Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2017 Draft out of Chipola College in Marietta, Florida, LHP Evan Steele has displayed an impressive arsenal at Lexington, this year.
At 6’5”, 210, the 22-year-old Georgia native certainly looks the part of a power pitcher, though his strengths lie more simply in location and changing speeds. He made only five appearances with the AZL Royals in 2017 before the season concluded; a notable start, if terribly short. He pitched a perfect inning in his pro debut, striking out all three batters he faced on August 17th vs. the AZL Angels. He followed that with a two-inning, two-run performance (1 ER), though he struck out five AZL Padres. He struck out three in 1 2/3 innings vs. the AZL Padres 2 lineup on August 27th, though he gave up a run on three hits and walked one. That was pretty much the story for Steele in his first year: a mixed bag, but a great deal of promise.
Steele struggled with shoulder issues going into 2018, for which he ultimately went under the knife. Now back in the game, he’s been a strikeout machine with the Legends. His first appearance for Lexington was on May 21st at Hickory. He went 4 2/3 innings, giving up two runs on seven hits, striking out four, but it wasn’t bad for his first start coming off shoulder surgery. Since then, Steele has been remarkably consistent:
Over eight starts in 2019, Steele has posted a 1.50 ERA over 36 IP, allowing only 26 hits and nine walks against 35 K. He struck out a season-high seven on June 25th at home vs. Columbia in five shutout innings, allowing only two hits in what appeared to be an effortless outing for him. His most-recent start was on the road vs. Augusta, where he gave up one run on three hits, walking two and striking out only one, a season-low in Ks following his season-high seven vs. the Fireflies. Opposing hitters are batting only .203 against him, and he’s struck out 25.2% of batters faced in 2019 (18.7% K-BB%, 66.2% K pct.).
Steele’s ability to mix his pitches and keep hitters off-balance can make him utterly dominant, on his best days, and still makes him a tough opponent even when he’s not at his best. He comes at hitters from a low-three-quarters arm slot and ranges anywhere between 89-93 with his fastball. It appears to have cutting or tail-and-sink action, especially vs. righties. He also works with a circle-change from 82-84 with good fade that makes his fastball play up, though there isn’t always much separation between the two. He throws a curve with typically 11-5 break at 77-80, as well as a slurvy version that’s a tick or two faster. Notable (if small sample sizes) among his splits: RHH are batting only .198 vs. Steele, whereas lefties are batting .222 (91 AB for RHH, 36 for LHH).
It’s not unusual for him to pitch backwards to hitters; there have been times when he has been liable to throw a first-pitch curve or change, then go to the fastball in a two-strike count early in a game, only to reverse the order during the second time through an order, or even switch tactics from batter to batter, at will.
As with several other Lexington pitchers in 2019 (Heasley, Bowlan, Bubic, etc), Steele hasn’t seemed challenged by Low-A hitters. After missing 2018 altogether, time in the Sally was beneficial to get him back on track. At this stage, he can certainly use the time to get stretched out a bit more; his season-high pitch count is 82, set on June 20th, and he’s averaged only 66.5/start (14.78 pitches/inning), and with the logjam of pitching talent ahead of him in both High-A and Double-A, Steele could spend much of the remainder of 2019 in Lexington for this purpose, alone. On the other hand, the arsenal would likely play well in Wilmington, and at 22 years old the league would be more age-appropriate. Steele is a high-floor-type of prospect who could find himself anchoring a rotation or providing multi-inning relief at the more-advanced levels without the all-too-common consideration of platoon splits.
Photo Credits: Doc Riddle