We are less than a week away from the start of the marathon that is the MLB draft. Kentucky could have as many as ten players selected in this year’s draft, including ace pitcher Sean Hjelle. The 6’11” starter gave UK several gutsy performances over the course of his three-year career in Lexington. Hjelle’s impressive career at UK has put him in a position to go in the first two rounds of Monday night’s draft. Scouts have had their eyes on Hjelle for the past two seasons, and for good reason.
This is the first profile in the KSR MLB draft Profile Series. We will break down the pros and cons of each draft-eligible player over the next five days.
- Teams will cherish the fact that Hjelle can consistently throw strikes. Hjelle throws every one of his pitches for strikes and has a repeatable delivery.
- Hjelle has a solid mix of pitches. One thing that helped his draft stock was the development of his slider in 2018. Hjelle’s slider was superb at times this season, including in a dominant outing against South Carolina. He gets great movement on his curveball and can locate the pitch well. One thing I really like about Hjelle is that he consistently has swing and miss stuff. His curveball keeps hitters off balance when he keeps it down. His fastball isn’t high 90s, but he locates it well and gets hitters to miss it.
- I have to mention the size. As a hitter, do you want to step into the box against a 6’11” dude who throws fairly hard with good breaking stuff? His size works to his advantage on the mound.
- There are few pitchers in this year’s MLB Draft that are as competitive as Hjelle. The junior pitches with a high level of competitive fire each time he takes the mound. Hjelle is also the kind of guy that will pitch until his arm falls off to help his team win. UK fans saw this firsthand in the 2017 Regional Championship and in the 2018 SEC Tournament when Hjelle came out of the bullpen for lengthy outings. He is a hard worker and an alpha on the mound.
- Hjelle is going to move quickly through the minors. He is fairly advanced and has the stuff to help him reach the show quickly.
- I love this video of Hjelle. It shows his movement on all his pitches, but it also shows how he comes back from an earlier mistake in an at-bat and gets a strikeout.
Cons (Hint: There aren’t many)
- The results weren’t there for Hjelle in his junior season. In SEC play, Hjelle allowed four or more runs in eight starts.
- One big question around Hjelle is his frame. At 6’11”, 225 lbs, Hjelle is the lankiest pitcher in this year’s class. Hjelle has the frame to add weight in the future, though.
- It remains to be seen how a strong class of pitchers will affect Hjelle’s stock. The 2018 class has names like Casey Mize, Brady Singer, Ethan Hankins, Matthew Liberatore, and many others that will be picked ahead of Hjelle. But baseball is unlike any other sport. If a team takes a pitcher with their top pick, they could come back in the second round and select another pitcher. I don’t think this is a large concern, but it is something to keep in mind.
- One weakness that Perfect Game laid out is Hjelle’s fastball.
- “While his height and length make it pretty easy to want to project Hjelle physically, he is narrower through the shoulders and hips and may not hold all that much more weight/strength. The fastball is average right now but how will it play when he’s pitching every fifth day as compared to every seventh, especially if he’s unable to add much more in the way of weight/strength?”
Hjelle’s stock dropped a little bit during the season, but he should still hear his name called on the first night of the draft. Many websites have Hjelle in the 40-60 range in their pre-draft rankings. I think the big righty will go a lot earlier than 50th overall. There are several teams at the back end of the first round that are looking to rebuild their farm systems with high-floor guys like Hjelle. The Cubs and Red Sox are both teams that could give Hjelle a look at the end of the first round. If Hjelle is still available at the end of the first round, the Tigers could take him early in the second as well.