The Braves have always been known for pitching. They have done a good job at drafting and developing (despite being an organization that doesn’t spend much on drafts) pitching talent. Even though some of their recent younger pitchers have been extremely frustrating and disappointing (Jair Jurrgens, Julio Teheran, and even Tommy Hanson come to mind), they have pulled some talent seemingly out of nowhere (Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen). Zeke Spruill didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, as he was a 2nd round pick by the team out of high school in 2008, but he is another young pitcher that looks like he could help at the MLB level.
Zeke Spruill got his first taste of AA last year with 45 innings in which he struggled (4.82 FIP, 6.05 SIERA). He didn’t show the ability to strike anyone out (just 8.2 K%!!) and didn’t have a good ground-ball rate (after having a very good ground-ball rate and acceptable strikeout rate in High A). This year in AA, Spruill made 26 starts in AA and still didn’t have a good strikeout rate (15.2%), but did have a solid ground-ball rate. This lead to a 3.57 ERA/3.49 FIP/4.29 SIERA (all besides the SIERA was better than league average. The SIERA is so high because of a low HR/FB %, which is actually something which Spuill has been able to maintain throughout his minor league career so far. xFIP/SIERA are usually better in smaller sample sizes while FIP is usually better in larger sample sizes as HR/FB% is something that most pitchers seem to have control over in longer periods of time. An alternative way to look at it might be a pessimistic view that states that Spruill will not be able to keep the HR/FB% so low as he moves up to AAA and the Majors. From a statistical perspective, I am more inclined to believe the former view point, but scouting him may give us a better opportunity to take a side on the issue.). He did a good job of keeping the walks down (just 7%) and hitters had a .681 OPS against him (.709 was league average).
The right-handed starter has a 89-92MPH (touched 94 MPH) fastball that is relatively straight (in other words, it is not a moving fastball, but a four seamer) with a little bit of tail/cut. He locates this in to righties. He also has a separate sinker and throws a lot of low fastballs/sinkers.
He also throws a very unimpressive soft slider. It doesn’t get down as much as you would want it to and doesn’t have sharp break. Spruill also mixed in a mediocre change. He really needs to improve these pitches, but his best off-speed pitch is a splitter that worked as the pitch against lefties. It definitely has the best movement out his pitches, but is also the pitch that he has the least amount of control over. If he has a strikeout pitch, this is it (especially when he can set it up with his fastball/sinker).
He looks pretty hittable but Spruill wasn’t giving up power or a lot of balls hit deep. He basically has a really low ceiling as is, but could be in big leagues pretty soon. One could see him as an effective fastball/sinker/splitter reliever or maybe even an acceptable (but not good or average, a 5th guy in the rotation type) starter with those three pitches. If the Braves keep him down in AA/AAA longer to work on the slider and change, he could improve his stock, miss more bats, and possibly become a league average starter (with a very nice array of pitches to go along with an average fastball). Of course, just because the team gives him more time to work on those pitches doesn’t mean that he will actually improve. With the Braves in the situation they are in (and how I expect their rotation and bullpen to shake out), they can probably afford to keep him in the minors to at least start the year.
He is a guy who clearly pitches to contact (3.54 Pit/PA versus league average of 3.63 Pit/PA. Perhaps paradoxically, pitchers that throw more pitches per plate appearance are usually better pitchers than one that throw less, mainly because of strikeouts). He throws more strikes than most minor leaguers (63.5% strike rate, but the Major League average is somewhere around 65%) but doesn’t get many swings on pitches outside of the zone. He doesn’t get many swings and misses either. To me, he looks like a guy that is very close to the Majors with a high floor but low ceiling.