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Prospect Spotlight 🔦

Sean Sullivan – Age: 21 – B/T: R/L, 6’4” 190 – Rockies (High-A)

  • Born: 7/22/2002 in Boston, MA

  • Draft: 2023, Colorado Rockies, Round: 2, Overall Pick: 46

  • College: Wake Forest University

Wake Forest has come to be known as one of the strongest college pitching programs. They’ve poured a lot of money into their pitching lab, which has produced a number of professional pitchers. One of those pitchers is left-hander Sean Sullivan, who transferred into the program in 2023 after a year at Northwestern and became one of the best pitchers in college baseball. He was a draft eligible sophomore in 2023, and was selected in the second round by the Colorado Rockies as a result of his strong performance. Getting selected by Colorado is always slightly disappointing as a pitcher given how hard it is to pitch in both the major league and minor league environments. Although he’s yet to pitch in the upper levels, he’s had no issues so far this year and has put up some of the best numbers out of all of the 2023 draftees.

Sullivan was a lightly recruited player out of high school but started 13 games for Northwestern during his freshman year in 2022, striking out 78 batters while walking just 25 in 64.2 innings of work. He then transferred to Wake Forest following a coaching change, where he was able to maximize his arsenal in one of the best pitching labs in baseball. At Wake Forest, he added a couple more ticks to his velocity, along with adding more horizontal break to his changeup. As a result, his whiff rate went from 25% to 38%, and his chase rate improved to 39% from 30%, all while playing in a more challenging conference. Looking a bit more granularly, his stuff played better in the zone as well, which is a key indicator of success, and his whiff rate in zone went from 23% to 30%. Some pitchers improve their whiff rates by getting more chase, but their stuff doesn’t play better in the zone, and they struggle as competition improves. That isn’t necessarily the case with Sullivan. At a surface level, Sullivan finished his draft-eligible sophomore season at Wake Forest with a 3.23 ERA in 69.2 innings, striking out 111 batters while walking just 21. Sullivan’s statistical profile, combined with the outlier pitch movement traits, led to many draft analysts feeling comfortable with spending an early round draft pick on him despite the lack of velocity, and the Rockies took him in the second round.

Standing at 6’4’’ 190, Sullivan has a prototypical pitcher’s frame. He’s high waisted, with broad shoulders, and has a lean frame that could add on another 15 pounds in the future. This is an important point, because Sullivan is currently more of a soft-tosser that could use additional velocity. Since his frame is not physically maxed out, there’s still room for natural growth and additional fastball velocity as a result. Arm action wise, Sullivan throws from a low ¾ slot, which coupled with the natural crossfire in his delivery, makes for a unique, and deceptive, release. His arm action was fairly long in college, where he would pull the ball out of his glove towards the third base side, making it a bit easier for hitters to pick up on the ball early and negated the deception of the crossfire/low release point delivery. His arm action is more compact now, and it’s a bit harder for hitters to pick up on the ball early in the delivery. He doesn’t generate a ton of momentum coming down the mound and ends his delivery facing the batter square on. A lot of crossfire pitchers tend to have command issues, which is not the case with Sullivan, as he repeats his delivery well due to above-average on mound athleticism. However, this type of delivery likely limits how much extra velocity he can generate. It’s a fair tradeoff though because it gives him a far higher chance of starting. Overall, it’s a delivery that enhances his arsenal, and his frame suggests that he could sit in the low 90s at maturity.

The cornerstone of Sullivan’s arsenal is his fastball, which may sound unusual for someone who sits at 88-92mph. But given his unique release point, it’s an above-average pitch given his low release height and relatively flat his release angle. He also gets a fair amount of natural tail to his fastball — something that he gets while mixing in both a four-seamer and a sinker. He pairs his fastball with two offspeed offerings, a changeup and a slider. His slider has a decent two-plane movement profile with some bite, but like the fastball it relies on his release point to be effective. It provides a difficult look for lefties, since he releases the ball basically where the batter lines up in the batter’s box, and he can bury the pitch down and away. His changeup is the better of his two offspeed pitches and gets plenty of arm side fade. It’s fairly hard, sitting in the mid-80s range, and should get whiffs from both righties and lefties alike. The entire arsenal plays up above its raw pitch metrics due to his advanced pitchability. Both of the offspeed pitches grade out as average, and this is a pitch mix that grades out better as a group than any one individual pitch.  

After getting drafted last year, Sullivan threw a couple innings at rookie ball and Single-A apiece and cruised through with no issues. The Rockies assigned him to High-A Spokane to start 2024, and so far he has had no issues. Through four starts so far this season, he has a 2.61 ERA, with 33 strikeouts and just one walk. Spokane had one of the highest park factors for home runs last year, and yet Sullivan has not surrendered a home run yet. It’s a near flawless statistical profile, and if he is able to repeat this for a few more starts, he should be promoted to Double-A so that he gets challenged. With that being said, lefties with a plus changeup and fringy fastball velocity can tend to over perform in the lower minors, so I’d expect higher than average regression for him as he moves up to Double-A and beyond. Overall, Sullivan’s professional career could not have had a better start, and while he will almost certainly come back down to earth, he’s dominating levels that he should be.

While lefties who perform well in the low minors can be a mirage, I think there are a lot of positive traits to Sullivan’s profile that will make him effective as he climbs up the minor league ladder. Improving his secondaries is the most pressing player development goal for him, as it is hard to be a successful big leaguer throwing fastballs as often as he does. Sullivan has relief risk since he may not have enough stuff to start at the big-league level and winds up in a long relief role, but I think his repertoire and command are strong enough for him to profile as a backend starter. Don’t expect him to be up until late 2025 at the earliest, but if all goes well I could expect to see him in the big leagues during the 2026 season.

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