of Picks

With the selection of two polished college players, with high floors and still potential, the Giants took what many deride as safe conservative draft picks.  Bart looks like a good successor to Posey, now that I'm sold on his defensive chops.  He won't hit as well, but should provide good consistent power that has eluded Posey in his last years. Hjelle looks like he can be a good starting pitcher, and at minimum, a solid reliever, who could be a good set-up man. 

Both look like they can rise to the majors faster than most prospects, taking 2-4 years to reach the majors as a starter.  Bart more so than Hjelle, so he should make the majors in 2-3 years after he was drafted.  Whereas I think Hjelle probably can get up in 3-4 years, with his added difficulty of his height propelling him up the farm system faster. 

I guess the conservative take is because they selected college players and not high school prospects.  In fact, in spite of the talk about a lot of depth of prep high school pitchers being available, the Giants did not avail themselves of any of them in the first ten rounds of the draft (they did pick up two HS position players).  And they did grab another Puerto Rico high schooler, with their 7th round pick.

But this has been the Giants under Sabean, they don't like to gamble with their picks, for the most part.  Though perhaps that is a function of their gambling by picking more pitchers than position players in each and every Sabean draft (especially in the key ten rounds, with 7 pitchers and 3 position players in 2018).   Pitchers are harder to develop into major league players, both because of the difficulties involved with that, as well as the greater likelihood of injuries that can end seasons and careers. 


  1. Read this subsequently, I wish this was available to viewers, like they were before, but Barr spoke to reporters about Bart and Hjelle (would provide link but don't recall right now, will if I find it again), and he noted that part of the calculus of selecting the two was their closest to the majors.

    Ah, did not find what I read before, as it was more complete, but Haft noted in his coverage, " "We're ecstatic to be able to get two guys who can contribute to the Giants in the near future," scouting director John Barr said."

    Nothing specific, but near future to me means 2-3 years for both Bart and Hjelle, less for Bart, more for Hjelle.

    Kind of similar to the two guys I think of as parallels for the two: Bart-Posey, Hjelle-Suarez.

    1. Bart, like Posey, was one of the top players picked in the draft. Posey reached the majors at the end of his first full pro season, and was made a starter by the time it was two years after he was drafted. At that rate, Bart would reach the majors at the end of 2019 and be made the starting catcher in mid-2020, when Posey would be 33 years old.

      But Posey is not Molina, he will be part of the calculus in the determination when he's done as starting catcher. Plus, the Giants have the luxury of slow playing Bart's promotion because they have Posey starting.

      But the ticking clock that I think will govern the change, and it could be coming as soon as two years from now, is Posey's framing ability. As I showed previously, he's on the downside of his career there. It happens to all catchers, sometime in their early 30's, generally. Even Yadier Molina hit the wall a couple of years ago already.

      Posey is at -0.7 RAA, a -0.19 per game rate, which continues the decline from last season. Last season he was at 1.5 RAA, +0.14/game, his first year of his decline, for, in 2016, he was at 26.8 RAA, +1.75/game, which led the majors in RAA, and close to the best in per game. He as at 15.2/1.22 in 2015.

      And from my research of other leaders, once you hit your decline, there is no plateau to okay, you are not even average, from what I recall. So Posey could need to be replaced soon.

      So I can see Posey and Bart moving into a co-starter role as soon as 2020. And as Bochy noted, we'll see then were we are at, maybe Belt moves to LF, we'll see where he's at.

    2. Hjelle, like Suarez, is a second round pick. Also similarly, both were not considered to have any out-pitch, both were solid pitchers who could throw strikes, have nice selection of pitches, the variety of which is used to keep hitters off balance, but nothing that would get hitters out, as a go-to pitch.

      Suarez took a little less than three years from being drafted to reach the majors. That would mean bringing up Hjelle around the start of the 2021 season.

      Samardzija's contract would be over after 2020. He would be 35 YO then, we are not even sure if he will even be effective still, though, given that he didn't start full-time starting as a pitcher until really late, he might still be, and be retained on a two-year contract to 2022.

      Cueto's last year of his contract would be 2021. He will be 35 YO in 2022. His throwing style is what keeps him effective, so an aging arm would not necessarily mean ineffectiveness. Still, after seeing his issues with his arm this season, seems like a ticking bomb that will explode at some point going forward.

      We also don't know what's going on with Bumgarner. Lots of people want to trade him or simply let him go as a free agent, pointing to Cain and Lincecum as reasons why. I like that the Giants keep the name players around to the bitter end. It might not be fiscally conservative, but it is certainly fan friendly, in my mind. I expect him to be signed to a long term deal, probably 5 years, which is all that Cain got, Lincecum was offered, and I think Belt and Crawford got as well.

      2019 will be his last option year, but I expect him to sign an extension, that includes the $12M option being picked up, to bring down the average annual value for CBT purposes, plus a 5 year contract, probably in the $25M per year range ($23-27M range).

      I assume that Stratton and Suarez will still be around, and hopefully Beede too, by 2021. I think long-term it's Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardzija, Stratton, Suarez to 2020, with Beede pushing to join the rotation in 2019-2020, plus Blach and perhaps Holland, as depth or long relief purposes (I can see Holland be the long reliever, with Blach as middle relief, 2 IP at a time).

      Samardzija leaving probably after 2020, and Cueto in his last year in 2021, there is at least one spot opening up for Hjelle and Beede to fight over (Blach too).

      And we don't know yet whether Suarez is for sure in the starting rotation. But his bad ERA is BABIP induced, his FIP right now is best in the staff aside from Cueto and Bumgarner. At 3.89, and xFIP even lower, at 3.22 (SIERA at 3.39), all signs point to him being at least a middle rotation starter, if not a top of rotation guy, behind the aces.

  2. Wrenzie wrote up a nice post on Bart and Hjelle, plus paragraphs on the Day 2 draftees:

    He likes the top 2 Giants picks. He's the first I've seen to mention Gold Glove in regards to Bart, plus makes clearer what the impact of his arm is. Very good details on Bart, as well as Hjelle. He talked about the perfect timing, as Posey is nearing his last days as a catcher (whenever that may be), and now we have his heir apparent, in Bart, a rarity in sports to have two good players in a row, covering the 2010's with Posey and 2020's with Bart.

    He noted some caution about Hjelle, but overall thinks he's a 3-4 starting pitcher, or could be good as reliever, since he can push his velocity up in short bursts to 97. However, he don't think Hjelle can add much to his frame, and thus won't be gaining much weight or, thus, velocity. That's all he gots!

  3. Great write up as usual. Really love your work, been reading for years, keep it up!

    1. Thanks! Appreciate the note, I will continue to try to do my best!



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