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One Big Question: Can Connor Seabold recover some of his lost stuff?

Specifically with respect to his fastball velocity.

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Scottsdale Scorpions v. Glendale Desert Dogs
Connor Seabold in the Arizona Fall League
Photo by Norm Hall/MLB Photos via Getty Images

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 Boston Red Sox 40-man roster and identifying a key question for them pertaining to the coming season. 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, at least as things are scheduled right now. Obviously, the lockout may change the timing of the season, and it also means we will likely see more additions of new faces. If need be, we will add some weekend posts to fit any and all additions to the 40-man before Opening Day. You can catch up with every post by following this link. With that, today we cover Connor Seabold.

The Question: Can Connor Seabold get some of his pre-injury velocity back?

One of the big, and valid, critiques of the Red Sox organization during these extremely successful last two decades has been their general inability to develop viable pitches who can contribute at the highest level. There are a lot of different reasons for it, some worthy of criticism and others not as much, but they’ve more often than not had to supplement their rotation depth with low-priced veterans due to an inability to develop those options internally. That tide does seem to be changing, and this year there are three or four (depending on where you think Brayan Bello’s timeline is) minor-league pitchers who figure into the rotation depth for 2022. While he’s not the highest ranked among them, Connor Seabold could be at the top of that depth chart to start the season.

The right-handed pitching prospect was originally acquired by the Red Sox in the summer of 2020 when Chaim Bloom managed to grab both him and Nick Pivetta for Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree, a steal of a trade even at this early juncture. At the time, it was Seabold who was considered the bigger piece in that return for Boston, with the righty showing the potential to be a legitimate fourth starter in the majors, and in short order at that.

Unfortunately, injuries have been one of the big unfortunate themes in his career, and it came back into play last season when the righty had the start of his 2021 delayed due to an elbow issue. Seabold would end up coming back in early summer, but the stuff never quite looked the same and the performance was more fine than anything else. Over 11 starts in Triple-A Worcester, he had a solid 3.50 ERA but a more mediocre 4.27 FIP.

More concerning than the numbers, which came over a relatively small sample and in a home park that skewed way towards the offense, was that the stuff didn’t really look quite like it did before his injury. At the time of the trade, Seabold was getting his velocity up into the mid-90s and was able to comfortably sit in 91-94 range. Last season, he wasn’t able to reach either of those marks. His average velocity was down about two miles per hour on both ends of the range, while he was topping out more around 93 when he was looking for a little extra. As a result, he was being squared up more often, particularly with balls being hit in the air, and he also just wasn’t missing bats at a high enough rate.

It goes without saying that it is hard to compete in today’s league, especially as a righty, without high velocity unless you have pinpoint command, which Seabold did not last season. In this era of hitters who are focused more than ever on launch angle, being able to zip heat by opponents at the top of the zone is a must. Getting up to 95 mph when he needed it was plenty for Seabold to accomplish that. When he’s sitting in the low-90s, major-league hitters aren’t really going to have trouble either laying off pitches above the zone or punishing those that stay in the zone.

Connor Seabold, 2020
Kelly O’Connor

But perhaps even more important than the effect the lower velocity has on his fastball is what it means for his changeup. This is the key pitch in Seabold’s arsenal, which at times can look like a plus offering but one that still needs more consistency. Of course, a big part of the success for changeups is creating a velocity gap between that and the fastball, and that was particularly big for Seabold. As Baseball America notes in its write-up of the righty, when the velocity difference is too small it becomes too easy for hitters to get a bat on the ball, either to spoil a borderline pitch or put it into play.

At this point, Seabold’s ceiling is lower than what we thought when he first came to the organization, but there is still a major-league starter if things break right in the coming year. If his stuff is still ticked down this year like it was in 2021, it’s probably time to either see if maybe he can find a different level in shorter stints, or be resigned to him as mostly a sixth starter. But with an offseason of full health to get ready for the season, if the stuff comes back early in the season then there should be renewed hope that he can at least be a fifth starter at some point in the near future, either with the Red Sox or for another team after being used as a midseason trade chip.