Sean Sullivan: Fastball Command Sets Up Approach

Sometimes there can be a misconception about college picks taken in the latter parts of the first 10 rounds of the draft. Especially in situations like the Pirates were in — trying to sign so many high upside prep players, and needing to save some draft money elsewhere.

When Pittsburgh drafted Sean Sullivan out of California in the eighth round in 2021, they may have gotten more than just bonus savings.

The Pirates were able to sign Sullivan slightly under slot, going for a reported $175,000 ($192,900 slot). Seeing as he was ranked 139th on Baseball America’s draft rankings, there was a lot of value in that pick.

Most outlets view Sullivan as a potential back of the rotation starter, as he offers four at least average pitches and good command on his fastball.

We’ve seen a lot of that control early on this season, as his walk rate is currently at just 6%, while striking out 29% of the batters he’s faced. Sullivan relies on his fastball command to set up the rest of his pitches, including his slider that has also looked good in the early stages of the season.

The slider has been a pitch he as been able to use to generate a lot of weak contact, as well as get some swinging strikes.

By painting the outer corner on righties with his fastball, it sets up the slider away, getting the hitters way out in front and hitting the ball weakly into the ground. For only having about 11 innings of video on Sullivan, this seemed to be a repeating theme.

The fastball command also works against lefties, but he also incorporates the changeup to go along with it. Here is a video of Sullivan against left-handers (plus one pitcher against a righty that shows him spotting the fastball at the knees), utilizing the fastball on both sides of the plate and then some change-ups sprinkled in.

You can see some of the tail on his fastball, using it to throw at the hitter’s hip and having it break on the inner corner of the strike zone. The off-speed is pretty good too, being able to throw it for strikes and as a put-away pitch.

The fastball-changeup combination has allowed Sullivan to have more success against lefties than he has against right handed batters. Lefties are hitting just .230 against Sullivan, and has a 12.81 K/9 mark. Righties, on the other hand, average .277 against Sullivan, while posting a 9.5 K/9.

Sullivan has allowed 12 home runs, eight at home, as he’s another player who has suffered while playing at First National Bank Field. The road numbers aren’t anything to write home about right now (4.42 ERA, .264 average against), but he is doing a far greater job at keeping the ball on the ground away from Greensboro.

The video above is one of my favorite sequences for Sullivan this season. He has runners on first and third, with one out and gets a couple of strikeouts to end the inning. He starts both at-bats with a slider and then changeup, and perfectly sequences through his pitches to get the swing and miss strikeouts on both hitters.

There’s a lot to like about the 21-year-old righty, even if at first glance he seems like your prototypical college arm. He’s actually fairly young for being a college draft pick, being a little more than two years younger than the other pitchers in High-A.

We may have to wait till he gets out of the South Atlantic League to see if the home runs are an issue, but Sullivan  has the control and pitch-mix to continually move up the ladder.

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Bucs'N'Pucks (Jeff Reed)

Let the Sullivan hype begin


I was very impressed by him tonight. Lots of strikes and works fast.

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