When the MLB draft was condensed from 40 to five rounds and the league placed a strict cap on non-drafted free agent spending, teams knew their classes would be dominated by older college players.
High school and non-senior college prospects maintained the ability to attend four-year schools and still be on track to be top draft prospects. While the NCAA allowed seniors an extra year of eligibility, returning to school would leave them a year older and still without leverage next year.
Haydn King chats with Around the Foghorn about signing with SF Giants
King, a relatively unheralded redshirt sophomore at UNLV understood what that meant for him. In an interview with Around the Foghorn, King broke down his thought process. “All the cards pointed in the direction of going back to school,” he said. “I have three years of eligibility left. It would be kind of silly for me to even consider me getting drafted after not having a full season, but I didn’t let that detour me. … I just used it as motivation.”
King was born into a baseball family. His grandfather, Gary Hughes, was inducted into the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame in 2009. His father, Matthew King, worked as a scout for over a decade between the Montreal Expos, Cincinnati Reds, and Florida Marlins organizations. His uncle, Marc King, reached the pro ranks as a player as well.
No one had played at the Major League level though. Hadyn hopes to change that.
Surrounded by scouting experts, his family was clear about how high a bar that was, “They’ve been very honest with me my whole life. They’ve always been like, ‘Yeah, you’re good, but you have to continue to get better.'”
In 2017, the Oakland Athletics selected King in the 39th round of the draft when he graduated from Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose. However, he decided to honor his commitment to the University of San Francisco instead.
While he still loves the city of San Francisco, his time at USF didn’t go as well as he’d envisioned. King was tagged for 28 hits and a 7.31 ERA in 16 appearances. Following his freshman year, he decided to look for a change in scenery.
King eventually transferred to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). In accordance with NCAA rules, he had to sit out for a season before he could play. Looking back, he realizes he hadn’t fully taken his family’s wisdom to heart. In his time off, King gained 40 pounds and in his own words “just was not being productive”.
At that point things began to click, “The biggest piece for me was realizing, OK I’m good. I come from a small pond, but now I have to work because all these guys around me they’re talented just like I am and they’re working.”
Of course, it’s a bit easier to get back on track when you’re working with one of the best pitchers in a generation. Hall of fame pitcher Greg Maddux has been working with the UNLV pitching staff since 2016.
Maddux, known for his impeccable command and direct approach, was almost the antithesis to King, “We’re the polar opposite. He was textbook form and mechanics. I’m more of a herky-jerky lefty. [He helped me] clean up my movement … and focus on attacking hitters.”
King developed a slider to pair with a fastball that works between 88-91 mph, but his unique changeup remains his signature pitch. At its best, it has an incredibly low 900-1000 spin-rate that generates almost knuckleball like break.
For perspective, the lowest average spin-rate recorded by an MLB pitcher in 2019 on a splitter or changeup was 1025 by Zac Grotz. Opponents could only muster a .192/.319/.231 triple-slash against Grotz’s pitch.
Coming into this spring, King was hoping to make an impression on draft scouts. Before the season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, King flashed the best command of his career. In 14.1 innings, King struck out nine and walked just one batter unintentionally. Coming out of UNLV’s bullpen, he posted a respectable 3.14 ERA.
Still, when the COVID-19 pandemic cut the season short, King felt his best play was ahead of him. He was obviously disappointed that he wouldn’t get to continue pitching but especially felt for his teammates.
After working out on UNLV’s campus for a month, King temporarily relocated to Push Performance in Arizona. He was trying to make the most out of his workouts and was sending video of his bullpen sessions to scouts.
His time in Arizona offered him a chance to use tools that hadn’t been at his disposal for some time. UNLV is not a client of Rapsodo, so he hadn’t been able to get advanced data on his pitches for close to a year. “I know I need to improve my spin efficiency and my arm side run on my fastball,” both of those were focuses in his time with Push.
When the draft aired on June 10-11, King watched every pick hoping to hear his name called. His opportunity would come shortly, just not yet.
Disappointed and motivated, King was looking ahead to what his future might look like. Then the Giants called on the first day of undrafted free agency.
Hadyn King grew up watching SF Giants
“Not many people know this, but, I would watch Giants games from inning one to nine and I soaked in Giants baseball … For the Giants to be the team to give me the opportunity is pretty amazing,” King said.
Looking ahead to an uncertain minor league landscape, King understands how valuable this opportunity is. “In the circumstances with all these great players getting cut and released, I’m getting an opportunity to get a start,” he said. “I can’t thank the Giants organization enough.”
Looking back on his time in college, King knows a career often has far more twists and turns than anyone expects. He wouldn’t have it any other way: “Obviously not being drafted was tough, but I would not trade that feeling for anything because I worked so hard leading up to [this] moment.”