Last season, I worked on a series ‘Farmhand Crop’ articles to look at some deeper names that might be available in your dynasty or keeper league this season via supplemental or first-year player drafts. This season, I’m starting even earlier on the Farmhand Crop!
My first look is at Mississippi State starting pitcher Ethan Small.
Bio: Small is a 6’3″, 190 lbs. lefty originally from Lexington, TN. Small just turned 22 and is a redshirt Junior. He was actually selected by the Diamondbacks in the 26th round in 2018’s Rule 4 draft but decided to return to school to lead the Bulldogs pitching staff this season. Our own Alex Jensen has put a solid 2nd round grade on Small for this June’s draft.
2018: His 2018 season was fantastic: he started 18 games for Mississippi State, posting 11 QS and striking out 122 batters in 101.1 innings.
2019: His 2019 performance has been even better than his 2018 performance. He’s posted a 2.00 ERA in 3 starts, scattering 11 hits and walking 0 batters over 18 innings. He’s also struck out an eye-popping 44% of the batters that he’s faced this season.
Arsenal: Small relies on a three-pitch mix.
His fastball appears to be a high spin rate offering that he locates well and is comfortable working up in the zone with to generate swings-and-misses. While reports have him sitting in the upper 80s/low 90s, in the full start I watched he sat 92+ with the fastball and was routinely able to dial it up into the 94-95 range. I grade his fastball as a fringe-plus offering at present.
His changeup is a straight change that comes in around 75-77 mph. He throws it with the same arm speed and arm action as the fastball. It’s a true out-pitch for Small, with great vertical drop and minimal horizontal fade. It’s easily a plus pitch at present.
Small is working on his curveball. He throws it between 80-82 mph, but the pitch lacks depth. It’s more of a slurvy motion and Small can have difficulty locating the pitch. I’d grade it as a 40 offering at present, with potential for improvement.
Small’s control is excellent. He hasn’t walked a batter yet this season and can consistently pound the zone with his fastball and also throw his changeup for strikes. His command is also very strong (I’d call it fringe plus at present). He can work the fastball on the black to both the arm side and the glove side. He can also elevate the four-seamer with good spin and challenge hitters up in the zone. He’s also comfortable throwing the changeup for strikes and ‘working backward’ by starting the batter with a couple of off-speed offerings and then going to the high four-seamer for an out pitch.
Finally, Small is deceptive. He hides the ball well to both RH and LH with an unorthodox delivery. His extension is good. And he will do small things to mess with a hitter’s timing, like ‘quick pitching’ or letting his lead leg hang for an extra second before his delivery on occasion. The total package means he’s really overwhelming college bats at this point in his career.
I watched and charted Ethan Small’s full start against Southern Miss on February 22. It was his second start of the season. Here’s an initial view of his delivery to give you an idea of his deception:
Small came out of the gate pounding the fastball to good results: P5, strikeout looking, strikeout swinging.
Small starts fastball-heavy again, and punches out the leadoff batter by painting a fastball at 92 mph on the inside black to a left-hander:
Then he climbs the ladder at 96 mph (letting the leg hang an extra half beat) to punch out the next batter swinging:
He plunked the next batter but then got out of the inning with another strikeout.
The first batter of the inning is also the first victim of Ethan Small’s plus change-up:
I felt bad for the second batter of the inning. After pounding the fastball up to this point, Small decides to mess with the kid and pitch backward, sequencing two of his plus changeups with a high-spin fastball up in the zone:
He ended the 3rd by breaking out the sawzall on a left-handed batter.
Small cruised through the 4th inning, reaching back and finding a 95 mph fastball.
He started the 5th by toying with 2 more batters, adding 2 more strikeouts to his total:
In the middle of the at-bat to the third batter he faced in the inning, Small broke off a delicious changeup that was somehow called a ball despite catching the entirety of the plate. Just a pitch with great depth and finishing away from the LH-batter, looking nearly unhittable. He struck the kid out anyway.
Small continued to dominate thru the sixth inning, still finding 93-94 mph with the fastball when needed.
He really demonstrated his “pitchability” when facing the second batter of the inning. With an 0-1 count, Small hangs up his leg to mess with the hitter’s timing and reaches back for just a little extra velocity, changing speeds on the fastball by 4 mph between the 2 pitches in sequence. It’s a seemingly small thing in the middle of an at-bat, but it was one of my favorite moments in a dominant outing:
A little infield single that was hit to the 2B who had shifted to short outfield depth was the only blemish on Small’s final inning of the outing.
Small displayed a lot of the skills that will make him a viable second-round draft pick this summer. He used his high spin rate fastball along with his plus change-up in good sequence. He located the fastball well. He was able to play around with speed and timing on the fastball. He was able to throw the changeup for strikes and pitch backward to keep the hitters off balance. And he wraps it all up with a nice baseball IQ and funky left-handed delivery.
Last summer, the White Sox drafted Small’s former MSU teammate Konnor Pilkington in the 3rd round. It’s an interesting comp, as both are advanced college left-handed pitchers who pitched for the same program. I like Small better than what I’ve seen from Pilkington thus far. I think Small winds up as a 2nd-round pick, with a high floor and SP4 upside.
Video for GIFs courtesy of SEC Network.