Initially drafted as a reliever in the fifth round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of Notre Dame, Slania made 124 relief appearances from 2013 to 2016, before being converted to a full-time starting role near the end of May last year while with Double-A Richmond. From late May on, started 12 games for the Flying Squirrels before being bumped to Triple-A Sacramento for two late-season starts to finish off a season in which he threw 119 2/3 total innings with a 1.15 WHIP, 111 strikeouts, and a 2.93 ERA.
The Giants are intent on continuing his development as a starter from here, and his Opening Day start with the Flying Squirrels was an impressive six-inning performance in an 11-1 win over Hartford. At 6-foot-5, he has a thick frame, athletic build and broad shoulders, and looks lighter than his listed weight. He showed the ability to locate his three-pitch mix with above-average command on the night and kept the opposing hitters off balance, as evident by his eight strikeouts.
His average fastball sat 91-to-92 mph (T93) and he commanded it well in the zone from a true 3/4’s arm slot, and his fluid mechanics and large frame give him some deception by being able to hide the ball on the back side well. The motion makes his late-fading 81 mph changeup even more effective, along with having excellent velocity separation from the fastball, to make it an above-average offering. He also throws an average-or-better curveball with tight spin and sharp 12-to-6 break that consistently had hitters swinging.
Slania continued to hit his target and keep his velocity up as he turned the lineup over three times, but he did see some hard contact the third time – though it netted mostly ground ball outs. He did have an eyesore of a GO:AO ratio from 2014-2016 (0.66, 0.73, 0.80 in those years), so he’ll need to get hitters working the top half of the ball more to keep the ball in the park, and his fringy control remains an issue, though it’s improving (3.42 BB/9 in 2016 across three levels, down from 4.75 BB/9 in 2015 in the High A California League).
Due to the Giants’ acknowledged need for developing starting pitching from within, Slania’s first start was an encouraging kick-off to his season. His early-season goals will be to show that he has the stuff to consistently turn over lineups, work deep into starts to build some durability, and to improve his ground ball rate. Following this start, he was bumped right back up to Triple-A Sacramento, where he finished 2016, and he could see a regular turn there if he continues to progress in the starter’s role. If his control can stabilize at average, we could be looking at a future ceiling as that of number four starter for Slania, with a floor as that of a swingman/middle-reliever, where he has already shown his effectiveness as a pro.