The 2022 MLB Draft will begin on July 17, 2022. We take a look at Tennessee right-hander Blade Tidwell, one of the top pitching prospects in this draft class. After missing the six weeks of the season due to shoulder soreness that popped up in January, Tidwell wound up being a key arm in leading the Volunteers to their first SEC Championship win since 1995. Although, it did take him another month to rejoin the weekend rotation.
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Blade Tidwell, RHP, Tennessee
Weight: 207 lbs.
2021 Stats: 18 Starts, 10-3, 3.74 ERA, 98 2/3 IP, 90 K, 34 BB
2022 Stats: 11 Games, 7 Starts, 2-1, 2.54 ERA, 28 1/3 IP, 41 K, 11 BB
The ten wins that Tidwell recorded in 2021 were the second-most in school history for a freshman behind R.A. Dickey. That included the super-regional clincher over Lousiana State which sent the Volunteers to their first College World Series in 16 years. The sophomore was expected to be the ace of the Tennessee pitching staff before the injury and took some time to work his way back up. Now he provides an extra asset to the team in their tournament run this year, as he showed he can be successful pitching out of the bullpen.
As he has continued to work his way back, Tidwell could start games but won’t be forced to with how well the Tennessee rotation has performed. After a perfect three innings of relief against Mississippi State, he came back and pitched 4 1/3 innings to start the game against Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament last week. Although not exactly the same situation, Tidwell has been used similar to how former Volunteer Garrett Crochet was used before being drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2020.
My first look at Blade Tidwell (rhp, @Vol_Baseball) who was working his way back when I last saw the Vols. Was up to 98 mph (2x) early, sat 95-97 can can miss bats with pitch. Check the overlay at the end to see how the 82-85 mph slider (~2600 spin) tunnels with FB. #MLBDraft pic.twitter.com/ZBq2o8dPBY
— Burke Granger (@burkegranger) May 8, 2022
Tidwell has an electric fastball that sits around 93-96 mph and tops out at 99 mph to go along with a full arsenal of pitches. When he misses with the fastball, he usually misses up and out of the zone. The slider is his best pitch overall as it is very tough for any hitter to square it up. It sits in the low-80s and can reach as high as 88 mph with some sweep. There are some variations to his slider, including one that starts inside to right-handers and has them reaching out over the plate, and another that drops off the table. Tidwell also has an effective low-80s changeup that gets plenty of whiffs, as it generated the best swing-and-miss rate (39 percent) of any of his pitches in 2021. Although not used much, Tidwell also drops in a mid-70s curveball to give hitters a different look.
While his fastball velocity is top-tier, he isn’t always able to locate where he wants it, as it will get hit if he doesn’t throw it up in the zone. As he gets back to a full workload post shoulder injury, Tidwell will need to keep working on his command and consistency of his pitches. There is still more room to add more strength to his 6-foot-4 frame which will help him maintain his stuff deep into games. Right now, it is still uncertain whether his velocity will hold up late into games, as even last year he would fall off to around 92-94 mph as his start went along.
Pro Comparison: Carlos Rodon
A former first-round pick by the White Sox, Rodon has one of the nastiest fastball-slider combos in the league. Tidwell could take a similar career trajectory, as it took Rodon a few years to find himself and turn into the ace pitcher he is today. The left-hander has faced shoulder issues in his career as well, and Tidwell is basically the right-handed version of him. Although Rodon is bulkier at 245 pounds, they are around the same height at 6-foot-3.
Draft Projection: Atlanta Braves, Round 1, Pick 20
For two straight years, the Braves have selected a pitcher out of Wake Forest in the first round, in Jared Shuster and Ryan Cusick. While that won’t happen this year, Atlanta could keep adding to their pitching depth with Tidwell. The 2021 World Series champions have done well in developing high upside college arms, and that trend could continue as Tidwell has the upside of an ace in the majors.
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