ALTOONA- During my trip to see the Curve play the Hartford Yard Goats, there was one pitcher that caught my eye that week, and his name is Sean Sullivan.
Sullivan was an eighth-round pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2021 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of California Berkeley.
Since his introduction to the Pirates system, the right-handed pitcher has been treading water under the radar, but as of late, Sullivan has burst onto the scene.
During the Yard Goats series, Sullivan started two games that week, accumulated 11 innings in total, gave up four earned runs, walked two, and struck out ten.
“I think I’m on a pretty good track right now,” said Sullivan. “This was my first double start of the year, and my body feels great. I feel like I’m in a great spot physically, and I’m continuing to learn from every outing. Little things, big things, and cleaning some stuff up here and there, but I’m just going to keep rolling and do what I’ve been doing and not thinking too much about it.”
Early into Sullivan’s professional career, he dealt with some nagging injuries that halted some progress. Now that he’s starting to take on a bulkier load, there has to be something different in his preparation and maintaining physical fitness.
“I definitely prepare a lot more,” said Sullivan. “I spent all off-season building my body up so I wouldn’t have to miss any games. I’m way more on top of my stuff this year. I really want to be here and provide for this organization. That’s the best way I can do it, is to stay healthy and on the field. I’m going to continue to work on my body and make sure it feels great.”
When you look at Sullivan’s pitching arsenal, there really isn’t anything eye-popping, but he knows how to use what he has and use it effectively.
When you talk to Derek Shelton and anyone on the Pirates staff, the biggest message they preach to pitchers is filling the strike zone and getting ahead in counts.
Sullivan has taken that message and ran with it, and the Yard Goats starts were the biggest examples of that.
I can count on one hand how many batters Sullivan fell behind on, and when talking with Altoona manager, Callix Crabbe, he confirmed that.
“He was very good. I thought he was really ahead of the count. The first batter of the game, first pitch swing, next batter 2-2, 0-2, 0-2, 2-2, 1-2, 1-0, 1-1, which means no long counts. I think that’s a really important item for him, that he stays attacking the strike zone and getting ahead. When you can do that, you’ll be able to last long in games and give your team a chance to win.”
One of the newer pitches Sullivan adopted was a sweeping slider, and there were a few he threw on May 28 against the Yard Goats that stood out.
“He threw some really good sweeping sliders,” said Crabbe. “He had a really good one against the third hitter in the first inning with, I think, 16-17 inches of horizontal movement and induced break 0, so that’s a big sweeper. In the same at-bat, he threw a really good gyro slider that set it up. So to watch him use his pitches in that way was really cool.”
Sullivan also commented on his feel for the sweeper.
“Today, it felt great. It felt really good coming out of the hand. It’s still a little hit or miss. I’m trying to find that perfect release point. It’s tough to be really consistent every single start with it, and you’re always going to have one or two pitches that aren’t there, and you kind of got to fight through it. I’m getting better with all of my pitches every week. I thought today I did a good job using all four of my pitches effectively, and I’m going to keep working on it next week.”
This isn’t to say Sullivan didn’t struggle at times on May 28, and the biggest indicator of his struggling was in the third inning of that game.
With two outs in the inning, Sullivan hit a batter, walked the next one, and then allowed an RBI single with Zac Veen coming to the plate.
Sullivan then induced a pop-out, and the damage was limited. To force the number 30th ranked prospect (according to MLB Pipeline) into a pop-out in a clutch situation shows maturity and poise.
“That’s a big deal,” said Crabbe. “One of the signs of growth in a pitcher is when there is traffic and limiting damage. It doesn’t mean if you give a run, it’s a bad thing, it means that you’re giving your team and yourself a chance to not allow the momentum to swing too positively in the other team’s favor. That is a really big growth moment for him. I know last year he struggled a little bit with that, but this year it isn’t the case. He’s a bulldog.”