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In case you missed it, we posted our first 2022 Mock Draft, which is free for everyone to read. Partaking in that exercise helps me narrow down who realistically could be available to the Chicago White Sox at Pick 26. I don’t mind watching the best prospects in this draft class playing. There’s very exciting and promising talent available, but it doesn’t help White Sox fans to possibly dream of guys falling to Pick 26 if there is no prayer.
A week later, I still don’t grasp what will happen after Pick 15 in this year’s draft class. Injuries, especially to the pitching class, are playing a significant factor. We could see teams do what Toronto did last year when they drafted Gunnar Hoglund. Understanding that their first-round pick will not be available to pitch in 2022, teams believe in the talent and rehab process to get their new prospect rolling in 2023.
This strategy is why I think someone like Alabama LHP Connor Prielipp or Arkansas RHP Peyton Pallette could be a possibility for the White Sox. Both pitchers would be considered Top 15 prospects if they were healthy. Perhaps it’s a risk the White Sox are willing to roll the dice on.
While I contemplate that possibility, I’m still trying to sit down and watch the film on other college starters. Finally, RHP Blade Tidwell is making appearances for Tennessee. Not they need another top-notch arm in their rotation as they continue to dominate their opponents. Tidwell’s usage is still out of the bullpen. In his last two outings, Tidwell served as the Opener against Tennesee Tech on April 12, 2022, and pitched in the 8th and 9th innings against Alabama three days later.
The setting for Tidwell’s appearance against Tennessee Tech was surprising. Both programs agreed to play at Smokies Stadium in Kodak, home to the Chicago Cubs AA affiliate. Along with the minor league stadium, both schools decided to use wooden bats in the game. In the end, Tennessee Tech shocked Tennessee winning 3-2, but Tidwell was perfect in his one inning of work. On 18 pitches, Tidwell struck out the side using his four-seam fastball and slider.
This past Friday, with Tennessee down 5-3 in the 8th inning, Tidwell came out of the bullpen trying to keep Alabama scoreless. It only took 15 pitches, but Tidwell flashed all three of his pitches and struck out the side again. In those two innings alone, in 33 pitches, there’s a reason why many have Tidwell as a first-round grade talent.
Clocking in at 97 mph against Alabama, Tidwell’s fastball is explosive. It appears the ball shoots out of his hand. When Tidwell misses with his four-seamer, it’s often up and out of the strike zone against righties. Much like when Dylan Cease misses his target.
When Tidwell stays on top of his fastball, it has a nice downward trajectory that sets up a tunnel to pair with his slider. In a relief appearance, there’s plenty of velocity in the tank. What I don’t know, and this is coming from folks out of Knoxville who saw Tidwell start plenty of games in 2021, is if Tidwell can consistently sit at 96-97 mph in starts. Some think he can, but last year was mostly at 95 mph at the beginning of games before dipping down to 92 mph come after the fifth inning.
Velocity-wise, this is a 60-grade pitch. I would need to see more of Tidwell before giving him that grade for his fastball command. But Tidwell does pack some heat.
Considered his best pitch, Tidwell has a lot of confidence in the slider. There are a few variations of the pitch. One is more of a get-me-over that Tidwell likes to throw in the first pitch of an at-bat to get ahead of hitters. It’s fine in college games, but I’ll want to see a tighter spin from Tidwell as he progresses professionally.
Tidwell does have a sweeping variety that he likes to start inside on right-handers and get them to chase as it breaks out and over the plate. Very effective if Tidwell can start belt high as the tilt fools hitters halfway through the pitch tunnel. I’ve also seen a slider thrown by Tidwell that has that classic falling off the table downward trajectory. The above GIF demonstrates that type of movement. How this slider is set up is an advanced approach from Tidwell. Typically, college pitchers with a plus-breaking pitch throw it anywhere in the zone because, more times than not, they get away with it.
With the game calling from Tennessee, I’ve noticed that they will have Tidwell try to throw a fastball on the outside corner to establish a pattern. Tidwell will throw this variety of a slider that appears to have more of a spiking action when the hitter gets behind.
It’s a small sample size, but I haven’t seen an opposing hitter square up Tidwell’s slider. I’m comfortable saying it’s a 60-grade pitch.
Out of the 46 pitches I’ve watched, a small sample size, I only saw Tidwell throw four changeups. All were against left-handed hitters, but they did result in whiffs. Arm motion is very similar to his four-seamer motion, which is the goal.
Tidwell did run into trouble in the 9th inning against Alabama. Two of his four-seamers got hit hard off the outfield wall resulting in a double and triple. The location was middle-in, and both Alabama hitters did an excellent job of keeping their hands inside on the swing to barrel those pitches up. The best option for opposing hitters against Tidwell is to look for a fastball early and make your best swing.
It also could be the result of Tidwell hasn’t been stretched out yet since returning from injury. I had concerns about how this coaching staff used Garrett Crochet in 2019 before the White Sox drafted him the following year. Instead of starting games, Crochet would enter in the fourth inning to cover four or five innings at a time. But Tidwell’s situation is not like Crochet’s. The current weekend rotation of Tennessee has performed well above expectations and is a big reason why they remain the #1 team in the country.
Selfishly, I’d like to see Tidwell take the Tuesday starts and get stretched out to at least four innings. It would be nice to know if he can maintain his plus-velocity over 60+ pitches after his shoulder injury sidelined him to start the season. I also understand why the Volunteers would continue having Tidwell pitch out of the bullpen. They can manage his workload correctly to avoid future injuries that may hurt his draft stock (and thus a big bonus payout) and still have another excellent arm to help them win conference games.
That’s the only lingering question I have for Tidwell. Unlike my views on Crochet, I believe Tidwell is a starting pitcher, and if we have to wait until the 2023 season to see him stretched out, so be it. There may be an opportunity with the SEC Tournament and Regionals that Tennessee may need Tidwell to make a pivotal start. That’ll be must-watch TV for many MLB scouting departments. Tidwell could realistically go in the Top 20 of this year’s MLB Draft if he fares well.
If, by some chance in July that Tidwell is still on the board when Pick 26 comes up, it will be hard for the Chicago White Sox to pass on the opportunity. Tidwell could be a shot in the arm for a farm system with uneven results from their pitching prospects.