Emmet Sheehan is opening a lot of eyes in his first full professional season. Selected in the sixth round of last year’s draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, the 22-year-old right-hander has been nothing short of dominant. Pitching for the High-A Great Lakes Loons, Sheehan has a 2.72 ERA and a 2.27 FIP to go with 93 strikeouts and just 39 hits allowed in 59.2 innings.
Recent outings have added helium to his prospect profile. Over his last three starts, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Boston College product has fanned 26 batters in 16 innings, surrendering only one earned run. On a pitching staff that includes several high-ceiling arms, Sheehan, in the opinion of multiple people I spoke to when the Loons played in Lansing last week, is the most promising of the bunch.
Sheehan discussed his overpowering repertoire, including what he’s learned about it since joining the Dodgers’ system, prior to his last start.
David Laurila: I’ve read that your fastball gets good ride. Is that accurate?
Emmet Sheehan: “Yes, and I actually didn’t know why it plays well up in the zone until I got drafted by the Dodgers. They told me about low-slot ride and how I kind of throw from a weird release height. I’m a little lower but still get on top of the ball, which makes it play almost like it has a couple more inches of break. That’s the way they described it to me.”
Laurila: Did you work up in the zone at Boston College?
Sheehan: “I did. That was where I kind of got my strikeouts my junior year, but I mostly just threw it up there because I assumed a high fastball was a good pitch. I didn’t know specifically why it was better up there than it is for a lot of guys. After the season is when I first learned about vertical approach angle. We used a Rapsodo at school, so I knew the vertical break numbers — I knew that 20 inches on a fastball was good, and that 13 might not be so good — but that was about it.”
Laurila: How much spin do you get on your four-seamer?
Sheehan: “It doesn’t spin that high. In college it was like 2,100–2,200 [rpm], and now it’s around 2,300–2,400.”
Laurila: Is the increase mostly from better spin efficiency?
Sheehan: “That could be part of it, but the balls might be a little different, too. I’m also throwing harder, and I’m sure that’s helped a lot. I would get it up to 95–96 [mph] every once in a while at school, but for the most part I was 91–92. Going from that to 95–98 and touching 99 — I haven’t hit 100 yet — is going to help my spin rate.”
Laurila: What about the increased velocity? Is it mostly a matter of getting stronger?
Sheehan: “That’s definitely part of it. When I came to the Dodgers last year they had me on a prep-routine program, doing all this extra stuff I hadn’t really heard about. I think the mobility/stability aspect of it has been huge for me. It’s also knowing that I’m not going to be a guy who ramps up, gets a little more over the top, and gets a little more behind it. For me, the smoother I can go down the mound, the better it’s going to come out.”
Laurila: A smooth delivery from a lower arm slot is how your stuff plays best.
Sheehan: “Yes. It feels really comfortable for me to throw from the lower slot, and it would probably feel even more comfortable to throw sidearm. But the ability to get ride from my slot is what makes my fastball play, so that’s where I want to be.”
Laurila: Your changeup is reportedly plus-plus. How does it play?
Sheehan: “It runs a little bit more than my fastball. My fastball has been getting more arm-side run this year — it’s running about 12–13 inches — just from me going to a lower slot. My changeup…”
Laurila: Before you get to your changeup, elaborate on your fastball movement. We talked earlier about it getting good ride.
Sheehan: “So it’s kind of ride-run. Last year I was a little more over the top, and I was probably 18–19 vert and maybe 9–10 horizontal. This year it’s more like 17–18 vert and 12–13 horizontal. I think that’s good, because it lets me throw the ball up and in to righties. It almost runs off the plate and up-and-over their barrel.”
Laurila: Was changing the movement profile intentional, or did it mostly just happen?
Sheehan: “It kind of just happened. The first game I really committed to the lower slot was here in Lansing, and my release dropped to maybe 5–1. I was running more balls than I rode, so I was almost throwing two-seamers even though I was gripping a four-seam. Now I’ve been able to manipulate it a little bit. I can have some running at about 18 and some riding at maybe 20.”
Laurila: And why did you lower your arm slot?
Sheehan: “Mechanically, we realized there were a lot of things I was doing differently from last year, where I was getting a little less athletic in my delivery. I was kind of climbing; my arm was climbing while I was trying to rotate. I don’t know why, but that’s kind of what it was going back to, naturally. Growing up, all of my coaches told me, ‘North, south, stay in line with home plate.’ Now I’m committed to that low slot and just slinging it from where I’ve felt comfortable my whole life. No coach had ever told me that’s a good thing.”
Laurila: Let’s get back to the movement profile of your changeup.
Sheehan: “Sure. That’s another one that, as I’ve dropped the slot, has gotten more horizontal with a little less vert. This year it’s been around 18–19 arm-side and the vertical break is anywhere from three to six. It’s probably about 12–13 inches off my fastball, which is where I want it.”
Laurila: What about the velocity?
Sheehan: “It’s been 80 to 84 this year, so it’s as much as 15–16 mph off my fastball. I like the velocity separation, because now I have a harder slider to kind of fill in that gap. In the early part of the season it was harder to do that, because my changeup was 80–84 and my slider was 81–85. They played at the same speed, so hitters didn’t have to cover that timing difference. Now I have a slider that’s 87–90, which bridges that gap between my fastball and my changeup and makes them cover that middle ground.”
Laurila: How did you increase the velocity on your slider?
Sheehan: “I’ve been trying to do that forever, and it never made sense to me. Whenever I would try to throw a slider hard, it would just go dead straight. The first day River Ryan was here, I played catch with him and his slider was really hard, really sharp. I was like, ‘That’s nasty.’ He showed me the grip and I’ve basically been throwing it the exact same way he’s thrown it. It worked immediately. It just clicked.”
Laurila: What is the grip?
Sheehan: “It’s a hook over the seam. I don’t know if he wants me to share it, but he grips it pretty hard.”
Laurila: What about the movement profile?
Sheehan: ”It’s more bullet spin, so it’s more short and sharp. It’s almost a little cutter-y sometimes, but as long as it’s hard and turning left I have no problems with the shape.”
Laurila: You’re a three-pitch pitcher.
Sheehan: “I actually have a curveball, too. How often I throw it depends on how everything else is feeling that day, but it’s also becoming a really good early-in-the-count pitch to show hitters. It’s 76–79 and averages around -12 or 13, so it’s about 30 inches off my fastball.”
Laurila: Any final thoughts?
Sheehan: “If there’s one thing I had to say about my career, it’s that I was never the guy who was the best on my team or that was the highest-recruited. And really, a lot of the things that made me bad in coaches’ eyes — throwing high fastballs, missing up — is kind of what makes me good. I just need to stick with it.”