Sean Hjelle | RHP
Hjelle, 21 as of a few weeks ago, was born and raised in Minnesota. He was undrafted out of high school, and headed to the University of Kentucky to ply his craft. He has done quite well for himself as a Wildcat, winning the SEC Pitcher of the Year for the 2017 season, and earning preseason All-American status from most every publication heading into this season. He’s currently a junior.
Whether or not you clicked the video above, it’s worth repeating the simple fact that Hjelle is a veritable giant, checking in at 6’11”. If he does reach the majors, that would make him the tallest player in the history of the league, alongside Jon Rauch. He’s also something of a beanpole, tipping the scales at between 215 and 225 pounds, depending upon the source. And that represents a fair amount of weight gain from his high school days, when he was a svelte 190.
Despite his build, Hjelle is not an overpowering pitcher – at least in terms of velocity. His fastball sits in the low-90s, peaking around 97 MPH; it does have a bit of run to it, though, and his height and release point help it play up despite its modest heat. And, given his height and potential to add good weight, there’s some room for projection. Hjelle’s best pitch is a knee-buckling knuckle-curve in the low-80s, which is a true swing-and-miss offering when he’s on top of it, and his change-up has flashed above-average in spurts. He also throws a slider, but it’s clearly his fourth pitch at this point in time.
The primary selling point here is his command. Hjelle has garnered praise for his ability to locate all of his pitches, and that is largely attributed to his clean, repeatable delivery – and that’s not a statement that is often made about pitchers of such great heights.
Hjelle is largely viewed as a late first-round or early second-round pick. His ranks on draft boards include:
- 24th, as per Keith Law (subscription required)
- 30th, as per Baseball America (subscription required)
- 44th, as per MLB.com
- 54th, as per FanGraphs
The Yankees have the 23rd and 61st picks, so he could potentially be in-play with both selections. The Yankees aren’t the only team that’s in love with tall, projectable pitchers, though, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he was taken a bit earlier than those rankings would suggest, and I’d be downright shocked if he was available when they came up a second time.