Patriots right-hander Shawn Semple wasn’t an extraordinarily high draft pick from a prestigious college program. You would be hard-pressed to find his name at the top of any of those highly-regarded prospect ranking lists heading into the 2021 season. That is the type of material that inspires a player; the motivation to fuel their tank with drive to prove all of those naysayers wrong. Semple has admittedly been an underdog for most of his life and that’s why he is a key cog in the Somerset rotation and potentially on the radar of the Yankees player development staff for a big league opportunity in the not too distant future.
In an era that feels like pitchers have morphed into robots that regularly throw in the triple-digits with ease, there is still beauty and art that can be appreciated in pitchability. Semple isn’t lighting up the radar gun like some of the higher-profile arms in the Yankees system, but he may have the best understanding of his strengths. He pitches within himself and does so with a high-degree of confidence that has allowed him to succeed in his ascension through the ranks. In just three season in the organization, Semple has already pitched at every level from rookie ball all the way up to Triple-A.
“I know within myself why I was drafted for and that’s my fastball that rides in the zone,” Semple said. “My first couple of years I was maybe 90-93, maybe touch a five , but I worked very hard this offseason to get that velocity up and get those pitches going. I feel even stronger than I was before; I was confident before and I showed that I could pitch at Double-A, showed that I could pitch at every affiliate and even if I had 90-93, if I locate my fastball up in the zone, curveball down, get my pitch mix going in there, I can defeat anyone.”
Semple added, “Any pitcher can make it work. I grew up a Phillies fan and I watched Jamie Moyer for years and that dude did it. Everyone is a different pitcher and who I am, I’ve always just come back with this underdog mentality because growing up, I always didn’t make that team. As I’ve grown up, I’ve gotten better and better and better to where it got the point that I got drafted and it’s like ‘I can do this.’
The 25-year old University of New Orleans product made his season debut in his home state of New Jersey on Tuesday night with a huge turnout of family and friends on hand at TD Bank Ballpark for his homecoming. Semple tossed four innings of shutout baseball against Harrisburg, allowing just one hit and one walk while striking out five batters over his 61-pitch effort.
“Every year as I grow up, you get those jitters,” said Semple. “Especially not playing baseball for almost two years and not being able to pitch since my 2019 year in a game. Today being in New Jersey and being a New Jersey native, just getting back on that mound felt good because I know that I worked my tail off for the last year and a half to two years in the offseason refining what I needed to work on, working on mechanics, and it just feels good to show what I have after all of that hard work in that timespan.”
Patriots catcher Donny Sands added, “His fastball is very elite, it just rides and it’s hard and it plays really well up in the zone. He developed a new pitch this offseason, which was a slider; he used to be just a fastball, curveball, change-up guy, so now his best pitch other than his fastball is his slider and it’s moving a lot.”
After going 3-7 with a 4.54 ERA between four levels in 2019, Semple says that he worked with a trainer over the last few years, focusing specifically on functionality and split strength training that has allowed him to get stronger and in turn has ticked his velocity up.
“I think that hardest I’ve thrown is 96,” said Semple. “I wanted to come back this year throwing consistently 93-94 and I think that I did a pretty good job of doing that.”
“Now that I am throwing harder, I feel way more confident in myself,” added Semple. “I was confident before, but there is always that self-doubt. As I’ve grown and moved up in the ranks, I just get more and more confident because hey, I’m here. I didn’t think that I’d be here one day, but I’m here and I’ve got to do what I know I can do.”