Drafted out of high school by the Sox with the seventh-overall pick in the 2013 draft, Ball hasn’t yet shown the potential the Sox have been hoping for in his early pro career, with big-time control issues, and a pitch-to-contact profile leading to some balky numbers in his third full season of work. Both his H/9 and BB/9 numbers increased this year, to 9.3 H and 5.2 BB-per 9 vs. 9.0/4.2 in 2015 (both at High A Salem), and its led to a BAA of .271 and a WHIP of 1.61 over his 23 starts and 117.1 IP this year.
While his two-way athleticism may have been enticing out of high school, and his 6’6” frame still shows plenty of room for added strength, his time in the Fall league has shown a down-tick in performance, which makes his AFL All-Star selection an intriguing one.
In my viewing October 15, Ball showed smooth mechanics, and a loose arm action through a high 3/4’s slot, creating good downhill plane. His fastball sat 91-to-93 mph with some mild cut action to it. His slider was 83-to-85 mph, though he struggled to execute the offering with any consistency. While he can generate some chase with it, showing average depth and some sweep, it also has a tendency back up on him. Ball also mixed in two curveballs at 75 mph that showed gradual break, but he does get some finish, and it does play up some due to the angle he gets.
He struggled with his control, falling behind in the count to four of his six batters faced, and with poor command of the fastball when he needed a strike, he was subject to hard contact, an issue that seems bourn out in his regular-season numbers. His changeup was not used in this viewing, and there’s a chance it was because he is under instructions to focus his AFL innings on consistent mechanics and fastball command, and the focus of this appearance was working on those areas, regardless of results.
His struggles continued in subsequent AFL appearances, including an outing on 10/22 where he did not retire a batter and yielded five consecutive walks before being lifted, throwing just 11 strikes in 31 pitches. For the abbreviated season, he’s thrown 7.2 innings and given up 5H, 6ER, 10BB and 6 Ks.
With 353 pro innings under his belt, Ball’s test against more advanced AFL bats is not showing results that the Sox likely hoped for at this stage of his development, nor can it be building his confidence. He’s still 22 years old, and the Sox will probably show another year of patience to see if Ball can add some strength, improve the repetition of his mechanics, and fine-tune his secondaries. But the focus should be on his fastball command and his overall control profile, which he’ll need to improve markedly if he’s to continue advancing. His secondary stuff is good enough to be effective, but the slider and curveball are not true swing-and-miss offerings, and the effectiveness of those two pitches (along with the changeup when he works it in) will rely heavily on his ability to get ahead in the count. Until that happens, more advanced hitters will be comfortable waiting him out for walks, or jumping on the fastball when he needs a strike.