Overview of Right-Hander Mason Erla
Right-handed pitcher Mason Erla is yet another college arm in a draft class flush with pitching. Coming in at six-foot-four-inches and 217 pounds, Erla currently ranks 91st on MLB.com’s Top 200 Draft Prospects list.
The Michigan State University right-hander has a few notable accomplishments. Among the most notable, Erla was named a Big Ten Pitcher of the Week earlier this year in March. In addition, the 22-year old named a Big Ten Freshman of the Week in March of 2018.
Beyond that, Erla has recorded 163 strikeouts over his college career at MSU. That puts him approximately 17 short of joining MSU’s Top 10 Strikeout Leaders list. Quite an accomplishment that might be added to Erla’s college resume. Prior to the season being shut down due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Erla had a 1.04 ERA over four starts with 42 strikeouts total. Over that span, he performed at a high enough level to be awarded the Robin Roberts Most Valuable Pitcher MSU Award.
The road to becoming an effective college-level pitcher hasn’t been easy though for Erla. After blowing out his knee playing football as a senior in high school, he went onto become a part of MSU’s weekend starting rotation in 2017 and has been on the radar of scouts ever since.
The most notable quality about Mason Erla is his ability to throw strikes. Erla does a phenomenal job of locating his pitches and really tricking opposing hitters with swing-and-miss stuff. In fact, the 42 strikeouts he recorded earlier this season resulted in a 14.2 K/9 rate. That was over double what his K/9 rate was in 2018 – 6.7. It’s part of what makes him so highly regarded and why many scouts believe he could be MSU’s best pitching prospect since Mark Mulder in 1998.
When it comes to his pitch mix, Erla features a really effective fastball which rates at a grade of 60 on the scouting scale. During the spring, his fastball sat between 93 and 95 miles per hour. However, as the season progressed forward, Erla ended up maxing out at 98 miles per hour. Beyond that, what makes his fastball so effective is his ability to miss the barrel of the bat with it.
Besides the fastball, Erla features a mid-80s slider as well as a cutter that usually reaches the upper-80s. Over the past few years, the right-hander has really worked on developing his slider as a secondary pitch. The slider gets a grade of 55 overall. Additionally, Erla has worked on developing a changeup, but it’s definitely a work in progress.
Durability is something that could be a bit of a concern for Erla moving forward. During his freshman season, Erla suffered a torn lat muscle during his second start of the season. It ended up being season-ending, but ever since the right-hander has been healthy. Hopefully, he is able to stay healthy and it’s fair to note that scouts aren’t necessarily that concerned about his health moving forward.
In addition, control is something that Erla could work on as he continues to progress in his development. Overall, Erla gets a grade of 50 on the scouting scale in that category. However, he is still young and has time to nail that down especially if he ends up getting drafted by the right team and has the right coaching staff beside him.
Third, Erla could work on continuing to develop more of a diverse pitch repertoire. He is definitely headed in the right direction considering the changes he made to his slider and the work he has done with his changeup. However, moving forward as a big-league pitcher, it would be invaluable for Erla to have a three or four-pitch repertoire that he can rely on.
As a pitcher that has had a “steady flow of interest from MLB Teams”, MLB teams see a lot of potential in Erla. A big reason why is because of the huge steps forward he has made especially in the strikeout arena. When trying to find an MLB comparison, a high-strikeout pitcher that relies heavily on his fastball with a slider as a secondary offering is what comes to mind.
Therefore, Gerrit Cole of the New York Yankees is an intriguing comparison. Cole is also six-foot-four-inches and is slightly heavier than Erla at 225 pounds. However, Cole finished last season in the 99th percentile in strikeout percentage (39.9%) and had an overall K/9 rate of 13.82 over 212 and 1/3 innings of work, according to Baseball Savant. As Erla progresses as a big-league pitcher, he could certainly turn into that type of mold.
Additionally, Cole had a very low BB/9 rate of 2.03 last year. Over his tenure with MSU, Erla’s total walks have decreased (40-2018, 29-2019, and 6-2020). Moving forward, if Erla is able to further develop his slider and rely on it as a secondary offering such as Cole, who threw that pitch 23.2% of the time last season, then he could very well live up to those expectations.
Comparing Mason Erla to Gerrit Cole is a tall ask especially after Cole’s dominance last year. However, from a strikeout perspective, the idea that Cole relies heavily on his fastball and slider combo, and based on walks, Erla could end up just like Cole especially if he continues to develop the right way. If that ends up happening, the team that drafts him would be thrilled to no end.
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