The Yankees sure love their college pitchers, huh? Hayden Wesneski, the subject of today’s profile, was the Yankees sixth rounder last month and the fourth college arm the organization had drafted to that stage.
Wesneski, 22 in December, was born and raised in Houston, Texas. Before heading off to Sam Houston State, not far from where he grew up, the Rays drafted him out of high school in the 33rd round.
The 6’3″, 215 pound right-hander pitched three seasons for SHSU in the Southland Conference. He improved each season in college even after winning the conference’s freshman of the year. That season, Wesneski had a 3.93 ERA in 19 appearances (13 starts) and beat a few name-brand colleges. Louisiana, Houston, and Arizona were all in the top-25 when Wesneski bested them.
In Wesneski’s sophomore campaign, he improved his ERA to 3.50 in 17 games (16 starts). He upped his strikeout numbers to 6.2 per nine innings, which although not impressive, a step up from 5.0 per nine the year prior. The thing that kept him successful was his control; he recorded fewer than 2.76 walks per nine for a second year in a row.
Wesneski’s third and final season, as you may have guessed, was his best for SHSU. He started 15 games, threw 105.2 innings, fanned 110, walked 21, and surrendered just 5 homers. All of those marks were easily his collegiate career’s best. In particular, his strikeout and walk rates took huge steps forward.
Quick fun fact from a Reddit AMA he conducted: he liked Andy Pettitte as a kid thanks to the southpaw’s time with the Astros (Wesneski’s rooting interest). I like to forget that Andy pitched there, but hey, Wesneski will probably have a chance to meet Pettitte at some point in the near future.
What do the scouts say?
By all accounts, Wesneski was a back-end top 200 draft prospect entering this season. There’s nothing overly special about his arsenal, but he was a good performer in college even in a mid-major division.
Wesneski has a bit of a funky delivery, as you can tell from the video at this post’s outset. According to MLB Pipeline, scouts don’t love his low arm slot, but admit that it allows him to get a ton of movement on his fastball. Both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America confirmed that his fastball can touch as high as 95, though he generally sits in the low 90s. Considering its movement and the Yankees’ player development staff’s propensity to build velocity, his heater could be a plus pitch. It helps that his command of the offering is good too.
Things start to drop off once you look at the rest of his options. BA called his slider average and his changeup fringe-average. Meanwhile, MLB Pipeline seems to like his “sweepy” slider because it has the opposite break of his sinking fastball. The same publication also thinks Wesneski’s changeup can be a solid pitch.
All told, both sites labeled Wesneski as either a back-end starter or or solid reliever. For a sixth rounder, that’d be great. The outcome likely depends on how much he can improve his secondary offerings.
Signing bonus and what’s next
Wesneski signed an under slot bonus of $217,500. His pick value was $241,000.
After signing, the righty joined Pulaski, one of the Yankees’ rookie-level affiliates. He’s pitched in five games, all in relief. Despite that, it’s a little too soon to make anything of his role even though there’s a distinct possibility that he’s in the bullpen long-term.
As a college draftee, I don’t think Wesneski will spend too much time with Pulaski. He should be up to Staten Island this summer where he can face more suitable competition. Next year, how quickly he moves up depends on his ultimate role. He should rise the ranks quicker if he goes the relief route.
As I noted in my profile of Ken Waldichuk, the team’s fifth rounder, there’s really no way to lambaste a pick after day one of the draft. But I will say that I like the fit for the Bombers; the minor league staff seems to have a great handle on mid-to-late round college pitchers.
Ultimately, I think Wesneski’s best role is in the bullpen, and not simply because my citations said so. His delivery strikes me as one that would not be sustainable as a starter, especially against left-handed heavy lineups. In short spurts, his sinking fastball could be a big weapon and perhaps would tick up in velocity.