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June 6, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Scouting Scratch: Jalen Beeks

Following Tuesday night’s win, Red Sox manager Alex Cora announced that left-hander Jalen Beeks, the number five prospect in the most recent SoxProspects rankings, will make his major league debut Thursday against the Detroit Tigers. After being selected in the 12th round of the 2014 draft out of the University of Arkansas, Beeks has made a steady rise through the system, putting together solid performances at every level while tweaking his mechanics and arsenal along the way. This year, Beeks has been especially dominant in Triple-A Pawtucket, striking out 35.4% of hitters while cutting his walk rate down to 6.2%. Last year, he had set a career-high strikeout rate of 28.7% in Double-A Portland before earning a midseason promotion to Pawtucket, where he struck out 24.1% of hitters. During that time with the PawSox, he had what had been his lowest walk rate since 2016 at 8.2%.

Beeks is undersized for a starting pitcher, part of the reason why many people suspected he would end up in the bullpen long-term, an outcome that is still a possibility, although less so than coming into the year. He has a strong lower half and has filled out his 5-foot-11, 195-pound frame with no remaining projection.

Since he entered the organization, Beeks’ delivery has drastically improved. Even though there is still effort, he does a good job repeating it over the duration of his outings. He starts on the first base side of the rubber with his feet facing the first base dugout. He doesn’t use a windup and comes set with his hands low down by his belt. After his hands break he has a stab behind, but does a good job hiding the ball behind his body until very late. Beeks gets added deception from his front side when he extends his front leg during his leg kick. Beeks has a quick arm, and from the stretch he will vary his times to the plate, sometimes utilizing a slide step while other times using a leg kick of varying heights.

Beeks showed a four-pitch mix during his second-to-last start against Lehigh Valley. Pitching in game two of a doubleheader, Beeks threw six innings, allowing four hits--two of which were home runs--and four runs overall while striking out eight and walking four. He threw 98 pitches, 60 strikes. This was one of Beeks’ poorer outings of the year, as he struggled with his command and even had his control abandon him at times.

Beeks’ fastball sat 90-92 mph, topping out at 93 mph with life. The pitch jumped on hitters and elicited numerous swinging strikes from both right- and left-handed hitters. In past years, Beeks has touched as high as 95 mph and that velocity has tailed off as the game went on, but in this start he held it well and was still touching 92-93 mph in his final innings. Generally, Beeks does a good job controlling the pitch, but his command of the offering lags behind. That was most evident in his second inning of work of the outing scouted, when he left a 90-mph fastball right over the middle and up in the zone to a right-handed hitter who promptly drove the ball out to left field. Overall, the pitch projects as an above-average potential offering, but his command will have to be on against major league pitchers who will make him pay more than Triple-A hitters have against missed locations.

The key to Beeks’ increased strikeout rate has been the development of his cutter, which gives him a secondary pitch that grades out better than average. That was on display in this outing, as Beeks was struggling with feel for both his curveball and changeup, so he turned to his cutter as his primary secondary pitch and even pitched backwards, using it as his primary offering for part of the game. He threw the pitch 87-90 mph and it showed sharp, short, horizontal break. The pitch records very high spin rates and Beeks was able to use it effectively against both right and left-handed hitters, something that will serve him well at the major league level. He recorded three of his strikeouts with the pitch and more than half of his swinging strikes with it.

In past looks, both Beeks’ changeup and curveball have looked like average potential offerings at least, but in this outing they played below that. He threw his curveball 74-77 mph, primarily using it to steal a strike early in the count. The pitch showed long, two-plane break and was more horizontal than vertical. He didn’t get any swinging strikes with it and struggled to keep it in the zone. In the past, the pitch has shown better, looking like a quality third offering, and Beeks has struggled when he hasn’t had the pitch working. The pitch will still flash average potential and it will be key for him going forward to stick in the starting rotation at the major league level, as he needs a third pitch to compliment his fastball and cutter, and to change the eye level of the hitters.

Beeks will also show a changeup, but he threw it even more sparingly than his curveball in this outing at 83-84 mph. He throws the pitch with deceptive arm speed, but it has shown more movement in past years. At its best, the pitch will show above-average potential, with Beeks showing the ability to pull the string on it down and out of the zone.

With Drew Pomeranz on the disabled list and struggling, it remains to be seen whether this is a one-time spot start for Beeks or an audition for a longer-term role in the Red Sox rotation. Beeks has made major strides this year, but still has some developing to do, especially improving his command and consistency from outing to outing. Beeks has done a good job working deep into games, going at least six innings in five of his last six starts, but along with that his home runs allowed have also increased. This year, his home run-to-fly ball rate is 13.7%, a career high, and that is something that will need to be monitored at the major league level. When on, Beeks will show four average-to-better pitches and the makings of a back-end starter arsenal. He has shown the ability to miss bats at a high level in the minors, but it remains to be seen how it will translate to the major league level. Long-term, Beeks has a much better chance to start now than past years and given the struggles the Red Sox have had both developing pitchers and with injuries, he currently represents their best chance for a current minor leaguer to break into the big league rotation for the foreseeable future. 

Photo credit: Jalen Beeks by Kelly O'Connor

Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.