Jackson McClelland is a big RHP that played for the same Arizona Fall League team the Royals prospects played for, the Surprise Saguaros. The Royals scouts have probably seen McClelland quite a bit because of this so they should have a good feel for if he would fit their club. I won’t pretend to know the intangibles and feel the Royals have for him, but he is a possibility in the Rule 5 Draft.
McClelland would be a 1-inning reliever if he is selected, a role he filled this year in the minors for the Blue Jays. McClelland has some obvious mechanical issues that can be ironed out with some work. He may be more of a project than a team picking at number 2 in the Rule 5 would want. But he could also be the payoff a team picking at number 2 in the Rule 5 would want.
Looking at several videos over the course of his season, you could see McClelland does a pretty good job keeping similar mechanics. But you could also tell when he got out of whack it was tough for him to get back into his mechanics. McClelland starts with an extremely closed front side. I’m guessing he uses this because he blows open so far that he is trying to compensate. It may, in fact, add to his trouble staying closed with his front side. All pitchers eventually open but when he is struggling, McClelland really yanks that left hip and it pulls everything in his delivery to the left. It’s really not that uncommon of an issue.
There is another issue in his mechanics though. After the leg lift, as he is starting to go to the plate, there is a little hitch at times. The issue isn’t the hitch, but it’s the movement of the hitch. The movement is up. I’ve done this in the past as well. Why? I guess it makes you feel like you are getting on top of the ball more and you can put more velo into. But in reality, it makes it tough for you to get down the mound. Guys who do this often have a hard time staying on top of the baseball and often push it. Especially with their change ups. And this is evident for McClellan. If he could learn to use that hitch and not hitch up, but hitch forward and even down, it would make a tremendous difference on his stuff. Everything would be sharper and have more life. His control would improve almost immediately. The crazy thing is, I’ve seen him do this more than a few times and throw pitches that are devastating to hitters.
McClelland had some control issues last season and is probably the reason he wasn’t rostered by the Blue Jays. He walked hitters to the tune of 4.3 BB/9 last season but also put up a career best 11.7 K/9 rate. He only gives up 7.0 H/9 allowing him to have a WHIP of 1.26. That’s not to bad considering a walk rate above 4.0 BB/9. The Blue Jays sent him to the AFL where he had some success but two bad outings. Of course, in a small sample, especially in Arizona, that one bad outing skews everything.
McClelland throws a 100-mph 4-seam fastball, a boring 98-mph 2-seam fastball, a change, and a slider. His 2-seamer just eats up RHHs. They constantly get jammed even if they know it is coming. Video from behind the plate shows you it moves arm side and it just keeps going in. The 4-seam is pretty straight and could do a lot of damage down and away from hitters followed by elevation when he is ahead in the count. His change up is really good when he is good with his mechanics, but not good when he is pushing the ball. And if you watch some video, you can see that happen as well. His slider is inconsistent, but shows some really strong flashes. In one particular game for New Hampshire, McClelland goes 2-seam fastball in to a RHH and just ties him up, resulting in a weak foul ball. The next pitch was the slider and it just fell off the plate and you saw the hitter just flail. There was no chance. That’s the potential that McClellan has. He could easily be a late-inning reliever with dominate stuff or he could be a guy who throws really hard and never really makes it because he can’t throw it in the strike zone consistently enough.
There is a pretty good story on McClelland and his parents over on the site Future Blue Jays that I recommend you go check out. It talks more about his background including the fact that his parents are retired and travel the country in a 31-foot RV trailer. McClelland talks about the strong family support system for him and how it’s helped him.
To draft a pitcher who has never been over AA in the Rule 5 is always a reach but sometimes it works out. McClelland has incredible stuff but hasn’t had those eye-popping results yet. It’s tough to think that he could move up to the highest level of baseball and suddenly have those results but for a team like the Royals who aren’t in their window of competing yet, it might be a wise addition to let him learn at the MLB level and be more prepared when the window opens.
Here is some video from Baseball Census.
Image from MiLB.com taken by Allasyn Lieneck.