When Yankees pitching prospect Ken Waldichuk made his first start for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on May 22, the 24-year-old lefthander understood that adjustments to his approach inevitably would be required.
But aside from the anticipated tweaks, the No. 5 prospect — and top-ranked pitching prospect in the organization, according to mlb.com — noted the greatest alteration to his game following his promotion from Double-A Somerset.
“I’d say the biggest difference has been the amount of planning that goes into every start,” Waldichuk, a fifth-round pick in the 2019 Draft out of Saint Mary’s College of California, told Newsday. “Just reading swings and approaches, and adjustments that hitters are making on the other end as well, compared to what was happening at Double-A.”
Approximately how much added preparation?
“You could probably say twice as much,” Waldichuk said. “Just looking at analytics and also reading swings and seeing what stuff I throw plays well against them.”
After allowing one run and striking out seven in 4 1/3 innings in a no-decision against Buffalo on Wednesday night, Waldichuk (2-2) has a 2.62 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in seven starts. He has surrendered 16 walks and two home runs in 34 1/3 innings, striking out 49.
At 6-4, 220 pounds, Waldichuk features an array of pitches, including a fastball ranging from 93-95 mph that has reached 98. He also throws a sweeping slider, changeup and curveball that sits from the high 70s up to 80 mph.
That arsenal has enabled Waldichuk to continue striking out batters at a high rate for Scranton.
“I think the strikeouts are just from being in the zone more with my off-speed and fastball,” Waldichuk said. “And seeing ticks up in movement and velocity in almost everything.”
Scranton pitching coach Graham Johnson said emphasis on a consistent mindset also has been a major focal point for Waldichuk.
“The big thing is just his confidence and ability to attack the zone with his best stuff early in the count,” Johnson said. “There have been some adjustments with pitches, but that’s been the primary focus.”
Johnson adamantly believes that Waldichuk has the potential to excel at the major-league level.
“I think Ken has top-of-the-rotation type of stuff,” Johnson said. “When you look at him throwing from the left side, his body, he’s got quality pitch shapes, multiple weapons, can expand the zone and can attack in zone and get swing and misses and weak contact.
“I never try to predict somebody’s future, but I definitely think he has that type of potential to be in a rotation and stick.”