Welcome to the annual Over The Monster One Big Question season preview series. Over the next 40(ish) days, we will be running through every player on the 40-man roster and identifying a key question for them pertaining to the coming season. This should run us up to the start of the season, at least as it is scheduled now. We will go through the roster in alphabetical order. For the most part, these will run Monday through Friday every week running up to the week before Opening Day, though expect some weekend posts mixed in as well as the 40-man is expected to continue to be altered before the start of the season. You can catch up with every post by following this link. Today we take a look at Connor Seabold.
The Question: Can Connor Seabold up his perceived realistic ceiling?
This is something that I plan on writing about in a bit more depth at a later date, but it is worth mentioning that the Red Sox have something this year that they haven’t in quite some time: Pitching depth that consists of prospects with upside. Granted, some of that took a hit with Bryan Mata’s injury, but Tanner Houck is still expected to be the first line of rotation depth, and in the bullpen Eduard Bazardo is looking to make an impact early. But in the rotation, behind Houck, Connor Seabold shouldn’t be all that far behind. The righty is generally seen as a future back-end arm, but is there a more realistic chance at a better outcome than we’re giving credit for?
Seabold was first drafted by the Orioles out of high school, but he declined to sign, instead going to play college ball at Cal State-Fullerton. After a strong career there he had bumped his stock enough to be a third round pick in 2017, when he was selected by the Phillies. It was clear they viewed him as an advanced arm, as he made his full-season debut up at High-A the year after he was drafted, and after a strong half-season at that level he was promoted up to Double-A. He got hit around a little bit there, but he was still up at Double-A just a year after being drafted.
The following season was one in which there were hopes he’d re-enter the fast track and show that he was indeed a future big leaguer. Unfortunately, injuries derailed the start of the year as an oblique issue kept him out until late June. He’d eventually make seven starts in Double-A during that 2019 season, and while the sample was small the performance was still big.
That led to him getting the invite to the Phillies Alternate Site workouts in 2020, and he continued to look solid there. Still, amid all of the performances that made it look like he was going to be a good pitcher, the hype never really built. He was looked at as a potentially solid back-end arm, but not a whole lot else. The Red Sox still were happy to take him, along with Nick Pivetta, last summer in the trade that sent Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree to the Phillies.
Right now, that deal is mostly known for blowing up in Philly’s face, with the two former Red Sox relievers imploding as the Phillies’ historically bad bullpen basically single-handedly kept them out of postseason play. For Boston, however, that part doesn’t really matter. They got what they got and how they do in the deal doesn’t have anything to do with the performances of the players they traded away after the deal was done.
And right now, it looks like Seabold could be the kind of player that makes that trade a clear win for the Red Sox. The righty’s stuff was always seen as fine, but nothing special. To be fair, he’s still not going to be Jacob deGrom or anything like that out there, but some things have ticked up over the last year. For one thing, his fastball is coming in a little harder, getting up to 95 at times and sitting closer to 93 than 90.
More important than the fastball is the changeup, which has the potential to be a really special pitch. It’s also something that made some around the game feel as though he was an underrated prospect, even by his own (former) club. Seabold, as mentioned, didn’t get to pitch a ton in 2019, but he was tinkering with a new grip on his changeup. It’s the grip he is currently using, and it makes it by far his best out pitch. The changeup has the potential to work against righties and lefties and drops right off the table at the end of its path to the zone.
That changeup alone has the potential to up the ceiling to a potential mid-rotation arm. If you need a modern example of how a good changeup can transform a pitcher, look no further than teammate Eduardo Rodriguez. But for Seabold, the thing that would really make him a clear mid-rotation candidate would be a third pitch. The fastball is solid, the changeup is potentially great, and the command and feel for everything is very encouraging. To this point, however, he’s never really been able to develop anything beyond a fringy breaking ball. He’s thrown both sliders and curveballs, and while he makes them work better than maybe they should thanks to his overall feel for pitching, they aren’t real out pitches.
Although Seabold has thrown the slider a bit more over the course of his career, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them try to push his curveball a bit more in 2021. They did so a bit at the end of last summer, and as an organization they’ve tended to emphasize curveballs a bit more often, most notably with guys like Workman and Matt Barnes but also with someone like Nathan Eovaldi. Obviously the pitch has to be good first, but if there are signs of life I’d look for them to try and get the most out of that.
In terms of ceiling, Seabold isn’t ever going to look like an ace-like pitcher. The stuff just isn’t at that level. But the Red Sox are hoping for something more than the back-end arm he’s generally been projected to be over his career. He certainly has a changeup that can play above that level, and his fastball is getting to that point as well. Those two offerings combined with his pitchability could be enough to get him there on his own if everything breaks perfectly, but the real key to look for this season is hopefully some development of a better breaking ball. That will start in Worcester, but we should be seeing it in action in Boston as well, and perhaps not before too long.