clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

I’m excited about Alex Clemmey, and you should be too

A deep dive on Cleveland’s second round pick

Syndication: Akron Beacon Journal Eric Rueb/The Providence Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Before I say anything else I want to clarify something. This is a puff piece. I’m here to hype you up about a player, outside of this paragraph there will be minimal “pump the brakes” type thinking. At the end of the day, ceiling or no, this is a still high school pitching prospect. Alex Clemmey didn’t even turn 18 until after the draft and all but certainly won’t appear in a pro game until next year. It’s almost not even worth having a conversation about guys this young, even one taken in the second round. It’s probably best to just say “hey, the Guardians must see something they like” and then check back in 3 years.

That would certainly be the responsible thing to do, but we’re going to be a bit reckless here. Simply put, Clemmey may have the highest ceiling of any pitcher I’ve ever seen in the Guardians system not named Daniel Espino. Instead of deep diving into the flaws and reasons for skepticism, let’s take a minute to get excited about the ceiling here, because darn it we’ve had a rough season and sometimes we just need to find things to be excited about.

Picture this if you will. It’s June of 2027, the super-two deadline has just passed. Twitter and the CTC game threads are absolutely incensed after reading Mandy Bell’s interview with Guardians assistant GM James Harris about why Clemmey hasn’t been called up yet despite his 1.40 ERA and 105 strikeouts in 75 AAA innings.

Harris’ answer is something to the effect of “Alex is progressing nicely but we really need to see him embrace the ‘two bunny ear’ method of tying his shoes. He’s still very much an ‘around the tree and down the bunny hole’ type of guy right now and we just think that he needs to tighten that up a bit. Especially with the pitch clock, we can’t have a guy give away at bats because he’s getting called for violations from needing to tie his shoes all the time. He’ll get there though.” He actually says something about needing to develop his pickoff move, but it might as well have been the shoe tying thing, right?

Just as the fan base is beginning to lose hope, the tweet hits

“Guardians place RHP Noah Syndergaard (he’s back?) on 10-Day IL with undisclosed injury, recall LHP Alex Clemmey from AAA Columbus. Clemmey will start tonight vs. Minnesota”

All hell breaks loose on Twitter.

Clemmey makes his big league debut going 7 innings, 5 hits, 0 runs, 9Ks.

“They can’t keep getting away with this” decry Twins fans. All is well with the world.

Now, back in the present, I’m going to walk you through why I think the most unrealistic part of that story is that Twitter will still exist in 2027.

The Guardians made Clemmey the 58th overall selection in the 2023 MLB draft and pried him away from a Vanderbilt commitment with a $2.3 million signing bonus. Clemmey, a 6’6” lefty from Rhode Island, features a 93-94 Mph fastball that tops out at 98, a solid slurvy breaking ball at 80 mph, and a mid 80’s changeup that is certainly underdeveloped compared to his other offerings. On the surface this looks like a fairly standard report about an exciting high school arm that needs to develop a third pitch. However, when you look at the underlying numbers, Clemmey is anything but standard.

The secret lies in his Spin Rates. Clemmey spins the ball at an elite level. There’s showcase data from his junior year putting his avg fastball spin at ~2450 RPM (he’s gained 2-3 mph on his fastball since then). At this years Perfect Game All American Challenge he put up spin rates that peaked at 2707 RPM. These are ELITE numbers. For comparison, the league leader in avg. fastball spin for starting pitchers is Bryce Miller at 2600 RPM.

The fact that Clemmey is capable of rates at or above 2700 is absurd especially when you consider

  1. He just turned 18 in July
  2. He played HS Baseball in Rhode Island and is still incredibly raw

Couple that with the Guardians renowned pitching development staff and it’s not crazy to think that by the end of 2027 Clemmey’s name will start appearing at or near the top of those leaderboards.

So why is spin so important? In general, having high spin rates on your fastball is great, the spin rate leaderboards read like a who’s who of great fastballs across baseball. Of course, much more goes into a great fastball than just raw RPM’s but it’s fair to say that in a choice between more and less spin, guys are always going to choose more spin. Just think how much cutting spider tack made a difference in so many pitchers’ careers.

A study was done at the University of California, Berkley on the relationship between fastball spin, fastball velocity, and swinging strike percentage. You can view the article here, but suffice it to say that as a general rule:

More velocity = More whiffs

More spin = More whiffs

As the Guardians get a chance to work with Clemmey and refine him, it’s not at all unreasonable to think they could have him sitting somewhere 94-96 with an average spin rate around 2550 RPM. This would only be an increase from where he is today of 1 mph, and 100 RPM, so it’s safe to say that this isn’t the most aggressive projection. However, this would put his fastball in elite company.

According to that study from Berkley, a fastball at 96 with a spin rate of 2550 yielded a 13.4% swinging strike rate, as opposed to 9.6% for a fastball at the same velocity, but a 2100-2200 spin rate. 4% may not seem like a lot, but it’s a pretty substantial jump. It represents 4 more whiffs per 100 pitches, or 4 whiffs per start.

As a reminder, whiff rate and swinging strike rate are different, whiff rate calculates the percentage of swings that are misses, Swinging strike rate calculates the percentage of pitches thrown that were swung at and missed.

Ex. 50 pitches, 10 swings, 5 misses = 50% Whiff rate/10% SwStr%

Also, given that Clemmey is known as a guy who spins all of his offerings well, the Guardians will have a much easier time developing his secondary offerings, something their staff is exceptional at. Clemmey has a real shot at developing three legitimate plus to plus-plus pitches, there are even some scouts that think given the “slurvy” nature of his breaking ball that he’ll be able to develop that into 2 separate pitches with a hard slider and slower curve.

Beyond spin, Clemmey also projects to have elite extension given his lanky 6’6” frame. He already moves down the mound exceptionally well for a player his size. Clemmey utilizes the slope of the mound and explodes downhill. Just look at how well he uses the hill to his advantage with his long frame by hinging into that back leg and “riding” it all the way down the mound. There’s certainly things to clean up, but the way he’s able to utilize the slope shows an innate ability to generate a lot of extension on his pitches.

Excuse the low resolution as there are not many great mechanical breakdowns of HS pitchers out there.

PerfectGame TV
PerfectGame Tv

Extension, or how close your release point is to home plate, can dramatically increase your perceived velocity, making your fastball “feel” like it’s coming in much faster because you’re releasing the ball closer to the plate. Gavin Williams is a great example of someone who utilizes their extension effectively. Williams doesn’t have particularly high spin rates on his fastball despite his high velocity. He does, however, have 99th percentile extension putting him amongst the elite of the elite. This elite extension allows his fastball to dramatically outperform what one would expect based on his low spin rate. Williams is able to generate excellent whiff rates on his fastball because of this.

What about guys who can do both?

There’s a very short list of starters who have elite fastball spin and elite extension. Clemmey’s avg spin according to that showcase would put him around the 80th percentile in the majors. Let’s assume he’s also around 80th percentile in extension (no data available, but eye test and his size say he should extend very well)

There are only 6 starting pitchers who are 80th percentile or better in both fastball spin and extension:

  • Tyler Glasnow
  • Zack Wheeler
  • Eury Pérez
  • Michael Kopech
  • Jacob Degrom
  • Freddy Peralta

That’s a pretty elite list in terms of raw stuff. If Clemmey can realize his potential, he projects to have an elite fastball, elite extension, potential for an elite breaking ball, all from the left side. That’s a profile that it’s hard not to get excited about.

So what are the risks?

There are three things that could prevent Clemmey from realizing his potential

  1. Injuries
  2. Changeup
  3. Command

Let’s address the obvious one, injuries. The old adages “there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect” and “when you think you have enough pitching, go get more” come from how frequently pitchers get hurt as well as how high the risk is that they’re never the same post-injury. As a taller, lankier guy the common scouting stereotype is that the lanky frame will lead to more injuries.

Clemmey’s delivery avoids the major flaws that lead to arm problems. While it’s certainly true that no pitcher is immune to arm problems, there’s nothing about Clemmey’s mechanics that make me think he has extra injury risk relative to any other pitcher.

If the rotation is where Clemmey wants to be, he’ll need to develop a changeup. The current scouting report on him says that while it’s not an effective pitch yet, he does generate some natural sink and arm side run to it. This tells me that he does have at least some feel for the pitch. This is where the “pitching factory” comes into play. Given that he’s demonstrated some proficiency for spinning the changeup and generating the right movement profile, I’m confident that once the Guardians coaches get their hands on him that he’ll quickly develop his changeup into at least a solid offering.

The Guardians have already done something similar with Tanner Bibee, a guy scouted to have a fringy changeup but good feel for spinning all of his pitches. Not only did he learn to throw the pitch effectively, it’s become arguably his best pitch. I won’t go as far as to say we should expect this for Clemmey, but there’s reason for a high degree of optimism that he’ll be able to develop the pitch.

Worst case scenario he doesn’t, and he becomes a great lefty reliever (injury potential aside).

The last hurdle he’ll need to overcome is command. There’s a bit of a notion going around that the Guardians don’t develop command well, I personally don’t find that to be true. To me this represents a flawed understanding of where command comes from.

Command isn’t a skill to be learned but rather the byproduct of executing the pitching delivery efficiently and in a way that is repeatable. The pitching delivery is a complex series of motions, all designed to transfer as much energy to the back of the baseball as possible. Every part of the chain impacts the next, doing one thing out of sequence can throw the whole delivery out of whack.

Now the Guardians’ certainly aren’t taking guys who can’t throw strikes and turning them into Greg Maddux, but they’ve had a remarkable success rate in teaching guys how to move more efficiently and repeat their delivery. While the Guardians have developed and drafted pitchers with very diverse skillsets and profiles, the common thread is that they target athletic guys who move well. In doing so the guys in their system are the types that are easily molded and can make mechanical adjustments more quickly. Clemmey fits this mold as he moves exceptionally well for someone his size. While I certainly don’t expect him to be leading the league in walk rate and painting corners, I fully expect that he’ll be able to develop at least the requisite control to be effective.

The thing I love about Clemmey is that he already does so many of the hard to teach things very well. He gets good extension, he spins the ball at an elite rate, and he moves down the mound exceptionally well. Looking at his skillset it’s hard not to get excited about what he brings to the table. That rare combination of extension and spin alone gives him a sky high ceiling, given the room he has to add velo and develop his secondary stuff, we’re looking at someone with legitimate ace potential.

Is there potential that he never develops that changeup? Definitely. In the same way there’s always potential he gets hurt, or doesn’t throw enough strikes to be successful. Could he be a total bust who never pitches above AA? Of course. But when I think about the raw tools he possesses combined with how elite the Guardians organization is at refining those tools, I can easily see a world where he’s in the conversation for top pitching prospect in the game by 2025. He’s got that much potential.

Now we just need him to fix how he ties his shoes to avoid any super-2 shenanigans.