Results tagged ‘ Prospect Q&A ’
By Jake Seiner
Atlanta prospect Alex Wood is dominating Double-A with a 0.82 ERA through his first four starts. In 22 innings, he’s struck out 25 batters and walked just four. Opponents have a .182 average against him, and he’s induced a 2.17 groundout-to-flyout ratio. Monday night, he struck out eight Mobile hitters over six scoreless innings, allowing four hits and two walks.
Ranked sixth in the Braves’ farm system by MLB.com, Wood was expected to do well in the Minor Leagues. Drafted in the second round last year out of the University of Georgia, the left-hander came into pro ball already boasting a plus fastball and plus changeup, with the command to let both pitches play up. Despite that, he dropped into the second round because he lacked even a projectable breaking pitch, and many had concerns over his unusual mechanics.
I chatted with Wood on Tuesday, and in the quotes below, you can hear him talk about those mechanics. In short, he thinks those concerns were overblown and hasn’t adjusted much of anything because, though his process is unusual, he feels very comfortable with where he is upon releasing the ball.
The real story is that Wood has finally found a formidable breaking pitch. Atlanta invited Wood to Major League Spring Training, and in camp, Wood adopted the same knuckle curve thrown by Braves relievers Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters.
As Wood says below, the pitch immediately became the best breaking ball he’s ever thrown, and he’s thrown it regularly this year while dominating the Southern League.
Here’s the full transcript:
On what’s led to success at Mississippi:
I definitely think it’s because of my breaking ball. In terms of pitching and getting out there, my breaking ball has been very, very good so far this season. I’m using it to get more strikeouts, and I’m throwing it more consistently. It’s allowed me to take that next step in terms of going from A ball to Double-A. That’s definitely allowed me to have the success I’ve had here.
I’ve always felt that I had a real good changeup, and it’s been a blessing because, even with just two pitches, I was able to go out there and have success in school and even in pro ball. Having that good breaking pitch to throw with consistency in Double-A has definitely taken me to the next level. I’m really excited about where I’m headed.
On the knuckle curve:
I pretty much played with everything, every grip there is to play with for a breaking ball and slider, and I never really found one that stuck with me or that I had consistent success with and had the break you look for in a breaking ball. It just happened. I was lucky enough to go to big league camp with all those guys. I went in having a plan to ask those guys some things along those lines, and Craig [Kimbrel] and Jonny [Venters] showed me how to throw that spike curve, the knuckle curve. I tried it and I haven’t really looked back since.
Throwing a knuckle curve, it allows me to get on top of the breaking ball without thinking much about it. It’s one where, when you have consistent velocity, around 80-81 mph in my case, with that break, I can just throw the heck out of it. I guess you could say that I’m a power guy. I like to grip it and rip it, and I can do that with that breaking ball and get the speed difference and break. It fits right into my repertoire of pitches.
On how often he throws each of his pitches now:
I’m kind of different every time out, every start. I’m fortunate to get to watch — J.R. Graham throws the day before me, and he throws sort of like me with a lot of fastballs, and he has a good fastball. Based on what their lineup does against him, and how aggressive or patient they are with him — whether their going after his fastball — it gives me a good baseline about how I’ll go out the next day.
I threw last night against Mobile, and I opened the year against them, and in that game I probably threw 75-80-percent fastballs. Last night, they were a lot more aggressive and really were the whole start of the series. It really just depend on how the game goes, how aggressive they’re being.
I usually probably throw like 65-70-percent fastballs with a solid mix of the changeup and curve.
When I was in Low-A, I started with a different grip than I’d ever had. It was really inconsistent. Some days it would be decent, and some days it’d be all over the place, end up high and tight on lefties or just all over. This one, when I miss, I’m missing with a strikeout breaking ball. I might get swings and misses even when I miss. I’m throwing this one much more consistently. I can throw it for strikes or I can throw it out of the zone for a strikeout pitch. Definitely the difference for me is the consistency of it.
On slipping in the Draft amid concerns over his delivery:
In terms of the Draft and all that, I told my dad after it happened, I definitely felt that I have a little chip on my shoulder and felt like, there are all kinds of different things that go into it, but I shouldn’t have gone as low as I did. I thought I should’ve gone on the first day. My delivery is a little different, and teams didn’t know if I’d be a starter or a reliever. I never let what people think affect me. I just use it for extra drive. I’m a firm believer in everything happening for a reason, and I couldn’t be more happy with where I’m at with the Braves. It’s worked out great so far.
They haven’t messed with [my deliver] a whole lot. The thing is, you have people, when they’re talking about my mechanics and saying things about me, when you break down my mechancis on film, I have a different way of getting where I need to be, but if you break me down, I’m in about as good a position as you can be. When my foot lands, my arm is way above my shoulder, and I have good timing and hip rotation.
The people who got scared about my mechanics or say I have crazy mechanics — not that they don’t know what they’re talking about — but I’d compare it to in pre-Draft stuff, when they see hitters who do crazy stuff, but still end up in a good position to hit. When the results are there, you don’t care, just so long as the results keep coming. With pitchers, you see something out of the ordinary, and folks get scared. Just because it looks pretty doesn’t mean it’s good mechanics and doesn’t mean you’re going to get better results. That’s how I look at it.
Earlier this morning, MiLB.com published the first installment (link here) of my joint Q&A with Pirates outfielders Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco, who are ranked sixth and fifth respectively among Pittsburgh farmhands. I would encourage you to check that out initially. Below is a second installment of outtake questions and answers. Enjoy.
QUESTIONS FOR JOSH BELL:
Me: What’s your your daily routine at the IMG Academy?
Bell: From about 8:30 to 9:00 [a.m.], we stretch. For the next hour, we train our muscles, train on the glute and the hamstrings and the hip flexors to power through while we run. We do different drills, whether it be ladders or just working on karaoke or sled training. An hour is a long time to be doing anything, really. It’s the toughest part of the day, but it’s nice to see results. Even in this first week, I feel like my running mechanics have sharpened up a little bit, so that’s good.
Me: Do you have time for other stuff?
Bell: It’s an all-day thing. I have time after lunch until we play ball. Pedro Alvarez is up here right now. It’s cool to see a big leaguer. Everyone else is in the Minor Leagues. J.R. Murphy is with us. Just guys trying to get better for the upcoming season.
Me: What outfield position do you see yourself at long-term?
Bell: I got moved to right field last year. I don’t really care. The outfield is fun [no matter the position]. I love tracking balls, so wherever, depends on what the team needs.
Me: Is there a ballplayer you model yourself after?
Bell: Do I model myself after anyone specifically? I follow a couple guys on Twitter if that means anything, I guess, for the off-the-field aspect. I really like [Andrew] McCutchen and Matt Kemp, younger guys that have had success in the game. You gotta love Mike Trout, the way he plays.
Me: Have you met McCutchen?
Bell: I shook hands with him once and went to a players-only question-and-answer session that was like 45 minutes long. We could pick his brain and ask him whatever we wanted. It was cool behind the scenes, since we’re players we probably get more answers to our questions than reporters would. I just realized he was a normal guy. It was really cool.
Me: Aside from staying healthy, what are your goals for 2013?
Bell: I haven’t made a goal sheet for next season. This offseason, I just want to get as strong as I can and not leave anything in the tank. I have nothing to worry about this season because I know I have prepared myself the way I know I needed to. I’ll definitely go into Spring Training with a lot more confidence and being more trusting than I was last year.
Me: Where do both expect to begin the 2013 season?
Bell: I would expect [to be back at West Virginia], but I guess that depends on how I play in Spring Training. We’ll see.
QUESTIONS FOR GREGORY POLANCO (@El_Coffee):
Me: Were there adjustments you made before or during last season to put yourself in a position to have such success?
Polanco: I made a lot of adjustments before and during the season. You never stop making adjustments.
Me: Were you surprised by your breakout 2012? Does it raise your expectations for the 2013 campaign?
Polanco: I wasn’t surprised because I worked really hard for that, and thank god I had a great season, and it definitely has risen my expectations for this year.
Me: What is your favorite thing about playing in the Minors?
Polanco: Being able to work on my game everyday, so I can maximize my tools the day I arrive in Pittsburgh.
Me: Who is the toughest starting pitcher you have faced in the Minors?
Polanco: Jose Fernandez from the Marlins.
Me: What part of your game needs the most work?
Polanco: My consistency.
Me: What is your long-term baseball goal?
Polanco: Playing 20 years in the big leagues.
Me: Where do both expect to begin the 2013 season?
Polanco: I’m not sure but I will probably start in the FSL [with the Bradenton Marauders].
Me: Aside from baseball, what is your passion?
Polanco: Video games since I was a little kid. I’m addicted to PS3.
Me: Lastly, is there anything you want your fans and our readers to know about you?
Polanco: Everybody calls me “El Coffee.” It comes from my skin color. My coach growing up gave me [the name]. Growing up, I was a pitcher, too, tall lanky lefty.
Here’s why he should be: Nine months after major surgery — and 16 months since his last MiLB appearance — Swagerty is healthy again, raring to go.
The last time we saw him in action, the now-23-year-old right-hander swept through three levels in the Cardinals’ system in 2011, compiling a 1.83 ERA and an 89-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 93 2/3 innings, his first since St. Louis made him a second-round draftee in 2010.
Forty-two days from Spring Training, Swagerty is in Arizona, completing two bullpen sessions a week, waiting to resume his trek to the Majors. I caught up with him on the phone this afternoon.
Me: How has the offseason been?
Swagerty: To me, it’s been about a 13-month offseason, but it’s been good. Still going to rehab everyday and getting my arm back in shape. It’s finally coming around. I’m going to be ready for Spring [Training], so it’s exciting to get back to baseball mode.
Me: What stage of rehab are you at?
Swagerty: I have been throwing pens now for a while and actually, probably going to have to slow it down for a bit, just so I don’t build up too fast because I’m going to have a little extra time to play with, which is nice. I’m still strengthening everything, making sure everything is right, stretching everything out. It’s nice to have a couple weeks of time that is extra in case there was something that went wrong.
Me: Sounds like an on-time recovery.
Swagerty: Yeah, actually a little bit earlier than I thought, so everything is on schedule. That is nice thing.
Me: What have you been up to aside from rehabbing this past year?
Swagerty: I did I did a lot of hunting during hunting season, spent a lot of time in the weight room — I can’t do a whole lot of upper body, but whatever I can to strengthen my legs. Reading some books and finding a way to stay focused. I’ve been rehabbing here [in Arizona], but I did get time [in Texas] over the holidays. Two or three weeks at home, always good to see family.
Me: What’s been the challenge of not pitching in a game for more than a year?
Swagerty: Seeing your buddies playing, it’s easy to get you down because you want to be out there. I guess the challenge is staying focused on what you have to do on an everyday basis, going to rehab — rehab get’s very repetitive, so staying focused on what you have to do everyday and not trying to look toward the end of it, I think, is the biggest challenge.
You probably don’t know who Cameron Garfield is. And it would be hard to blame you. Garfield, the Milwaukee Brewers’ second round draftee in 2009 has seen his star as a prospect dim thanks to 2011 and ’12 campaigns interrupted by injury. He is not among the Crew’s Top 20 prospects presently, and he was surpassed in status by the club’s June drafting of Clint Coulter — like Garfield was four years ago, a high school catcher with a potential impact bat.
“For me, it’s not really where I am ranked or anything like that. I want to be a prospect in the organization’s eyes,” Garfield told me over the phone this afternoon from his training hub in California. “I want to impose the decision on them, you know, ‘We have to move this kid up, he’s playing really well.'”
So here is why you should start to get to know Garfield (@CAMgGARFIELD): In 66 games at Class A Wisconsin last year, the now-21-year-old posted a .298/.385/.524 slash line (or in OPS-speak, .910). I thought he might be worth chatting with in advance of 2013, or potentially his first healthy season in three years.
Me: How has the offseason been?
Garfield: Good, really good. My main focus was getting my leg back into shape from my surgery [in 2011]. Taking time to cover and rehab. I’m now at the point where everything is healed up and just getting the strength back to get it equal to my right leg.
Me: Take us through if you would how it happened…
Garfield: The injury happened early in the 2011 season. I originally dislocate the kneecap and it didn’t require surgery. Went through the whole rehab process and at six months — with catchers, it takes a little longer — and the rehab went good. One of my last rehab games, it was just a freak accident where I walked on a ball and re-injured it. It took me halfway into the 2012 season and recovered fine. Now I’m still building that strength.
Me: What’s your workout routine like now?
Garfield: In years past, I was more worried about getting stronger, building more muscle mass. Even though that plan went great, I don’t think my body was used to carrying the extra muscle mass. This offseason, I am trying to stay leaner a little more quality, a little lighter so it’s not as taxing on my knees. I’m doing agilities, sprints and a lot of plyometrics.
Me: With some time to reflect now, how do you evaluate your 2012 campaign?
Garfield: I’m really happy about how the 2012 season went. I think it was just a couple more years of maturity. I approached the game a little different. I wasn’t trying to do too much at the plate and really just taking each game by game and giving full effort. It paid in my favor.