Padres’ right-handed pitcher Chris Paddack has an opportunity to be a very special player. His curveball and the development of it will make him an elite pitcher.
Chris Paddack is already projected to be one of the best starting pitchers in all of MLB in 2019.
Per FanGraphs, Paddack is projected to be a 2.9-WAR starting pitcher next season, good for 22nd in the league. That’s one spot ahead of Clayton Kershaw. Of course, with that projection comes a reasonable expectation of growth across all three pitches, but no pitch will be more important in determining Paddack’s success in year one and beyond than his curveball.
His fastball and changeup are good to go right now.
The former sits at 91-95 consistently, located with surgical precision. The latter was the best changeup in the minor leagues last year and has everything that makes up a true wipeout pitch at the highest level. MLB.com deemed Paddack to have the best control of any pitcher in the MLB Pipeline Top 100, and his 120:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2018 will jump off any stat sheet. Those two pitches alone have vaporized Minor League hitters and set him up to arguably be the favorite to start on Opening Day. His curveball, however, is much more of a work in progress. It’s a loopy, 12-6 curve that has the tendency to float if left in the zone. If improved upon, however, it would serve as an effective strike-stealer with a vastly different look than his other two, more refined pitches.
Here’s a look at one Paddack flipped over for a strike recently in Spring Training:
Welcome to Chris Paddack’s breaking ball – this big curveball. pic.twitter.com/Cb8EZPfjCx
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) February 26, 2019
First impression? It looks like a hanger. Belt-high with loose break gets hammered most of the time in the big leagues.
The context of the video doesn’t allow for an arm-speed comparison, but from someone who watched every pitch he threw that day, there was definitely some discrepancy in arm speed with his curveball compared to his other two pitches. These are all things that definitely can be, and need to be, cleaned up before the curveball can be considered a usable third pitch. There are two bits of encouraging news on that front, though. One, he’s already made enormous strides with the pitch; it’s far better than the 45-grade curveball that evaluators gave him on his rise through the Padres’ system. Two, even an average curveball, when used in conjunction with his pinpoint fastball and devastating changeup, will give him a chance to be an All-Star. Paddack won’t tell you that he’s shooting for his curveball to become “just average.” No competitor would. But the reality is he doesn’t need the curveball to ever become elite to put up good numbers. However…
“Good” is not good enough for Chris Paddack. Everyone who has watched, talked to, or been around him has witnessed the burning desire to be the best. For any basketball fans out there, it reminds me a lot of Kobe Bryant – stone-cold, by-any-means-necessary intensity that everyone claims to have, but not many actually possess. Paddack has it, and it’s the reason why doubting his ability to develop a curveball would be foolish. Most people don’t come back better than ever after Tommy John surgery. Most people aren’t projected as a top-tier Major League starting pitcher as a rookie. Most people don’t put themselves in position to make their Major League debut on Opening Day. But Chris Paddack is not most people.
The key to stardom for Paddack is his curveball and he knows it. If he approaches the challenge with the same mentality that’s gotten him to this point, the Padres may have an ace on their hands.