Last Updated on October 3, 2023 at 8:30 am by John Allen
Yankees’ rising farm star Drew Thorpe is MiLB’s Pitching Prospect of the Year for 2023. The 6-foot-4 right-handed pitcher won the award on Monday following an extraordinary performance this year that catapulted him onto the esteemed Top 100 Prospects list. He becomes the first Yankees prospect to win it in a decade.
In a strategic move, the Yankees opted not to deploy Drew Thorpe after selecting him 61st overall in the 2022 MLB Draft. Instead, they dedicated their efforts to his physical development in the weight room, with the intention of unleashing him for his debut in 2023. This calculated decision bore immediate fruit as the prospect pitcher delivered one of the most remarkable debut seasons in recent memory.
Drew Thorpe stood out this season
The performance of the Yankees prospect, who is currently ranked as MLB’s No. 99 prospect, had gone quite well. The pitcher himself conceded that there wasn’t much else to add and that, in his opinion, it couldn’t have gone much better.
Drew Thorpe’s numbers in both High-A Hudson Valley and Double-A Somerset truly stand out, no matter how you examine them. He topped all Minor League pitchers with an impressive 182 strikeouts. His ERA of 2.52 ranked fourth among qualified full-season pitchers. The only other pitcher, his Double-A teammate Richard Fitts, who threw as many innings as he did (139 1/3), had an ERA of 3.48 ERA. When it comes to qualified full-season pitchers with double-digit strikeouts per nine innings (11.76 K/9), Drew Thorpe takes the second spot in walk rate (2.45 BB/9). Notably, he also led the pack of qualified pitchers with a remarkable 26.9 percent K-BB%.
Drew Thorpe faced some formidable competition, especially from his fellow draftees. Cade Horton, the Cubs’ seventh overall pick, and Robby Snelling, chosen 39th overall by the Padres, were also finalists for Pitching Prospect of the Year. Horton’s performance, despite pitching 88 1/3 innings, was impressive as he excelled at Single-A Myrtle Beach, High-A South Bend, and Double-A Tennessee. The right-hander boasted an 11.92 K/9 and showcased his dominance by allowing zero earned runs in 12 of his 21 starts, resulting in a commendable 2.65 ERA.
Snelling embarked on a similar ascent, moving from Single-A Lake Elsinore to High-A Fort Wayne, concluding his season with Double-A San Antonio, all at just 19 years of age. The left-handed pitcher led all Minor Leaguers (with a minimum of 100 innings pitched) with an impressive 1.82 ERA, partly due to his remarkable feat of allowing only four homers throughout the entire season. He recorded 10.24 K/9 and maintained a steady 2.95 BB/9.
Nevertheless, with outstanding rate statistics and remarkable durability, Drew Thorpe emerged as the clear winner. Starting in June, the Cal Poly product solidified his status as one of the Minors’ top performers during a remarkable stretch of six starts. During this run, he conceded just one run on 19 hits over 40 2/3 innings while striking out an astounding 49 batters.
Drew Thorpe’s remarkable progress in his debut season can be attributed to his collaboration with the Yankees, where they fine-tuned his pitching mechanics to maximize his lower-body involvement, resulting in a slight increase in fastball velocity. This, in turn, enhanced the effectiveness of his already impressive 65-grade changeup, which he throws using a traditional circle grip.
The skills that matter
Drew Thorpe explained that his changeup had a unique quality compared to others typically encountered by batters. He pointed out that it closely resembled his fastball, and this similarity was a key factor in generating swings and misses. The Yankees prospect elaborated on the changeup’s characteristics, noting that while most changeups had horizontal movement, his had more vertical break, reaching up to 18-20 inches of vertical movement. He emphasized that his changeup was almost like a slower version of his fastball.
Following a remarkable 18 starts at the High-A level, Drew Thorpe demonstrated his mettle upon ascending to Double-A, where he took his performance to another level. He showcased significant improvements in various key metrics: his ERA dropped from 2.81 to an astonishing 1.48, his strikeout rate surged from 32.4 percent to an impressive 40.0 percent, and his walk rate decreased from 7.7 percent to a mere 4.5 percent. All of these improvements occurred as Drew Thorpe gained valuable insights into how his pitching repertoire fared against the more formidable competition at the Double-A level.
Drew Thorpe observed that the opposing batters were not prone to chasing pitches outside the strike zone. Therefore, he felt the need to focus on pitching within the zone. He explained that his approach involved testing how effectively he could induce swings and misses within the strike zone compared to outside of it. Drew Thorpe also mentioned that he had to elevate his competitive level, recognizing that the hitters he faced were of a higher caliber than those in High-A and were less likely to chase pitches as frequently.
If Drew Thorpe continues to excel in the upcoming 2024 season, he could be on track to secure a spot in the Yankees’ rotation in the not-too-distant future. He possesses a unique combination of precise command and an evolving arsenal, making him a standout talent. His achievement as the Pitching Prospect of the Year places him in an exclusive category, as he becomes only the second college pitcher to earn this distinction, following in the footsteps of Jon Duplantier in 2017.
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