We talk about it frequently – especially the last couple years, now that the Cubs are actually having so many pitching prospect debuts! – but there are two threshold issues I’m considering when a pitcher makes his big league debut. They aren’t only things necessary for success in the big leagues, but they are the two things that you pretty much have to clear first if you are going to have success thereafter: (1) are you able to stay in yourself and not be overcome by the largeness of the moment, and (2) do you have at least two big league caliber pitches?
Big check and bigger check last night for Chicago Cubs relief prospect Jeremiah Estrada, who threw a scoreless inning in Toronto, striking out two, and walking one.
You could have forgiven the 23-year-old righty for being a little nervous in his big league debut. After all, Estrada had thrown 40.0 TOTAL PROFESSIONAL INNINGS before this 2022 season, the highest coming at Low-A. That means he has already surpassed his career innings mark this season, as he flew up from High-A to Double-A to Triple-A and to MLB, all in a single year.
But if Estrada was feeling the pressure of the moment, he sure didn’t show it. He just stayed steady and made his pitches. I counted maybe 2 of his 17 pitches being overthrown. That’s nothing. That’s what you want to see in a debut, even setting aside the results (which were good!).
Ah, but what about the pitches? Well, let’s start with the slider, which he didn’t command last night, but absolutely has the movement of a plus pitch:
I saw enough of it last night to confirm the minor league reports: the slider plays. It’s big league caliber, even if it’ll need location to be plus. Check that box.
But the fastball. That fastball. Woke up thinking about it. I’m still thinking about it.
I’m not sure I’ve been as immediately impressed by the raw quality of a single pitch since we first saw Dillon Maples’ slider. Jeremiah Estrada has a very, very special fastball.
First of all just watch the pitch, whether you saw it last night or not, and take note of how … wrong it looks. Something just seems not quite right about how the fastball moves. More specifically, how it doesn’t seem to drop AT ALL:
The trick of what your eyes are seeing is the extreme “ride” or “carry” on Estrada’s fastball. Pitches drop, thanks to the effects of gravity, but some pitches drop more or less than your brain tells you they should thanks to the spin (rate, direction, and efficiency). Estrada’s fastball, which obviously has premium velocity, too, has some of the best ride I’ve ever seen.
And the numbers back up the confusion of our eyes:
Take all that together, and, in terms of pure carry, Estrada might have the most-carrying fastball in baseball. Full stop. And combined with the velocity? If he were able to locate it consistently? I’m gonna stop myself right there, because I start thinking things about just how good he might be, and it’s too early for that.
What’s fascinating is that Estrada’s raw spin rate on the fastball is not elite. It’s very good! But not elite. That active spin number, though – the efficiency of how he’s USING his fastball’s spin to contribute to movement – is fantastic when combined with the spin and the velocity. There’s undoubtedly more to it, and we’ll hopefully get a lot more data to study this year, but the short version is that Estrada is doing something truly special with his fastball’s velocity and spin.
Estrada checked the boxes you’d want a young pitcher to check in his debut. But he wound up doing so much more than that, as he showed off one of the most impressive fastballs I’ve ever seen.