LJay Newsome was left unprotected by the Seattle Mariners heading into the Rule 5 draft. He is someone the Royals should consider taking a chance on.
If the Royals are refusing to spend any real money this season, and they are, then they should take advantage of the opportunity by taking some risks on younger guys. A great place to add some young talented players is through the Rule 5 draft.
There are several pitchers available in the Rule 5 draft this year that I find intriguing. Sterling Sharp, Alec Hansen, and Jordan Sheffield all have major league stuff. But, like most young pitchers with good stuff that are left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, they tend to struggle to throw strikes consistently.
One young pitcher left unprotected, by the Seattle Mariners, that does not have problems throwing strikes is LJay Newsome. He has been a fascinating young pitcher to follow. He was originally drafted in the 26th round out of a Maryland high school. Mostly because he was shorter than 6 feet tall and his fastball was in the mid-80s. Certainly not your prototypical high school pitching prospect.
LJay does a strange thing that most Royals fans will find especially peculiar. He does not walk people. He just does not do it. His first few seasons he worked his way through A ball simply on the strength of not walking guys. When he was 20 years old, he gave up more than 9 hits per 9 innings and still carried a WHIP of 1.13 all because he just did not put people on base by throwing balls.
In 2018, Newsome would begin to show up on lists of potential prospects. His strikeouts came up a bit that season and he really dominated the California league hitters. But dominating is a strange word to use. Because, again, he gave up more than 11 hits per 9 innings. He just walked less than 1 batter per 9 innings.
In the offseason before 2019 LJay would spend some time participating in the highly respected Driveline throwing program. His intent was to increase his velocity so that his fastball could become a pitch comparable to his already excellent secondary pitches. And the results were quite impressive. You can see in the video below, from Baseball., the way he pounds the strike zone without leaving hangers out there for the hitter to tee off on. He is fun to watch.
According to Baseball America, his fastball now sits around 93-94 MPH. And the numbers have followed. His hits allowed have finally begun to plummet. His WHIP in AA ball last season was under 1. In over 48 innings of AA ball, Newsome struck out thirty-five and walked seven. Seven!
Newsome will probably never be a huge strikeout pitcher in the major leagues, but his control is almost unparalleled in the minor leagues today. He has less than 60 innings of AA and AAA baseball under his belt, at this point. But, in those 59.2 innings, his walk rate is 1.5 per 9 innings. His WHIP is .98.
The young man clearly has the control that can translate to the major leagues. Now that his velocity has ticked up a notch, he appears to also have the stuff. We will see him this year in the big leagues. The question is whether we want to see him coming out of our bullpen or the Mariners’ bullpen.
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I understand it may be awkward for our existing pitchers for us to bring someone who considers it a bad thing to regularly issue free passes. But it would be a nice change of pace. Our pitching development has had issues teaching young pitchers how to throw more strikes. Maybe we will have more success teaching this young man how to occasionally throw balls.