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The Jake Eder Hype Train Has No Brakes

Few pitchers have done more than Jake Eder to boost their stock in Minor League Baseball’s early going. Just how good could he be?

Left-handed pitcher Jake Eder delivers a pitch for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos Courtesy of Pensacola Blue Wahoos

After the 2020 MLB Draft wrapped, there was palpable excitement from the Marlins’ staff regarding fourth round selection Jake Eder. While his career at Vanderbilt, abbreviated by COVID-19, was a bit up and down, Eder had outstanding pedigree as a former top prep prospect and had dominant Cape Cod League season under his belt, the latter of which seemed to be what really endeared him to the Marlins’ front office. Scouting director DJ Svihlik told media at the time “take a look at what Jake Eder did in the Cape versus what he’s done at Vanderbilt, and ask yourself why. It’s my job to know why, and it’s my job to bet on Jake Eder— that the environment he’s pitching in will have a very big impact on his success.”

Svihlik’s statement is obviously rather nonspecific, but Eder’s collegiate track record provides some context. As alluded to above, Eder made his way to Nashville with considerable hype. He had finished his prep career as a top 10 lefty in the country in the eyes of many with a plethora of coveted traits, and only slid to the 34th round as a senior because of his strong Vanderbilt commitment. Excited to get him to campus, the Commodores thrust him into the fray early, giving him 9 starts as a freshman, but things didn’t get off on the right foot. In 33 total innings, Eder walked a less than ideal 22 hitters, something his strong strikeout and hits allowed rates couldn’t counteract, resulting in a 5.45 ERA on the year.

By the end of his freshman season, Eder had been shifted to the bullpen, and in general was kept on a short leash for much of the year, permitted to throw over 75 pitches just once, even with a number of strong starts on his ledger. From April 10 to the end of the year, he never threw more than 2 innings in any of his four appearances, culminating in two implosions in conference play in early May, after which he wasn’t seen for the rest of the year. It was a difficult situation for a young pitcher to find himself in, under considerable pressure for one of the nation’s best teams, and without a consistent role. Eder continued to work diligently and improve nonetheless.

After a relatively successful run in offseason ball the following summer, Eder returned to campus a full time relief pitcher, and, in contrast to his freshman year, excelled. He opened the year in short relief, stringing together three scoreless frames with 7 Ks to start the season, and eventually was entrusted with some longer work as the year wore on, throwing as many as 57 pitches and 5 innings in his longest outings. While there were occasional hiccups such as a 3 BB performance in 23 of an inning vs. Austin Peay, Eder was nails for much of the season, and had earned back skipper Tim Corbin’s trust in full by the time the postseason rolled around. He had a strong showing in some high leverage postseason situations, and put an exclamation mark on his campaign by closing out the College World Series final against Michigan with 3 innings of one-run ball, a moment that will be among his career highlights regardless of where his professional career takes him.

The heroics earned Eder a great deal of goodwill, as championship clinching heroics tend to do, and he was locked into a return to a starting role for 2020. His first outing was a bit shaky, but he was given far more leash than he had been back in 2018, and after allowing 3 runs in 3 and 13 against Cal Poly to open up, he allowed just 6 runs in 16 and 23 innings from that point until the season shutdown, with 24 strikeouts against 6 walks in that stretch, finishing up with a 100 pitch outing against USC. His velocity was more variable in the rotation than evaluators would’ve liked, and while he did pick up some modest momentum in the brief 2020 sample, COVID dashed what could’ve been a considerable rise up draft boards before it could really begin, which ended up working to the Marlins’ benefit.

Perhaps his upward trajectory can be chalked up to additional reps, but Eder seemed to perform much better when his role was secure, which may be part of why the Marlins saw him as a growth stock coming into the draft. After making it to camp, he immediately made a strong impression, and became a trade target at one point during the major league offseason, which Miami met with an icy response. Buzz regarding Eder’s work at the Marlins’ complex was universally positive—his velocity ticked up, and his thirst for knowledge was drawing rave reviews as well. Minor league pitching coach Scott Aldred told Baseball America in December that he thought Eder would end up being “a steal,” and that he felt that his inconsistent location and velocity in college—which also could’ve been affected by the malleable nature of his role with the Commodores—had been weighed a bit too heavily by many clubs.

Three straight strikes from Jake Eder from a 2-0 count to get Shea Langeliers

The organization’s confidence in Eder was confirmed when they released their minor league rosters for 2021, placing him in Double-A for his pro debut, a uniquely aggressive assignment for a pitcher with 13 total college starts under his belt. Any doubts about Eder’s readiness for the level were immediately allayed the first time he took a professional mound, as he announced his presence by striking out four batters in his first frame after a runner reached on a dropped third strike. He was similarly dominant over the rest of the outing, racking up 12 total Ks against a single hit and 3 walks on the night. It was one the strongest pitching performances of MiLB’s opening weekend, and raised eyebrows around the prospecting world.

The big debut wasn’t just a pretty box score, either. Eder came out of the gates showing some improvements to his game, presumably a result of his work at Marlins camp during the offseason. Watching him work during his Pensacola outings, there have been some noticeable mechanical differences vs. his Vanderbilt days. Immediately, he looks a lot more upright as he starts his delivery, as illustrated below—on the left is Eder at the top of his windup with Pensacola, and on the right with Vanderbilt in 2020:

He’s also noticeably less closed off as a pro. On the right both elbows are inside his knee, while on the right the knee comes up between. You’ll also notice that his left elbow doesn’t wander nearly as high during this stage, which smooths his arm circle out a bit. The adjustments give his delivery an all around quieter look, and allow him to finish in a much more balanced position, with more of his momentum directed towards the plate. As an added benefit, Eder’s velocity has been much more consistent thus far as a pro, sitting in the mid-90s thus far after oscillating between 90-95 in his college days. Additionally, he seems to be manipulating the shape on his breaking stuff more, perhaps throwing two distinct breaking balls after leaning more heavily on a curve with Vandy.

Eder gave himself a very tough act to follow with his huge debut, but was able to rise to the challenge, striking out 7 more hitters across 5 shutout frames, with 3 hits and 2 walks allowed in his next turn. While his command has wobbled slightly at times with 5 walks through his first 10 frames, Eder has largely blown away observers with his start to the season. He’s showing very solid fastball command in the early going to go with a ton of confidence in his breaking stuff, which combined with the added power has allowed him to pick up swings and misses in droves. He’s still not throwing a ton of changeups, but it has also shown tangible improvement and should continue to become a bigger piece of his arsenal.

Typically I’d caution fans not to overreact to a prospect’s first two professional appearances, but I’m not going to do that here. There were only four college starts between an NCAA bullpen role and starting in Double-A for Eder, and he has responded by doing some of the best pitching of his young career thus far. He has long shown big-time upside thanks to his physicality, athleticism and feel to spin from the left side, and to me his 2021 performance is him making good on that potential. There’s nothing fluky about what he’s done on the mound in Pensacola to me, and it appears that the mechanical tweaks he has implemented have really had a positive impact on his ability to locate.

He’s not yet a finished product, but Eder has clearly developed significantly since the last time we saw him take the mound in an official game, with his velocity, secondary quality and command all ahead of where they were a year ago, which has him quickly outpacing the vast majority of his draft day projections. He represents another success for the scouting and development groups in Miami, and should make for an exciting follow over the remainder of what may be a relatively short minor league career.