Heading into day 3 of the 2022 MLB draft, many in the Royals squak-o-sphere (myself included) were puzzled by some of their day 2 selections. The Royals used rounds three through 10 to target what seemed like long-shot college pitching that no public draft boards had anywhere near the slots in which they were taken.
But what initially looked like another classic Royals, galaxy brain overdraft made a lot more sense when they drafted David Sandlin with the 325th pick in the 11th round.
Sandlin was the 206th ranked prospect on MLB Pipeline’s draft board. A redshirt junior out of Oklahoma, he put together a wildly inconsistent 2022 with a train wreck of a regular season and a few moments of postseason brilliance. But draft gurus and scouts were in agreement that Sandlin has potential.
The start that got him overslotted by the Royals was undoubtedly the outing he had against Texas A&M to send Oklahoma to the College World Series Final. In 7 innings, Sandlin allowed 1 run on 5 hits with 12 strikeouts and only one walk. He owned the Aggie lineup by pounding the strike zone with a 93-94 mph fastball, a 55-grade slider, and a 50-grade curveball.
It’s the secondary pitches that make Sandlin a particularly enticing prospect. He threw a lot of them in that start against the Aggies and got nearly all his swing and misses with them. The broadcast team mentioned that the spin rates and movement metrics on his 85-87 mph slider are already above major league average, and for the most part, he locates it well.
His curveball is probably a tick below his slider, but it’s still a good pitch with a lot of depth and little horizontal movement. It’s more of a 1-to-7 than a true 12-to-6, which I actually like. It also has plenty of velocity separation from his slider, as it sits round 80 mph. Sandlin also sparingly uses a changeup, but I think it’s got the potential to be at least a 50-grade pitch.
That means Sandlin is probably on track to have at least 3 pitches that are Major League average or better. The questions are, how good can his fastball be and can he command it consistently?
Sandlin’s post season success can be attributed, in part, to a rise in velocity. While he sat 91-92 mph with his fastball during most of the regular season, in the post season he saw his fastball velocity rise to 93-94 mph, occasionally touching 95 mph. As you might imagine, Sandlin is much more effective sitting 93-94. He has an athletic body and frame that indicates he may be able to hold the velocity bump or even add a bit more. His ability or inability to hold that velocity increase will be a big factor in his future success.
Right now, his fastball plays better at the top of the zone than it does elsewhere. He mowed down the Aggies with sliders in his impressive postseason start against them but managed only 2 swings and misses on his fastball, both of which came at the top of the zone.
The lone run he gave up in that start came on a 91 mph fastball right down broadway. And that pitch exemplifies the potential downside of Sandlin. To be successful throwing 91-92, he’d need 60-grade command and a pitch mix that hides his fastball. At 93-94 mph or 94-95 mph, he could succeed with 50-55 grade command and a more even pitch mix.
Sandlin is a pitcher with the upside of a mid-rotation starter who needs development. He needs increased consistency, work on his command, and a more developed changeup. But all the tools are there. It’s now up to Paul Gibson and the pitching development team to make something valuable out of him.