What on Earth is this Cardinals prospect's pitch!?

May 28th, 2024

It’s the screwball seen ‘round the world.

Cardinals pitching prospect Ettore Giulianelli has one of the funkiest breaking balls in Minor League Baseball, and one such pitch in particular has caught the internet’s attention.

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Pitching last Saturday for Single-A Palm Beach at Lakeland's Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, the 21-year-old right-hander entered the game in the sixth inning and faced fellow righty Jose De La Cruz (Tigers) third in the frame. Already up 0-1 in the count, Giulianelli delivered a 74.4 mph breaker that dropped in for a swinging strike.

But it did a lot more than just that.

The screwball showed 58 inches of vertical break, moved 8 inches to Giulianelli’s arm side and came in with a spin rate of 2,192 rpm. That type of drop, combined with atypical horizontal movement, gave the pitch a Wiffle ball-style look and undoubtedly contributed to De La Cruz’s weak attempt at contact.

Let’s add more context. Taking just the vertical and horizontal movement, the pitch almost behaved like a knuckleball. Since pitch tracking began in MLB in 2008, Tim Wakefield (785), R.A. Dickey (291) and Steven Wright (151) -- all knuckleballers -- lead the Majors in pitches delivered with 55 inches or more of drop and 8 inches or more of armside movement.

But knuckleballs famously come with incredibly low spin rates, and that certainly doesn’t fit the bill here. In the pitch tracking era, there have been only 27 total Major League pitches delivered with 55+ inches of drop, 8+ inches of armside movement and 2100+ rpm. Giulianelli has thrown six such pitches in the Florida State League this season alone.

By comparison, the average FSL curveball has 51.4 inches of drop and breaks 7.8 inches to the gloveside, mirroring Giulianelli’s horizontal to the complete other side of the plate.

It’s a pitch that Single-A hitters simply haven’t been able to handle.

Using an extreme over-the-top delivery, Giulianelli has thrown the mid-70s screwball -- sometimes designated as a curveball in pitch classification systems-- 39 times through 10 relief appearances in 2024. Batters have swung 13 times and missed nine times for an eye-popping 69.2 percent whiff rate. No Major League breaking ball (thrown a minimum of 35 times) has a whiff rate higher than 66.7 percent.

Signed out of Italy in July 2019, Giulianelli still has a way to go before he brings that circus pitch to the Major Leagues. The 6-foot-3 hurler spent the past three seasons in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League and jumped to full-season ball for the first time this spring. He sports a 4.26 ERA and 21 strikeouts through his first 12 2/3 innings but has struggled to find the zone with 19 walks in that span. He also sports a low-90s fastball and low-80s slider, but it’s the screwball that has him on the map in his age-21 season.