Prospect Preview: Lucas Sims

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Do the Braves have yet another underrated hurler on their hands?

Selected by the Atlanta Braves, with the 21st overall pick in the 2012 draft, Lucas Sims has been fairly under the radar for a first round pick. He was consistently regarded as a first rounder coming out of high school, and despite being drafted by an organization that has worked wonders with arms, Sims doesn't seem to generate the type of buzz as some of his colleagues. That changes...NOW.

There's not much to say on Sims statistically, as he's only thrown 65 innings so far in his career. That said, he's performed well in limited time and is in full-season ball ate age 19, one of the few draft related benefits of the new CBA, as he was able to get rookie ball out of the way last year. The Braves have eased Sims in to 2013, starting him off in the bullpen and giving him progressively longer outings, until recently, as he's started his last two games. In his 31 innings this season, Sims has struck out 37 and walked 17 while allowing only 18 hits. The walks are obviously a concern, but for now I'm chalking it up to an inexperienced pitcher who has yet to harness some prodigious stuff.

Sims is a natural athlete, and while he doesn't have ideal length at 6'1, he doesn't draw the concern that fellow prospect J.R. Graham does in regards to his height. He repeats his mechanics well and the velocity comes easily to Sims. He'll sit in the low 90s but can touch 97 MPH on a good day. The fastball appeared to sneak up on hitters (though they might just not be used to a quality fastball), and showed explosive, late life. Sims spent a lot of time up in the zone, though I question how much of that was intentional. He's experienced success at both the top and bottom of the zone, due to the life on his fastball. I've provided two such instances below, against against Texas Rangers prospect and bonus baby, Nomar Mazara. In the first, it's a high fastball with nice armside run. In the second, Sims shows us what he can do when he locates down in the zone.

Lucas_sims_fastball_swinging_5_30_13_mediumLucas_sims_fastball_looking_5_30_13_medium

I'm always concerned about future success for pitchers who work the upper part of the strikezone, just because better hitters will find a way to turn on those pitches, and pitcher that are up turn into extra bases more often. That said, I do think Sims has the type of fastball that could allow him to live in the upper quadrants. I think it's worth noting that Sims did seem to struggle to keep the fastball in the strikezone, with the extreme movement often pulling it outside to left-handed batters (of which there were quite a few). He worked a lot of deep counts, likely playing into his relatively short 4.2 inning stint. There's work to be done here, but the baseline is a high quality fastball and if he can learn to command it, it will play up even higher.

Heading into the season, Sims received some differing reports on his curveball, though they were all positive. Baseball America (BA) called it a "plus pitch" while Baseball Prospectus (BP) had scouts calling it a "future plus". From what I saw in the video I looked at, I'd shy away from calling it a plus pitch at this moment. It definitely flashes plus, with good movement. He was able to drop it into the zone for a strike, as well as start it in the zone but have it break outside to induce swings and misses. I love to see a pitcher his age who can do both those things with the breaking ball. However, it's not all roses. BP noted that Sims shows "multiple breaking ball looks" and that jives with BA's reports that Sims curveball ranges from 73-78 MPH. The reason I'd shy away from the "plus" label for Sims right now is that it lacked consistency. Sims hung a few too many, or missed wildly with the pitch. While most of the curves that he hung ended up well outside the strikezone, if one floated in there, it would be a big problem. I've provided two looks at Sims' curveball below. In the first, we see him catch the inside corner of the plate for a called strike (though he missed his spot). In the second we see Sims show the ability to start the ball in the zone and let it drop out for a swinging strike:

Lucas_sims_curveball_5_30_13_medium Lucas_sims_curveball_swinging_5_30_13_medium

Through these GIFs we're able to see how Sims' curveball is presented differently. The first one was a softer pitch with a little more length to the break, while the second GIF shows a little more horizontal movement to it.

As far as I could tell (and with little assistance from the broadcast booth) Sims did not throw any change ups in this outing. Scouting reports say he's shown the ability to turn one over and though the pitch lags behind the two presented above, it does project as a future average offering. If I ever get around to catching a Sims change, I'll try and update the article.

When it's all said and done, I think Sims presents a major work in progress, but that's what we'd expect out of a 19 year old fireballer. He shows promise with the curve and the change and if it all clicks, I see a potential #2, with a more realistic probability of a middle of the rotation arm. He should definitely be able to rack up the strikeouts, as the curve can be a swing and miss pitch, and perhaps more importantly, he generates plenty of whiffs with the fastball.

Source Material
Baseball America
Baseball Prospectus
Baseball Reference
MiLB.com

You can follow me on Twitter at @cdgoldstein
You can find more of my work at The Dynasty Guru and MLB Draft Insider

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