Sunday Notes: College-or-Pro Decisions, Padres Database

David Hale went to college. Chris Archer signed out of high school. Why the big-league pitchers chose their respective paths could serve as a template for preps selected in the just-completed draft. Everyone’s situation is unique, but many will use similar reasoning in making their choices.

“A lot of the decision is financial,” said Archer, who was drafted by the Indians and now plays for the Tampa Bay Rays. “Where your family is financially can be a big factor. If a company – baseball or non-baseball –is willing to offer you a large advance, and is willing to pay the expenses of school if it doesn’t work out… that’s something you probably want to take advantage of, especially if your family can’t necessarily cover all of your school expenses.

“I also felt going the professional route would help me develop more as a baseball player. I didn’t start pitching until I was 16, so I wasn’t very refined. The minor leagues are more about development than winning games, so I knew I was going to pitch every fifth day regardless of whether I walked 10 or struck out 10. Had I gone to college and pitched as a freshman and sophomore like I did my first two years of pro ball, I wouldn’t have pitched at all.”

Hale’s end goal was the same, but the means of getting there wasn’t.

“Coming out of high school, there was some talk of third to eighth round,” said the 26-year-old Atlanta Braves righty. “That wasn’t enough for me to give up my commitment to Princeton. It wasn’t life-altering money coming out of those rounds, so I wanted to make sure I got the education under my belt.

“Getting drafted is every kid’s dream, so most kids are going to jump all over it. My own wildest dream was to play in the big leagues, and I thought I had a legitimate shot, but I obviously wasn’t sure. Baseball can end with one pitch, or one swing, so why risk that not having a college degree? I went to Princeton and will always have that behind me.”

Archer plans to take advantage of MLB’s tuition program and eventually earn a college degree of his own – if the circumstances are right.

“Major League Baseball gives you an incentive to start playing professionally,” explained Archer. “For me, that means covering four years of tuition at the University of Miami, at $40,000 a year. I got a $160,000 signing bonus, plus $160,000 to cover any school expenses. Again, if you look at it from a business standpoint, honing one specific craft… baseball is temporary. A career can be a short-term thing, and if it doesn’t work out you have six figures in the bank and a free education in front of you.

“I think it would be cool to go to an Ivy League school someday – or a quality public school — but that said, it really depends on my next life venture. If I stay in professional baseball for a long time, I might not necessarily need a four-year degree.”

College players who are drafted and enter professional baseball following their junior seasons often don’t return to finish. Hale did, and he wasted little time doing so.

“I went back to finish my degree in the offseason,” explained Hale. “One factor was needing to write a thesis. I wanted to make sure I got that done as fast as I could with all the information still in my mind. For [the thesis] I used changes in stats from one year to the next to see if I could find a correlation between the three bigger arm injuries – Tommy John, rotator cuff, and labrum. There were one or two that had a little bit of a correlation, but nothing staggering.”

Hale has a future in the business world when his pitching days are over. Archer isn’t sure what will come next, but he does know why he plays baseball.

“We’re all talented in different ways,” said Archer. “Some are musically talented, some are really good with numbers, some are natural-born teachers and leaders. And some people can throw a baseball really hard and put it where they want it. There’s definitely a lot of stress that goes with it, but if you do that and take care of your family financially, and reach out and make a positive impact on the world… if that’s what you’re gifted in, you should fully pursue it.”

——-

Jake Stinnett will be pursing a career with the Chicago Cubs.

The University of Maryland righthander was drafted 45th overall by Theo Epstein and Company on Thursday. A power arm who helped pitch the Terrapins to this week’s Super Regional, Stinnett will be a senior sign. A year ago he declined to ink a contract with the Pirates after being taken in the 29th round.

Stinnett was primarily a position player his first two years at Maryland. After not playing much as a sophomore, he turned his full attention to the mound. The transition went well. A solid closer as a junior, he blossomed as a starter this season.

Stinnett has a firm fastball – he tops out at 97 – but learning to pitch and not just throw is what upped his draft stock.

“I’m glad the velocity is there, but a bigger part of my game is command and throwing strikes,” said the Vista, California native. “Velocity is a good thing to have but I don’t consider it the most important factor for me.

“I throw both two-and four-seam fastballs. My two-seam moves a lot – it sinks a lot – so I have to throw it at the right times. It’s a big pitch if I’m trying to get a ground out. If I want to paint a pitch on the outer black, I’ll throw a four-seamer.”

Stinnett will need to fine-tune his secondary offerings in order to succeed as a starter in pro ball. His slider is serviceable – at times it’s plus – and his changeup is a work in progress.

“My slider is my second-best pitch,” said Stinnett. “It was more of a curveball to start, and it’s still not really a true slider. It’s more of a slurve. It doesn’t quite have the velocity of a true slider, or the same horizontal tilt. My third pitch is a four-seam circle changeup. It’s good at times, but not as consistent as my other pitches so I don’t use it as much. I haven’t really needed to, although I’ll definitely have to develop it down the road.”

——

Aaron Sanchez was taken 34th overall in the 2010 draft out of a Barstow, California high school. The 21-year-old righty is now the top prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.

Like most young pitchers, Sanchez is on a pitch count and has an innings limit for the year. He doesn’t know what that limit is, but he understands and trusts the process. In his words, “There’s been a plan since the day I was drafted and it’s about sticking to that plan.”

Sanchez certainly wasn’t planning on what happened in a late-May matchup against the top pitching prospect in the Red Sox system. Going head-to-head with Henry Owens, he couldn’t find the plate. Sanchez walked four batters, hit another, and was lifted without recording an out. Afterward, I asked him if a mechanical issue was the cause.

“No, that wasn’t it,” said Sanchez, who is with Double-A New Hampshire. “I was brutal, but there’s nothing wrong. I was just wild. I’ve never been a command guy and I’ll never be a command guy. I just have to control my stuff and last night I couldn’t. Sometimes pitchers don’t have their nights, and last night wasn’t my night.”

In 2012, Sanchez told me he considers himself a power pitcher. Following the May debacle I asked if that has changed.

“Absolutely not,” responded Sanchez. “Everything I throw is hard. I have a power curveball. My heater has some life to it. So yeah, I still view myself as a power guy. It’s just a matter of consistency.”

——

Velocity rates continue to go up, and pitchers are breaking down just as fast. Tommy John’s name is being invoked on an all-too-often basis, and no one quite seems to know what to do about it. Theories abound, but if a silver bullet exists, it hasn’t been found.

The Padres are using data to help protect young arms. More specifically, they are using a database to closely monitor the workloads of every pitcher in their system. Mike Cather, the pitching coach for San Diego’s Triple-A affiliate, considers it an invaluable resource.

“We have proprietary software,” said Cather. “It includes number of pitches, pitch type, pitch counts, pitches per inning, workloads over the past 10 days, workloads over the last three starts. That information is available to all of the coaches in the organization, so there are a lot of eyes watching and making sure we’re staying within the parameters of what we feel comfortable with from a workload standpoint.

“We have it connected to BATS, so we can pull up video from individual starts. We can look at velocity, arm angle, and stride length. We also have TrackMan, which pulls up dozens of measurements pre-pitch, so we can look at extension, angle of attack, rotational axis of different pitches, spin rates – we have the ability to break down every minute detail of an outing.”

Cather, who served as San Diego’s minor league pitching coordinator last year, recognizes the challenge of keeping pitchers healthy. Arm injuries are nothing new. Long before Frank Jobe was born, Smoky Joe Wood broke down in 1913 after going 31-5 – and throwing 344 innings – the previous year. The hardest thrower of the deadball era was just 23 years old.

“Injuries are going to happen,” said Cather. “We’re all trying to figure out why so many guys are getting injured and I think a lot of it is the workload. Between spring training, the regular season and the postseason, we’re playing close to 200 games. Then you have the bullpens, the live BP… there’s a ton of throwing, and throwing a baseball is a grinding, methodical type of routine.

“There are certain things we want to stay away from, whether it’s flat ground after pitching in a game, or the length of throwing. We’re really looking for recovery days. We want to avoid back to back days of intense throwing. We try to monitor the amount of throwing and the quality of throwing for each of our pitchers. A lot goes into the maintenance of a pitcher’s arm, and we have organizational standards we adhere to. We track all of it as best we can.”

——

The Red Sox held a conference call with scouting director Amiel Sawdaye on Friday to address the team’s first three selections. I asked about 18-year-old righthander Michael Kopech, the second of their two first-round picks. Sawdaye said Kopech’s high school workload was typical, they liked the way he commanded his fastball, and that he has “an electric arm.”

He then said of the Texas prep: “The delivery has a little bit of Jered Weaver in it.”

That caused my ears to perk up. Weaver is an outstanding pitcher, but his delivery is far from smooth and unlikely to ever be recommended from a health standpoint. I asked Sawdaye if he backed away from any pitchers in the early rounds due to injury concerns. His answer was a flat “no.”

It will be interesting to see how much the Red Sox tweak Kopech’s mechanics going forward. Of course, they have to sign him first. Sawdaye said financial parameters were not agreed upon prior to his selection.

——

Arm issues are a common theme in clubhouse conversations, especially among pitchers. Frank Herrmann – currently with Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate — is well-educated on the subject. The Harvard graduate missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Herrmann has talked to several teammates about arm-care issues. Josh Tomlin, who also spent 2013 recovering from Tommy John surgery, is one. Trevor Bauer is another.

“I’ve picked Trevor’s brain a lot this year on things like mechanics and why he believes in the things he believes in,” said Herrmann. “I’m always looking for something, and that’s especially true coming off surgery. You always want to try to find yourself a little more and be open-minded.

“Most of what Trevor does doesn’t work for me, but I can sense the conviction he has in everything. Some people might call it stubborn – I know he butted heads with some people out in Arizona – but that’s part of why I feel he’ll be successful. He’s built a strong foundation and trusts it.”

Bauer’s approach has been somewhat controversial. The same can be said of certain topics that pop up in the clubhouse. Not all banter is about baseball. Even politics and religion are broached from time to time.

“A lot of guys look at me and think, ‘He’s from the Northeast and went to Harvard, so he must be a crazy left-wing liberal,” said Herrmann. “That’s not really the case, but I do have my leanings. Luke Carlin is pretty open-minded and he and I talk politics once in awhile. He’ll turn on Fox News just to kind of jab at me, or he’ll send me a link to get a conversation going. Gun control is a big issue for some of my teammates. We have a lot of guys from the South and some of them will sit in the clubhouse and watch gun videos. I’m not afraid to rattle the cage a little on that one.

“I’ve talked religion with Justin Masterson. He’s one of those guys you can say something to and he doesn’t take it like you’re challenging him. He’s very devout and runs the team’s Chapel. I’m not a Chapel guy, but if we’re in the hot tub I’m not scared to ask him questions about religion.”

Soccer is a religion in more than a few countries. According to the 30-year-old righthander, the upcoming World Cup is a hot topic among several teammates.

“We’ve started getting our World Cup pool together,” said Herrmann. “A lot of the Latin guys love soccer. Giovanny Urshela is from Colombia and is really into it. So is J.C. Ramirez, who is from Nicarauga. They’re not big fantasy football guys, so I think that’s where they cut their competitive teeth away from the field.”

Herrmann is a big fantasy football guy, and he has a lot of company.

“That’s actually how a lot of guys keep in touch after the season ends,” said Herrmann, who appeared in 95 games for the Tribe from 2010-2012. “I was teammates with Travis Hafner for a few years and during the season we’d mostly just exchange pleasantries. But once football started we’d talk or text message pretty much every day because of fantasy football.

“Hafner is a Browns fan and would always pick a couple of Browns players. We’d give him some crap about that, because it never seemed to pan out for him. There’s always some trash talk involved in fantasy football.”

Not all clubhouse banter is politics or “guy talk.”

Kevin Slowey is one of the more interesting teammates I’ve had,” said Herrmann. “I lived with him in 2012. They had just finished the Collective Bargaining Agreement and I’d ask him questions about that. He was very well-versed on the CBA. Kevin is also a guy who asks questions and they’re not always what you’re used to hearing. He’ll ask something like, ‘What do you think the meaning of life is?’ That’s something a lot of guys in the clubhouse don’t want to think about, but Kevin does. He’s not only smart, he’s thoughtful.”

——

A reminder that this year’s SABR national convention – the 44th annual – will be held in Houston from July 30-August 3. Featured speakers will include Roger Clemens, Larry Dierker, Jeff Luhnow, Reid Ryan, Tal Smith, Bob Watson and Jimmy Wynn. You don’t need to be a SABR member to attend. Compete information can be found here.



Print This Post



David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Matthew Tobin
Member

Really great stuff David. It is really great to hear about players lives outside the standard press conference

Kevin Slowey could be on of those guys who we keep questioning why he gets signed. But having a guy in the clubhouse that is smart and knows the CBA could be very valuable.

Also, the Padres should take a second look at their database. They have zero luck with pitcher health.

PrettyRickey
Member

You’re right about the Padres these last few years, but things are going better for them this year at least. Josh Johnson was a pre-existing injury risk, and not someone they’ve developed. Maybe the payoff just took a while.

eno's revenge
Guest
eno's revenge

i’d think the owners would not want to sign slowey for that very reason. they typically have the same views on unions and player rights as walmart does.

tz
Guest
tz

Slowey pitched at Winthrop University, where he was on an academic scholarship (1420 SAT score)

wpDiscuz