Name: Jerry Sullivan
DOB: January 18, 1988
The Padres selected Sullivan in the third-round of the 2009 MLB Draft, 83rd overall, out of Oral Roberts.
As a junior, Sullivan went 8-3 with a 3.12 ERA across 15 starts. He logged 98 innings, striking out 116 while walking 27. He limited the opposition to a .253 average against while recording 10.65 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
Assigned to short-season Eugene, Sullivan began his professional career in the bullpen. He made seven relief appearances, going 2-2 with a 4.97 ERA.
"They came from good college programs thinking, ‘Well, I'll probably walk right through this and be in the California League by the time the season ends,' and then started out with two rough outings," Eugene manager Greg Riddoch said. "It was kind of like deer in the headlights. ‘My God what's wrong?'
"He was thinking that he'd just kind of roll through this stuff and realized he was going to have to work at it and he got better as he went."
On July 27, Sullivan was moved into the rotation. He made nine starts, going 3-1 with a 3.73 ERA. Eight of the 18 runs he allowed as a starter came in a single contest.
"The way he pitched the second half was the way we saw him pitch in college," former Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "The scout who signed him said that he was like Jeremy Hefner with a hair better stuff, although he doesn't have Jeremy's changeup right now, but neither did Jeremy when we first signed him."
On the season, the right-hander went 5-3 with a 4.02 ERA. He allowed 44 hits and 27 walks in 53.2 innings while striking out 58. He limited the opposition to a .219 average and that number dropped to .208 with runners on base.
"He walked too many guys," Riddoch said. "He's got a good arm. He struck out a lot of guys, more guys than innings pitched but realized he's going to have to be able to use three pitches."
There was a definitive disconnect between Sullivan's work in the bullpen versus his work out of the starting rotation. He is a rhythm pitcher who couldn't find a consistent feel for his bullpen work. Not knowing exactly when he would pitch, the mind game took over and affected his personality and confidence.
Instead of working down in the zone, his fastball was elevated and his off-speed pitches lacked bite. His mechanics seemed to suffer as well. He wasn't staying balanced and his arm would drag behind his body, resulting in pitches up in the zone. His follow through would come up short and movement decreased.
Returning to the rotation, the spark in his eyes was ignited. His confidence grew and his stuff was much crisper. He worked his fastball down in the zone and mixed his pitches well.
"Jerry missed a little bit of time," former Eugene and current Fort Wayne pitching coach Bronswell Patrick said. "He was in the regionals versus Arizona State and took some time off. We knew Jerry would bounce back well. He has a great body, a good arm. He needed to get back in baseball form. We had him working on regaining his confidence. He will be fine. He is going to be a big leaguer some day."
Seeing his velocity steadily rise since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2005, Sullivan now tops out at 95-96 mph and works in the 92-94 mph range with his four-seamer. His fastball has slight dipping action and he has an affinity towards elevating it with two strikes to get the strikeout. Hitters' eyes grow large when the fastball rises but can't catch up with it and swing underneath the ball.
The Oral Roberts product also worked on adding a two-seamer this year. It has slightly less velocity but garners more movement, going in on right-handers and away from lefties to induce ground balls and pop-ups. He does not have as fine control over the pitch, but it is a focal point. Controlling it on the inner part of the plate, especially to right-handers, has been a challenge. The ball gets away from him and tails further inside when he is trying to hit the inside corner.
His secondary pitches do need improvement. Sullivan throws a slider that has a short break and could stand to get a little bigger to add deception. It moves more laterally than up and down and is hard for him to control in the strike zone. It has the potential, however, to be a plus pitch because of the late action.
The changeup is more of a show-me pitch than anything else. It has a tendency to hang up in the zone and comes in too hard to get the necessary drop. He also grips the ball too hard and doesn't allow the ball to flow freely from his hand.
Sullivan will short-arm the ball and push it towards the plate rather than getting on top of the ball. The result is often more sideways movement than up and down. Changing the eye level of a hitter will be essential as he continues to evolve.
"He's got to maintain his line to the plate," Riddoch said. "Where he gets in trouble is he tries to throw too hard, and the front side flies a little bit toward the on deck circle and he pulls and pitches outside - just misses. But once he masters that, he's going to be good because he'll have three pitches. Good body, good make up. Good kid. We've nicknamed him ‘Franchise.' Everybody gets their nicknames. He's a good one, got a real nice arm, good pitcher."
"He's a good sized kid, throws about 90 to 94 and hopefully will tighten up his breaking ball a little more this off-season," Fuson said.
Ultra-competitive, Sullivan will take bad outings to heart. It may even take him days to get over it, as the right-hander will overanalyze his sequence of pitches that produced poor results. He also gets his adrenaline going during the game and will rush his delivery. His arm does not have a chance to catch up during those times. Staying calm on the mound and using the adrenaline to his advantage will be essential.
Sullivan grew a lot in his first year. He learned to eye a hitter's swing, judging whether they were attempting to swing hard or just make contact. When they were looking for the fences, Sullivan would change his gameplan to incorporate more off-speed pitches.
"I talked to Jerry and he understands what we are working on over here," Patrick said. "He is learning. He is also learning you can't just throw 94 mph by everybody because these kids are going to hit it. It doesn't matter how hard you throw, especially in pro ball. These guys are going to time it and get good wood on it. It happened to him a couple of games. He realized he had to locate the fastball better than what he had been doing. He will get there. Those guys that get drafted early want to impress right away and I don't have a problem with that.
"The main thing is to get their feet wet in professional baseball. If they get hit a little it teaches them what to do to be successful. If they continue to do ‘this' it is not going to work. The main thing with Jerry is to stay within yourself and do what you are capable of doing. We know what he has. Stay within yourself and you will be fine. His velocity is there. The delivery is there. He has quality pitches."
He also learned the value of pitching inside. When he first arrived, Sullivan was not attacking the inner half of the plate. He became more aggressive inside, realizing that few batters could catch up to a plus fastball send in on the hands. As he gains more confidence, along with better command on the inner half, this strategy will open up a lot of avenues for Sullivan to see success.
Conclusion: Sullivan has a big fastball and is very competitive. If he can bring his secondary pitches up and fight through some of the emotions that can derail his progress, the right-hander has a bright future. Mastering the mental side may need to come before the secondary pitches can follow.
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