Amidst the Major League Baseball postseason, those who take a deep caring into baseball follow along with the developments at the Arizona Fall League. Long known as the final stop for many top prospects before they attempt major league careers, a vast amount of talent occupies this league, ranging from some of the top prospects in the game to relatively unheard of names looking to impress.
I admittedly don’t exert much attention to what’s going on in the Arizona Fall League, but I keep up with some of the top performers and pay attention to what the top prospects do. One player that I noticed was Rangers relief prospect Cole Uvila.
Uvila has been one of the better breakout performers for the Arizona Fall League this season and for good reason. He’s appeared in nine games spanning 10 2⁄3 innings, striking out 16. His performance has impressed many on-lookers.
That Cole Uvila curveball is legit! https://t.co/MFgtmibKQA— Jonathan Mayo (@JonathanMayo) October 29, 2019
The arms, legs, and changeup of Rangers righty Cole Uvila. pic.twitter.com/WTO0KvByVW— FanG-raphs Prospecters (@FG_Prospects) October 14, 2019
Looking to Uvila’s background, he was a 40th round pick in 2018 as a 24-year-old coming out of NAIA school Georgia Gwinnett College. He pitched as both a starter and a reliever in college (also pitched at Pierce College and Georgia State), but made the transition into a full-time reliever once he reached the professional level. His pro ball debut went rather well, as he put up a 1.42 ERA in 31 2⁄3 innings, striking out 48 batters, all at the Low-A level.
Uvila spent the strong majority of his second season pitching with the Rangers High-A affiliate. In total, he made 35 appearances spanning 57 2⁄3 innings, striking out 85 batters while walking 33. His impressive numbers were starting to put him on a major league track, so the Rangers sent him out to the Arizona Fall League for some more challenging and extending reps. As stated above, he’s handled those reps well.
What’s caused all this attention for Uvila hasn’t necessarily been his performance, but the data behind it. With Statcast data available for a few Arizona Fall League games, it has been revealed to the public that Uvila’s breaking ball is a “spin-rate monster.”
As you have probably already inferred from the above list, Uvila has a dandy of a breaking ball -- a 12-to-6, spin-rate monster. The 25-year-old right-hander and former 40th-round pick (2018) used his curveball to rack up 16 strikeouts over 10 2/3 frames for Surprise after fanning 95 batters in 64 2/3 innings in his first full season as a pro.
From a historical standpoint, Uvila’s top three breaking balls from this year also occupy the top three spots of the all-time list, each of which was previously held by Trent Thornton (2018).
The top spin rate recorded by Uvila was a curveball that registered at 3,340 RPM. For perspective, that spin rate ranked in the top 0.2 percent of all major league curveballs thrown this season. Only one pitcher, Garrett Richards, averaged a higher spin rate on his curveball. His spin rates stand among every pitcher that’s ever been tracked at the Arizona Fall League in the Statcast-era.
Not bad for a 40th-round #MLBDraft pick.#Rangers righty Cole Uvila not only had 4 of the top 5 spin rates on curveballs in this year's @MLBazFallLeague, but he had the top 3 since #Statcast began recording data in the AFL in 2015.— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) October 29, 2019
More: https://t.co/icZFhuFOra pic.twitter.com/X1sA8pkqZP
Uvila isn’t Rule 5 eligible for another two seasons, so the Rangers won’t be in any hurry to rush him onto the 40-man roster. He’s likely earned himself a good look in Spring Training next year, though, and will almost definitely be pitching in the upper minors next season. With the data to pair, and a good showing in the Arizona Fall League under his belt, his development next season is one to keep an eye on.