As Joey Gallo’s time with the Yankees mercifully drew to a close, most fans would have been satisfied with the proverbial bucket of baseballs as a return in a trade. The Yankees did a lot better than that when they acquired right-handed pitcher Clayton Beeter from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Mock drafts in 2020 consistently pegged Beeter as a top-two-round pick coming out of Texas Tech. The better mock drafts contain sourced information and are not purely speculation, and some of the mocks in Beeter’s draft year connected him to the Yankees in the first round, where they eventually took Austin Wells with the 28th pick. Although the Yankees ultimately passed on Beeter in the first round, and watched him go to the Dodgers with the 66th overall pick, the mock draft connection indicated the Yankees’ interest, and the Yankees have a tendency to double back to players they like, just as they did when they drafted Wells.
A look at Beeter’s stuff quickly explains the attraction. Sitting between 93 and 96 mph, and occasionally bumping a tick higher, Beeter has plenty of velocity, but there is more than just speed to his fastball. Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs wrote that Beeter’s “fastball has big carry thanks to its back-spinning axis,” and Prospects Live added “Beeter’s highly vertical arm angle helps translate that spin into the appearance of ride, boasting the metrics and feel of a double-plus fastball.”
Beeter pairs his fastball with a curveball, but it’s not just any curveball. Baseball America says, “his curveball is a high-spin, top-to-bottom offering in the mid 80s that drops below the zone for swings and misses.” Beeter’s curveball routinely grades as plus, and he piles up strikeouts with it. Because he throws both pitches out of that high arm slot, the riding action on his fastball and the downer action on the curve are a tough combination. Longenhagen called Beeter’s pitch profile “ready-made, elite bullpen stuff.” You can get a look at Beeter’s stuff in a video he posted himself on Instagram.
Two pitches that are 60’s or better on the 20-to-80 scouting scale should have us thinking about a front-end starter, so what’s with the bullpen talk? The same arm slot that benefits the fastball and curve challenges the changeup, which gives left-handed hitters a better chance against Beeter, and also makes locating east and west more of a problem.
Beeter’s command and control have also been in uestion dating back to his college days. He’s improved in that regard, and he seemed to take a strong step forward after coming over from the Dodgers. His walk rate dropped at Double-A Somerset and he was tough to hit, registering a 1.99 FIP in seven starts. If that improvement is real, or at least shows that he is on the right development path, there is every reason to believe Beeter could add a trick to his bag that mitigates potential difficulty with lefties. So many times a player’s improvement comes from his own aptitude and desire, and Beeter, in an interview with David Laurila of FanGraphs, described himself as an intellectual who enjoys the analytical side of player development.
Perhaps another reason to give pause to Beeter’s future as a starter is the way he’s been brought along. Beeter didn’t start until his last year at Texas Tech, and that was 2020. That means he only had four starts before the season was shut down, and he’s only averaged 2.2 innings per start as a pro, so he has been limited and managed very carefully. Beeter’s physical strength at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds implies he can start, and perhaps the 2023 season will go a long way toward determining his future role as a pitcher.
The term “reliever risk” has been used pejoratively by prospect evaluators, but perhaps that is a bit unfair. If you want to see how the league values starters over relievers, take a look at the contracts signed this winter. A good starter is making a lot more money than a good reliever, but it is difficult to dismiss the importance of pitchers who are effective out of the bullpen. Outstanding relief pitching is huge for any contending team.
Clayton Beeter, if he stays healthy, is going to pitch in the big leagues, maybe as soon as 2022. If he can’t be a starter, he can be a high-leverage reliever at the major league level. Someone with the flexibility to work multiple late innings is extremely valuable, if not as valuable as a quality starter, and that’s why, whatever the role, Beeter is a prospect to follow within the Yankees’ organization.
Other Top Prospects