Confident Dylan Lesko is Ready to Show New Slider, Refined Mechanics

Lesko, a top 100 prospect at Just Baseball, could cement himself as a key piece of the Padres' future pitching plans alongside Drew Thorpe and Robby Snelling in 2024.

DENVER, CO - JULY 09: Dylan Lesko #17 of the National League Team pitches during the MLB USA Baseball All-American Game at Coors Field on Friday, July 9, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

When the San Diego Padres drafted right-hander Dylan Lesko with their first selection in the 2022 MLB Draft, President of Baseball Operations AJ Preller and company knew they’d have to wait more than a year before seeing him back at full strength. The top prep arm in the class underwent Tommy John surgery in April of that year, wiping out his senior season and delaying his potential pro debut until the middle of the 2023 season, at the earliest, if he signed.

The news caused Lesko to “fall” to 15th overall, where the Padres were happy to select the first ever Junior to win the Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year after pitching to a 0.35 ERA with 112 strikeouts in 60 innings for Buford High School in Georgia.

The talented right-hander returned to action in late June of last season to what he called “mixed results,” though it was hard to come away from his 36 innings anything but encouraged. He averaged 94.5 MPH with his fastball with 20 inches of induced vertical break, and his elite changeup was as-advertised.

The challenge at times for Lesko was his command, which was an unfamiliar feeling for the young righty who impressed scouts with his polished delivery and repeatable mechanics as an amateur. A year and a half away from pitching in game action with a reconstructed elbow will result in a re-acclimation process for any pitcher.

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“This offseason there were a couple mechanical things, just trying to get back to where I was in high school,” Lesko said on “The Call Up” podcast. “Some things were a little off last year, but that’s normal. Nobody is going to be perfect with that much time off … it takes time.”

Considering Lesko’s reputation for being a strike thrower in high school and on the summer circuit, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see his strike rate jump significantly from the 59% mark he finished with last season.

The characteristics of his fastball from both a velocity and shape perspective should make it a big whiff pitch at the top of the zone, especially as he locates it with more precision. Between Low-A and High-A, he racked up a swinging strike rate of 14.5% on the pitch, a figure he saw climb as he compiled more starts.

Though a small sample, he generated 21.5 inches of induced vertical break with his fastball over his final three starts, steadily regaining his fantastic feel to create backspin and ride.

The pitch that did not quite have the same trajectory for Lesko last season was his curveball, but it has the ingredients to be a solid third offering. A big breaking ball that gets 17 inches of horizontal break and 14 inches of horizontal while flirting with 3,000 RPM can be difficult to consistently spot, with Lesko only landing it for a strike around 45% of the time.

Though Lesko feels confident that he can get the curveball to a spot where he can rely on it as a viable third offering, he focused on adding a slider to give him a four-pitch mix heading into the 2024 season.

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Rather than a big sweeper, which has become a popular pitch, it seems like Lesko is keen on a shorter and harder pitch. Though he has yet to throw it in a game setting, the 20-year-old right-hander feels really good about where his new offering is at and what it can do for the rest of his arsenal.

“The addition of a harder slider to bridge the gap between the velocity differences has also helped me with my curveball,” Lesko said. “Having the slider as a pitch where if I need it to break smaller and land in the zone, I can do that.”

Lesko’s changeup is good enough to be an effective offering against same-handed hitters, but he only mixed in his changeup about 15% of the time to righties as opposed to more than 40% against lefties. Another breaking ball will give him another option against right-handers in addition to potentially helping Lesko’s feel for his curveball, as he alluded to.

From a velocity and comfort standpoint, Lesko’s mention of the “bridge” makes sense. Part of what makes Lesko’s changeup so good is that he maintains the arm speed of his mid 90s fastball while the grip takes care of the rest. His curveball is a much different throw in the mid 70s, with a harder breaking ball in the low-to-mid 80s likely being easier for Lesko to have a feel for.

Now approaching 24 months since his surgery, the Padres pitching prospect says he is feeling as good as ever.

“People say it takes two years to feel like your true self. And honestly, I kind of believe it now that I am almost at the two year point,” Lesko said. “You feel like you’re at 100 percent — I did at least last year. But after having this full offseason, I just feel so much better now.”

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