Sean Hjelle is literally a giant. If the Giants’ second pick of the draft makes it to the major leagues, he will tie former reliever Jon Rauch as the tallest to ever play the game at 6’11”. It’s extremely difficult to make it to the major leagues, of course, and every team drafts a player with their own idea of which of his strengths will make him into a success story, but in the case of Hjelle (pronounced “jelly”), there’s no industry consensus about those strengths.
At the moment, we all agree on how he looks.
This is the pitcher the Giants just drafted. The picture looks like it’s been stretched out. pic.twitter.com/ccJuI9EwCF— Dave (@gggiants) June 5, 2018
Beyond that, he’s got a nice fastball and a solid curveball but a forgettable changeup. His college stats aren’t as visually startling as his appearance, but he’s maintained basically a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio over the course of his career, which is good! He also began his college career as a closer before transitioning into a starter, which isn’t unusual, but it is the setup to the general lack of consensus within the industry.
Hjelle has added 20 pounds of good weight in his time at Kentucky and he has touched 97 mph in shorter fall ball outings when well rested. But more realistically, Hjelle projects as a reliable No. 4 starter thanks to his above-average control, three average or better pitches and a track record of durability.
Per our own Roger Munter:
Bart wasn’t my favorite guy on the board but I understand the value there. I really hope that Hjelle isn’t the pick at 45 though. Solid enough but a pitcher without a swing and miss pitch— Roger Munter (@rog61) June 5, 2018
2080 Baseball adds:
Hjelle repeats his delivery exceptionally well for a man of his size, contributing to his above average control.
Though still thin throughout his arms, chest and legs, Hjelle has gained 10 pounds of lean muscle year-over-year. If he continues to get more physical as he matures and gains a tick more velocity on his fastball, Hjelle has a ceiling of a mid-rotation starter.
SB Nation’s Tigers site, Bless You Boys, already did an in-depth review of Hjelle in their draft preparation materials, and you should check it out, but the salient detail for my purposes was this:
If Hjelle’s fastball never progresses, or even takes a step back, that would limit his ceiling to that of a back-end starter or middle reliever.
It all comes down to whether or not Hjelle can add volume to his strikingly slim frame to give him more strength to be able to overpower hitters with his pitches. They admit that he’s already great at deception and gives hitters a different kind of look. A really tall, super gangly, unique look. Like God dropped a dozen #2 pencils onto the pitcher’s mound.
But his frame also gets into these projections. Is he a back-end starter/reliever or will he be able to bulk up and lock into a middle to top of the rotation guy? This suggests he has a high floor but perhaps a low ceiling. For the #45 overall pick and second pick of the day — thanks to a 98-loss season — that might make this a disappointing pick. And if it winds up holding true, then it suggests the Giants have not deviated much from their draft philosophy of the past decade. The same philosophy that led to a 98-loss season.
But Hjelle isn’t responsible for how the Giants plan their drafts and, indeed, they might believe his ceiling to be much higher than the industry consensus. Maybe we will see Hjelle on the mound at AT&T Park in a few years. A 94+-mph fastball with a good curveball means that maybe his floor is Chris Stratton. That’s a decent floor. Again, not ideal for the #45 overall pick, but not a disaster, either. Jon Rauch was a 6-win reliever over 11 seasons. And if that’s perhaps his floor, then just imagine his ceiling. More ankles and elbows than a human body is supposed to have flying at some poor hitter along with a power fastball and power curveball. You’d have another reason to not take your eyes off him.
(EDITED TO ADD: Whoops. Forgot to post some videos.)
Hjelle has a good sense of humor about his physical stature — his Twitter bio reads, “Giraffe by profession, Minnesotan by nature.” — which is a good thing, because baseball players are paid to use their eyesight to judge everything, and I’m sure he’s heard it all. But he can’t be a giraffe. We’ve already got one of those. Let’s think of something else.
I’m seeing some Slenderman in there. Definitely some Groot. Give me some of that Ents action as well. But don’t forget about the creepy tall dead dude from IT FOLLOWS, either. Anyway, congratulations Sean Hjelle for getting closer to realizing your dream to be a major league pitcher and welcome to the Giants!