Image: Henry Huey / Special to American-Stateman
Travis Sykora is currently 18 years old and attends Round Rock High School in Texas. He is committed to the University of Texas at Austin. MLB.com ranks Sykora the #27 overall prospect for the 2023 MLB Draft. If I had to describe Sykora in one word, it would be “flamethrower.” He’s a right-handed pitcher who stands 6-feet 6-inches tall and weighs around 220 pounds. His fastball sits around 96 to 98 MPH, but tops at around 101 MPH!
Sykora has great potential to be a dominant and elite pitcher because of his excellent frame and velocity. However, to thrive in today’s MLB as a starting pitcher, you need to throw the ball insanely hard or have great breaking balls and command. Sykora has the velocity to succeed in the big leagues, but he lacks elite control and a deep pitching arsenal at the moment.
His Scouting Grades on MLB.com:
Fastball: 70 | Slider: 55 | Splitter: 60 | Control: 50 | Overall: 50
(Scale is from 20 to 80, 20 being the worst, 80 being the best)
Sykora’s excellent fastball makes him a potential first-round pick in the 2023 Draft. He can touch 101 MPH at 18 years old, which is remarkable. In addition, watching him throw the ball is truly amazing, as it seems so effortless and simple. He has great mechanics and throws the ball out of the three-quarters arm slot. With his great size, weight, and already “plus-plus” fastball, he has the potential to consistently sit around 100+, which would be a nightmare for any batter.
However, the dropoff from his fastball to his other pitches concerns many scouts when looking at Sykora. His slider is average and touches the mid-80 MPH range, with a short break on the ball. His splitter is slightly above average and also sits in the mid-80 range, and breaks well.
Another question that surrounds Sykora is the command of his pitches. Many scouts have noted that he struggles to find the zone with his secondary pitches, and his control could be more consistent. Scouts worry that the lack of movement and control on his pitches will lead him to fail at higher levels of play.
The concern is that Sykora is blowing away the competition only because of his elite fastball and has yet to prove himself with other pitches. Only a few high school varsity players have seen high 90s velocity. However, big league hitters always face top velocity, and it would not take them long to figure Sykora out if he only relied on his fastball.
But, then again, Sykora is only 18 years old and has so much potential to develop into a successful MLB pitcher. He desperately needs to improve his control and break on the slider and splitter. If he can develop these pitches to an elite level, there is no question that he could be an All-Star-level starter. He’ll need to prove to everyone that he is more than just a guy with a great first pitch, and show that he can pinpoint pitches where he wants and mix his elite fastball with excellent breaking balls to fool the batter.
Current Prospect Comparison: Andrew Painter
Andrew Painter is the highest-ranked pitching prospect on MLB.com at the moment. He is a right-handed pitcher, playing for the Phillies double A organization, the Reading Fightin Phils. He is 19 years old, stands at a massive 6’7″, and weighs around 215 pounds.
Painter and Sykora are similar because they are both prep prospects and share a similar size and frame. Additionally, their standout pitches are their fastballs (both being 70-graded) that sit in the high 90s and top in the low 100s.
However, even though Painter is one year older than Sykora, there is a huge difference in breaking balls and control. In the minor leagues, Painter has proved to be very consistent in finding the zone and making batters miss. In the 2022 season, Painter threw 103.2 innings with a 1.56 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, and 13.5 SO/9.
Painter’s slider, changeup, and control are all graded higher than Sykora’s. If Sykora can develop his offspeed pitches and master his control, there is no doubt that he can become a top pitching prospect like Painter.
Painter Scout Grades: Fastball: 70 | Curveball: 50 | Slider: 60 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 65 | Overall: 60
MLB Comparison: Noah Syndergaard
Career Stats: 3.41 ERA, 3.06 FIP, 21.3 fWAR, 57 Wins
Like Travis Sykora, Noah Syndergaard also has a large frame for a starting pitcher. Syndergaard stands at 6’ 6” and weighs around 242 pounds. This height/weight blend is the perfect recipe for throwing an elite fastball. According to Baseball Savant, Syndergaard has reached the 96-98th percentile for fastball velocity (100 being the best).
However, the main problem with Sykora as a prospect, and Syndergaard as a big-league pitcher, is that they both have average control and need better pitch depth. Their fastballs are amazing and will make batters swing and miss. However, you must become an elite MLB pitcher with more than one elite pitch. Syndergaard is known for having one of the worst curveball spin rates in the league, which has been one of the reasons why he has not panned out.
Syndergaard has struggled with many injuries throughout his career, including elbow injuries. It is well known that flamethrower-type pitchers are more at risk for Tommy John Surgery since throwing at such high velocity puts tremendous stress on the elbow.
Sykora could be an elite starter in the big leagues with his elite fastball. However, if he fails to add depth and consistency to the rest of his pitch arsenal and struggles with injuries, he can have a similar career to Syndergaard’s.
Ceiling: Gerrit Cole
Career Stats: 3.22 ERA, 3.12 FIP, 39.4 fWAR, 132 Wins
Sykora is similar to Cole since they both have elite fastballs. Cole’s average fastball velocity this year is around 97 MPH, according to Baseball Savant. Their frames are slightly different, as Cole is 2 inches shorter, and they both share the same weight of around 220 pounds.
However, everything has to go right for Sykora to develop into a Gerrit Cole-like pitcher. Gerrit Cole is a 5x All-Star and has been an elite and dominant pitcher in the MLB for many years. What also separates Cole from Sykora is that Cole has a very deep pitch arsenal.
Baseball Savant ranks Cole’s slider and curveball breaks around the top 85% of pitchers in the league. Cole has a great fastball but has other great pitches to mix up things and fool batters consistently, which is why the Yankees pay Cole around $36M annually.
It seems unlikely that Sykora will ever reach this level of dominance. However, he already has an elite fastball and has lots of time to develop his breaking balls and control in the minor leagues.
High School pitchers are the riskiest pick of the MLB draft, as many are known to suffer from significant injuries or fold under the pressure of being a professional baseball player at 18 years old. However, Sykora’s fastball and favorable frame make him stand out amongst the other pitchers of this draft. If he can improve his control and offspeed pitches, there is no doubt he could be a top pitcher in the MLB. But, many teams are hesitant to take that gamble with their first-round pick.
Sykora is currently projected to go in the mid to late 20s of the first round. So Braves, Padres, and Yankees fans should watch out for their teams to take the high school phenom pitcher and potentially have an elite starter for their franchise.
Categories: 2023 Prospects, Articles, MLB Draft
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