Blade Tidwell didn’t have a final high school season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was a known right-handed prep pitcher from Tennessee, but the lack of exposure in the months leading up to the 2020 MLB draft didn’t help his professional aspirations.
Two days before the draft started, Tidwell competed in a Perfect Game event. Tidwell’s performance drew rave reviews, especially when it came to his fastball. Tidwell hit 97 mph with his fastball, which was about five mph higher than usual. The increase in velocity led to a surge in draft attention.
Despite the interest, Tidwell went undrafted. He knew his best option was to honor his commitment to the University of Tennessee. In his first year at Tennessee, Tidwell displayed electric stuff and growth under the guidance of Frank Anderson, one of the premier pitching coaches in college baseball.
Tidwell’s development at Tennessee has put him in consideration as one of the top pitchers in the 2022 draft class. Scouts project the draft-eligible sophomore to be an early-round pick who could easily enhance his value in the spring to move into first-round consideration.
“I try not to focus on the draft right now,” Tidwell said. “I think that’s a Christmas break thing or for whenever I need to focus on the draft stuff. But right now, I need to focus on getting back in rhythm so that I can be ready for this upcoming season.”
Tidwell was a fixture in Tennessee’s rotation as a freshman last season. He posted a 3.74 ERA with 90 strikeouts and 34 walks allowed in 98 2/3 innings (18 starts).
In the offseason, Tidwell competed with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. The experience allowed him to work alongside and learn from some of the other highly-regarded college baseball pitchers.
Mississippi State right-handed pitcher Landon Sims suggested Tidwell throw CleanFuego balls when the two were together with Team USA. Tidwell purchased CleanFuego balls and threw them three times per week in the offseason in hopes of improving his spin axis.
He believes his offseason work will improve the consistency of his five-pitch mix. Tidwell is a 6-foot-4, 200-pound right-hander who throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider, changeup and curveball from a quick arm action.
He has an above-average fastball that consistently hits the high-90s. It’s an impressive offering that he uses to generate a lot of strikes. This season, Tidwell hopes his fastball isn’t as flat and displays more vertical break. He also wants to improve the command of his fastball.
Tidwell’s slider is his best secondary pitch. It has sweeping breaking action and sits in the low-80s. It generates plenty of swings and misses, and he has confidence throwing his slider in any count.
Tidwell relies heavily on his fastball, slider combination. His changeup and curveball are average offerings but flash potential. He worked on both pitches in the offseason.
He mostly threw his changeup to lefties last season but believes the pitch will serve as an option against right-handed hitters as well this season. In the offseason, Tidwell fixed the depth on his curveball, so it is more of a strikeout pitch rather than just a get-me-over pitch, he said.
“My fastball is my biggest strength, as well as the command I have of my slider,” Tidwell said. “I want to win more than anyone. That gives me a mental advantage over my opponents.”
Tidwell will play an instrumental role for the Volunteers this season. Expectations are high for the Volunteers after they reached the College World Series for the first time since 2005 last season.
Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello earned the National Coach of the Year award last season. He has done a tremendous job in his first four seasons to build the Volunteers into one of the Southeastern Conference’s top teams.
Players feed off of Vitello’s energy and competitiveness. This season, the Volunteers hope they can build off last year and return to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
“We just need to throw strikes, compete and do whatever it takes to get the job done will be important,” Tidwell said. “Last year, we just found a way to get it done. If we can do that this year, that will lead to success.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for seven years. He has interviewed 356 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.