Taylor Hearn looks to build on AFL success

Scottsdale, AZ – Pittsburgh Pirates lefty Taylor Hearn is a unique prospect.  The 6’5 210 pound lefty boasts a 70 grade fastball and 50 grade slider.  He has struck out 229 hitters in 189 professional IP while allowing 160 hits.  Do I have your attention yet?  So why is he still a relatively unknown commodity?  The answer is command.  Fangraphs rates him at a 30 grade with a future grade of 40.  Hearn has walked 75 hitters in his career.  That is a 3.57 BB/9.  Not horrible, but not great.  There are certainly more higher rated prospects with much higher walk rates.  Paging Riley Pint and Brady Aiken!

After starting only 7 of 18 games in 2016, Hearn made 17 starts for High A Bradenton before injuries cut short his season.  He was really good.  REALLY good.  Hearn struck out 10.92 hitters per 9 with an xFIP of 2.84.  His 37 walks to 87.1 IP were also a big improvement.  So why aren’t more people talking about this guy?  I can only assume the lack of command is a real issue.  Or maybe because he is 23.

Pitching for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League, Hearn has shown flashes of the consistency needed to take his game to the next level.  In a matchup against highly touted Yankees lefty Justus Sheffield on Saturday, Hearn was anything but flashy.  His 70 grade fastball sat at 93-94 mph while his slider was 83 mph.  That fastball didn’t seem to sizzle and Hearn occasionally missed high and outside to righties (and to lefty Matt Thaiss who took a high heater off the helmet) and slider was flat about half the time.  He did struggle to command his change up and lacking an effective third pitch is what seems to hold him back.

So what did he did he do right?  In pitching 3 IP, he only allowed 1 walk, 1 hit (a single), and 1 HBP.  He also only struck out 1.  But of his 9 outs, 6 were ground balls and he was able to avoid the barrel of the bat.  He also threw 37 pitches – 23 for strikes.  He looked composed on the mound, his delivery was efficient, and he worked quickly.  His ability to get groundball outs without the sizzle on the fastball and the sharp bite on his slider is what impressed me the most.

For the season, Hearn has appeared in 7 AFL games making 3 starts covering 14.2 IP.  He has allowed 11 hits and 5 walks and while his K rate is down compared to his MiLB career (only 9 K) his GO/AO rate is 1.46.  His fastball has natural sink to righties.  Going into 2018, Hearn will need to tighten up his change up and improve the consistency of his slider but all signs point to his continued ability to use his fastball to get groundball outs.

Based on his skill set, I would say that his floor is a reliable lefty out of the bullpen but his ceiling could be so much more.  I spoke to a scout in the Florida State League that likened him to a young Francisco Liriano.  While I did not see that sort of wipe out slider today, I do like his ability to get ground ball outs and elevate his fastball for strike outs.

Game Notes

  • Justus Sheffield only lasted 1.1 IP after taking a line drive off the quad.  He threw 5 warm up pitches, mostly fastballs that tailed up and away but continued to shake his leg in between pitches.  Manager Jay Bell removed him from the game.
  • Speaking of Sheffield, his FB sat around 95 and he featured a sharp breaking slider seen below.

  • Catcher Will Smith of the Dodgers threw out 2 baserunners with a pop time of 1.83.
  • Indians’ prospects  Ka’ai Tom, Tyler Krieger, Francisco Mejia, and Bobby Bradley paced the Glendale offense going 6-16 with 6 runs and 4 RBI.
  • Scottsdale was led by Giants CF Steven Duggar who blasted his 3rd AFL HR and 2nd in 2 days.

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