Before Spencer Strider became a household name and one of the favorites (along with teammate Michael Harris) to win the 2022 National League Rookie of the Year award, he was busy making short work of the entire minor league system while paving the way as a shining example of Atlanta’s savvy scouting and consistent pitching development pipeline.
Strider didn’t come out of nowhere. He was a top-200 prospect out of high school in the 2017 draft class and boasted arm strength and a big fastball.
But he did fly under the radar as a college prospect in 2020, in part because of a Tommy John surgery that eliminated his 2019 season with Clemson and in part because of the Covid pandemic that wiped out most of 2020 as well—leaving Strider with just 63 total innings under his belt in college and unranked on our 2020 draft rankings.
The Braves never doubted his talent and signed him for $449,300 in the fourth round. The team planned to develop Strider as a starter and consistently maintained its belief in him succeeding in that role despite questions about a legitimate third pitch.
During the shortened 2020 season with Clemson, Strider threw his fastball/slider combination around 95% of the time and there were questions about his changeup. Instead of having Strider focus on developing that changeup or an infrequently used curveball, the Braves took the opposite approach. The team had him shelve his third and fourth pitches and instead focus on throwing a plus-plus fastball with great carry up in the zone, and pair his best secondary—a vertical slider—down in the zone.
He used that pitch mix to blitz through the minor leagues and went from Low-A Augusta to Triple-A Gwinnett in a single 2021 season—his first as a professional—and made his big league debut in a pair of appearances as a reliever. That shot him up to the No. 5 prospect on our 2022 Braves Top 30 list, but there was still skepticism that Strider’s two-pitch mix would allow him to start as a big leaguer.
Here is the final line of our scouting report at the time: “The Braves view Strider as a starter, although his two-pitch mix makes him a likely reliever in external evaluators’ eyes. He will begin 2022 in Triple-A Gwinnett’s rotation.”
Two things were wrong there. 1) Strider actually started with the big league team and remained there all season and 2) Strider was a terrific starter while continuing to pitch almost entirely off of two pitches.
Using FanGraphs pitch data, Strider either used…