Sean Hjelle, RHP
BATS: R / THROWS: R
ACQUIRED: Drafted 2018, 2nd Round
LAST LEVEL: Triple-A
GiantFutures 2022 Ranks: #5 Starting Pitcher, #13 Overall
Performance: It was a tale of two levels for Sean Hjelle in 2021, two levels with very different hitters and baseballs. Hjelle started the season in Double-A, where he’d finished 2019 with a 6.04 ERA in five games. Starting the 2021 season there, he had a 3.15 ERA across 14 starts interrupted by back spasms, with 69 strikeouts and 19 walks in 65.2 innings. That earned Hjelle an early August callup to Sacramento, where he was greeted by getting knocked around.
In 10 starts, Hjelle had a 5.74 ERA, giving up 67 hits in 53.1 innings, and just 35 strikeouts to 29 walks. The difference between Double-A and Triple-A was huge for a lot of pitchers in 2021, especially with the league using MLB baseballs for an undetermined amount of the year, a livelier baseball that MLB used in 2020 to infamous results. Also without a great strikeout pitch, Hjelle’s batting average allowed jumped from .241 to .307 between levels.
Strengths and Weaknesses: For being known for being 6’11” on the mound, Hjelle has remarkably sound mechanics and good control, which mixes well with his height for natural vertical motion on his pitches. Unfortunately, none of his pitches rate out as pure plus. His fastball sits in the low 90’s, touching 96, but his best pitch is a knuckle curve that could be a strikeout pitch but that was ineffective this season, with hints he was tipping it. He also has a sinking changeup and a sinker, both of which could be sharpened a bit.
Rather than going for strikeouts, he has naturally pushed himself to be a groundball pitcher, a natural fit for his height, which is the goal of his changeup and sinker. Hjelle won’t blow anyone away, but he’s generally been consistent, and when he’s on, doesn’t suffer significant splits against left-handed batters. However, the pitches need improvement for him to reach that ceiling, because he has a tendency to get hit hard when he’s off.
2022 Outlook: Hjelle is due for a return to Triple-A, where hopefully his pitches will be better, and a less lively ball might lead to better numbers. Hjelle is on the verge of the Majors, and he could be hitting his head on the dugout roof at Oracle Park this summer.
Future Profile: The biggest critique of Hjelle has long been that he’s not a frontline starter, but his ceiling is as a mid-rotation starter, where he can bring control and hopefully consistency, as well as an unteachable uniqueness.