MLB scouting notebook: Debut impressions of Spencer Schwellenbach and Connor Norby

This month’s scouting notebook features a breakdown of Braves prospect Spencer Schwellenbach’s MLB debut, as well as some notes on the newest Orioles infielder Connor Norby and some pitchers from across the league on the rise.

Spencer Schwellenbach, ATL, RHP

The No. 3 prospect in the Braves system, Schwellenbach made his MLB debut last Wednesday against the Nationals. After making a strong first impression, I believe Schwellenbach could be a high upside fantasy pickup.

Schwellenbach comes from a unique background. He was a shortstop at the University of Nebraska before becoming the team’s closer in 2021. He was drafted by Atlanta the same year, but underwent Tommy John surgery and did not pitch for the organization until 2023. He spent most of the year in Single-A as a starter, pitching 13 games with a 3.41 FIP. He was quickly promoted to high-A and then pitched two games in Double-A this season, skipping Triple-A to make his MLB debut.

What Schwellenbach Offers — Overview

Schwellenbach has a simple and repeatable delivery. He does a great job of staying composed on the mound to execute consistently.

At the highest level, Schwellenbach offers a valuable combination of high strikeout stuff with above average control. He has a five-pitch mix that allows him to face both hands effectively — the splits below show how strong he has been against right-handed hitters and left-handed hitters, which is not typically seen.

 Career Minors  FIP  K%  BB%
 Vs RHH  2.69  29%  6%
 Vs LHH  2.81  20%  6%

He does a great job of getting ahead in the count, as demonstrated by his career 71% first pitch strike rate.

Let’s dive into his pitch mix:

  • Fourseamer (95-96mph): Below average ride and run
  • Slider (86-88mph): Plus depth, average sweep (for a gyro-slider)
  • Cutter (91-92mph): Average cut and depth
  • Curveball (78-80mph): Below average depth
  • Changeup (82-83mph): Small sample — flashed plus depth

Schwellenbach vs. Right-Handed Hitters

Based on what we saw vs. the Nationals, Schwellenbach mostly relies on his fourseamer and slider against right-handed hitters. He rarely mixed in the curveball and cutter. He stayed middle/outer third with the fourseamer and threw the slider low for in-zone miss and chase.

The slider is Schwellenbach’s best pitch and, on the scouting scale (20-80), I grade it a 70.

In addition to the plus movement described above, Schwellenbach also demonstrated plus command of the pitch (locations from his first start shown in the TruMedia graphic below).  While the results weren’t there, the locations were good. Even the sliders that were called balls were mostly competitive takes by the batter, and will likely lead to chase in future starts (echoing the results of the pitch in his minor league career).

Schwellenbach Sliders vs RHH

Schwellenbach vs. Left-Handed Hitters

Schwellenbach’s primary pitch against left-handed hitters was the curveball, followed by the fourseamer and cutter. He rarely mixed in the slider and introduced the changeup the second time through the order.

The curveball is Schwellenbach’s worst pitch, so I am curious to see if he continues this usage against lefties moving forward. The curveball lacks depth and resembles a slow slider at times. Looking at the pitch chart below, typically we see a curveball’s movement populate below the slider. However, Schwellenbach’s appears to the left of the slider in red, meaning it has similar depth and slightly more sweep.

Schwellenback pitch chart

That said, it is 7-mph slower than the slider. To make up for that decrease in velocity, we typically like to see more movement.

One thing Schwellenbach might consider doing is reducing the curveball usage vs. lefties in favor of the slider, which is a better pitch. Despite typically being a platoon pitch (sliders are generally thrown vs. the same hand), Schwellenbach’s slider is good enough to use against both hands.

Fantasy Impact

Schwellenbach is helping fill an injury gap in the Braves rotation, but has the skills, composure, and high-strikeout upside to remain beyond a couple of spot starts and perform well. He could be an undervalued pickup heading into his next few starts.

Connor Norby, BAL, 2B

Yet another talented Orioles prospect callup, Norby had some trouble against Kevin Gausman in his debut (on Monday), but performed well in Triple-A this season with a .884 OPS. Despite a smaller frame, Norby has demonstrated consistent game power throughout his minor league career. Through 51 games this season, he has a .510 SLG and .223 ISO.

That being said, I am not fully confident in these results for two reasons: The first is that his BABIP in Triple-A is .397, and is likely due for regression. The second is that it seems he has been instituting a change in approach that is leading to a higher strikeout rate. His K rate in Triple-A this season is 31%, but this rate is an outlier for Norby in his minor league career (up from 22% in 2023). After comparing his time in Triple-A last season to this season, it seems like the biggest factor for the increased strikeout rate is a more passive approach on two-strike pitches. Regardless, the results are still there and it’s worth keeping an eye on. Norby is filling in for an injury, and is likely to head back to Triple-A once Jorge Mateo returns.

My initial impression of his first couple of MLB at-bats is that Norby was outmatched, but this was more a testament to Kevin Gausman’s execution of his fastball/splitter combination than Norby’s results.

One thing I do not expect to be much better for Norby over the long term is his walk rate — he has consistently low walk rates throughout his minor league career.

Miscellaneous Notes

Mackenzie Gore (LHP, WSH) has been having the best season of his career so far, with a 3.33 FIP and a 27% strikeout rate. A major change is his improved control — his walk rate is at a career-low 7% and his zone rate is at a career-high 51%. That being said, he’s also been falling behind the count at a rate that is 6% worse than MLB average. Additionally, his pitch mix isn’t that impressive beyond his fastball. His fastball has the best movement of his pitch mix, but despite having above average ride and velocity it has also historically gotten average or worse results.

Another player with improved control is Simeon Woods-Richardson (RHP, MIN). Woods-Richardson has done a great job this season at limiting walks, as his walk rate is down 7% from 2023 to a now better than average 6% walk rate. This walk rate is backed up by how much better he has been at getting ahead on the first pitch and throwing in-zone overall.

 Season First Pitch Strike Rate  Zone Rate
 2023  46%  46%
 2024  68%  54%
 MLB Average  61%  49%

He’s also having his best season to date with a 3.48 FIP. The catch here is that Woods-Richardson is not a strikeout pitcher, which is a downside for leagues that value strikeouts highly. And similar to Gore, Woods-Richardson is lacking standout stuff that would lead me to believe more in his results thus-far.

Orion Kerkering (RHP, PHI) has been excelling in a relief role with the Phillies. His 5% walk rate is surprising for a high-velocity reliever, but consistent with that of his career. Kerkering’s primary pitch is his above average 86-mph sweeper, which he throws 57% of the time. It does a great job at limiting hard contact and getting whiffs. He pairs it with a 98-mph fourseamer that he throws 33% of the time, which also generates swing and miss — he has only given up two hits on the fourseamer so far this season. While he is currently blocked for the closing role, he has established himself as an option to take more high leverage innings and fill in if the guys ahead of him are unavailable or hurt.

(Top photo of Spencer Schwellenbach: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

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