The Diamondbacks opened up the 2020 MLB Draft by selecting Duke’s Friday night starter Bryce Jarvis with the 18th overall pick. He already had impressive games on his resume, outdueling 2019 11th overall pick Alek Manoah in last year’s regionals and holding his own against Vanderbilt and one of the top 2021 prospects in Kumar Rocker. That only got him drafted by the Yankees in the 37th round of the 2019 Draft as an draft-eligible sophomore. However, with the upside of a #4 starter, Jarvis was looking at likely being selected in the 4th/5th round of the 2020 draft at the earliest with a good year in a draft that had plenty of college arms with more present-day upside.
One summer would come to change that trajectory. Instead of going to the Cape again after his sophomore year, Jarvis would instead head to the Driveline Baseball and the Cressy Sports Performance facilities to work on pitch design and improving his fastball velocity in hopes of having a breakout junior campaign with Duke. If you’re interested in the details of what went on inside those facilities, I recommend reading this piece on Bryce Jarvis by Eno Sarris (subscription required). Sarris interviewed Driveline assistant director of pitching Bill Hezel, Cressey Sports Performance President Eric Cressey, and Jarvis himself about the improvements he made that summer.
Jarvis credits the reason for going to those facilities to improve his arsenal as the game becoming more analytically-based in the field of pitching. Driveline Baseball, who’s origin and rise to frame is well-chronicled in The MVP Machine by Travis Sawchik and Ben Lindbergh, gained notoriety from past clients. The founder of Driveline, Kyle Boddy, was hired as a pitching consultant for the Cincinnati Reds this past winter. While training that summer Jarvis’ intelligence, both in baseball and in the classroom as a Mechanical Engineering major, served well for taking instructions and learning how to make the right adjustments to optimize the spin rate, efficiency, and axis of his individual pitches.
After working on optimizing how he wanted his curveball, slider, and change-up to spin, Jarvis then went to work on improving his velocity. Over the summer Jarvis added 20 pounds of muscle weight to his lower half, which resulted in his velocity taking a huge bump from 87-90 to 92-96. With more velocity on the fastball, that would also help to better his off-speed deliveries as hitters would now have to respect the pitch more.
With more velocity on the fastball and a full 4-pitch mix to work with, Jarvis went straight to dominating the competition. In his second start of the year, he twirled a 15-strikeout perfect game against Cornell that put him on the map for the first night of the 2020 Draft. Two weeks later, he outdueled Florida State ace C.J. Van Eyk with 7 shutout innings with 12 strikeouts. In that start, Jarvis flirted with another perfect game and took a no-hitter into his final inning. Due to COVID-19, that would prove to be his last start in a Duke uniform.
With baseball cancelled, teams were left wondering if the improved version of Jarvis was for real or just a small sample size abnormality. During the quarantine, Jarvis would return to Cressey and work on live pitching drills. Here’s how it looked.
When the draft came around, the Diamondbacks were one of the few teams that were locked in on Jarvis. Mock drafts from Keith Law, Eric Longenhagen, and Jim Callis had the D-backs drafting him at 18, the highest he’d been projected in these mocks.
The organization believed that the growth he showed in 2020 was sustainable and took him with names such as Nick Bitsko, Jared Kelley, Pete Crow-Armstrong, Cade Cavalli, and Garrett Mitchell on the board. When talking about Jarvis in the video conference call, D-backs scouting director Deric Ladnier raved about the intelligence that Jarvis’ displayed on the mound and in interviews. Ladnier also noted the front office was sweating it out the last two picks before they were up since the Cubs and Red Sox were two potential landing spots for Jarvis as an under-slot player. Instead, Ed Howard and Nick Yorke went at those selections and the D-backs wasted no time in making their pick.
Based on the information we have today, I would project Jarvis as a potential #3 starter with the upside of a #2 if his stuff continues to improve. Being able to command four average or better pitches, including a plus slider and close to a double-plus change-up should make him a relatively safe projection to end up in the D-backs rotation. His advanced level of intelligence in both pitch design and ability to interpret information from scouting reports to develop a game plan should allow him to be a very effective pitcher in the D-backs rotation and could end up being one of the first pitchers from the 2020 draft to reach the majors.
His long term upside is a bit of a question mark, especially when trying to project any potential future gain. There is a little bit of physical projection, although his current size, stuff, and intelligence profile already projects well for a long career as a starter. His drive, work ethic, and ability to quickly grasp concepts well serves not only to make himself the best player he can be, but also set a strong example in the locker room. With those type of intangibles, it’s not out of the realm to suggest that there may be future growth on the way and that he turns out to be a better player than what we project today.