Sunday Notes: Rangers, Dodgers, A’s, Tigers, Growing Up Baseball

Seth Rosin is a Texas Ranger. At least for now. The 25-year-old right-hander learned yesterday he’ll be on the opening-day roster, but as a Rule 5 pick he will have to be offered back to the Phillies if he doesn’t remain with the big-league team all season.

Rosin‘s suitcase has been kept busy. Originally drafted by the Giants in 2010, he was traded to the Phiilies two years later. The Mets took him in last December’s Rule 5 and proceeded to sell him to the Dodgers. Rosin pitched well in spring training, but with no room in a loaded LA bullpen, they cut him loose. The Rangers picked him up on Wednesday.

His brief time in the Dodgers system could be a difference-maker in his career. Rosin spent the last three months fine-tuning his delivery under the tutelage of coaches with a biomechanical bent.

“There is definitely a different approach here,” Rosin told me earlier this month in Dodgers camp. “I’d never really thought about some of the things they’ve been throwing at me, and have tweaked my mechanics more than I ever did with the Phillies or Giants. I’m learning how to incorporate my lower half and use my whole body instead of just trying to execute pitches. Basically, I’m learning the science behind throwing a baseball.”

I wasn’t surprised to hear that the 6-foot-6, 260 lb. hurler is altering the framework of his delivery. I knew from an interview with Logan White that the Dodgers are big on biomechanical assessments.

“Once I got Rule 5’d over here, they said they’d watched a lot of video of me,” said Rosin. “They saw an opportunity for me to become more efficient with my body. The process of incorporating those things began at a camp in January, and I’ve continued to work on it since that time.

“I’ve kept pretty much the same arm action,” continued Rosin. “What I’m doing differently is using my lower half better and getting further down the slope on my stride, and creating more deception. With a release point closer to home plate, the hitter has less time to adjust to your pitches. We’ve worked on me finishing my pitches better and getting a little more spin on the ball.”

Rosin, who spent last year at Double-A Reading, throws two- and four-seam fastballs, a slider, and a changeup. His fastball sits in the low 90s and tops out at 95. He’ll work out of the Rangers’ bullpen — at least for the time being.

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Chris Withrow established himself in the Dodgers bullpen last season. The 24-year-old right-hander enjoyed a strong rookie campaign, winning all three decisions and logging a 2.60 ERA in 20 relief appearances. He fanned 43 in 34-and-two-thirds innings.

Once upon a time, he projected as a front-line starter. Drafted 20th overall in 2007, Withrow had good mechanics and a fastball that flirted with triple digits. Going into 2010, he was the top pitching prospect in the Dodgers system. All he needed was a few more years of development.

Things didn’t go as planned. The high-octane was there, but so were the walks and high earned run averages. His career was going nowhere fast. That changed midway through the 2012 season when the Dodgers moved him to the bullpen in Double-A Chattanooga. Suddenly, he was back on track. According to the rejuvenated righty, it was a matter of getting back to the basics.

“Moving to the pen simplified things for me,” said Withrow. “As a starter, I think I was trying too hard to pace myself through an outing. In the bullpen, I got with Chuck [Crim], [Rick] Honeycutt and Kenny Howell. Those guys basically said, ‘Trust your stuff and challenge every hitter.’ That became my main focus.”

I asked Withrow if there was more to it. After five-plus years of toiling in the minors, did he finally make the transition from thrower to pitcher?

“Maybe that‘s part of it,” said Withrow. “It did take me some time. And it’s not only learning how to pitch, but also learning your body and what you need to do to prepare every single day. You pick up every little bit of information you can, and relate it to the way you pitch.

“I’ve never really focused too much on velocity,” added Withrow. “Regardless of how hard you throw, if the ball is right down the middle, it’s going to get hit. I just try to focus on making a quality pitch every time.”

For Withrow, that usually means a four-seam fastball that averaged 96 mph last season. He also throws a slider and a curveball, and on rare occasions, a changeup.

I asked Withrow why he’s never developed a quality change-of-pace.

“I actually feel good about my changeup,” the righty responded. “It’s just not a pitch I throw much, especially out of the bullpen. I’ll throw it every once in awhile to a lefty, but it’s hard to mix in all of your pitches when you’re maybe only going one inning. You can’t waste time tinkering and risk getting beat with your fourth [best] pitch. In this role, I have to keep things simple and just challenge guys.”

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John “Blue Moon” Odom’s page at Baseball-Reference.com lists his position as “Pitcher and Pinch Runner.” The description would be more accurate if it included ’Pinch Hitter.”

Odom, who played from 1964-1976, made his primary living on the mound. Working out of the Oakland starting rotation, he helped lead the A’s to three consecutive World Series titles. In regular-season action, he had 65 wins over a five-year stretch. In 10 post-season appearances, he had a 3-1 record and a 1.13 ERA.

The designated hitter rule wasn’t in place until late in Odom’s career. That meant he could hit, and the native of Macon, Georgia could definitely hit. He could also run. Were it not for a talented right arm, he may well have made it to the big leagues as a position player. I asked him about that earlier this month in Phoenix, where he was helping to raise money for the Fergie Jenkins Foundation.

“I think I could have,” opined Odom. “At the time I signed, the Giants were trying to sign me as an outfielder. I felt I could make the major leagues a lot faster by signing as a pitcher with the Kansas City Athletics, and I guess that turned out to be true. I was a good hitter, but it all worked out for me.

“I could hit the ball to all fields, right, left, or wherever the ball was pitched,” continued Odom. “They pitched to me just like they did regular position ballplayers. I hit 12 home runs, including five in one year, so I considered myself a hitter and not just a pitcher.”

Somewhat surprising, the 68-year-old Odom isn’t entirely averse to the designated hitter.

“I like the DH for one reason: it prolongs some careers,” said Odom. “I played for Charlie Finley, who created the DH. I loved hitting, so it took a little away from me, but I still got to pinch-hit once in awhile.”

Most importantly, he got to pitch. Odom wasn’t an ace, but he was good enough to make a pair of All–Star teams. I asked him how he got hitters out.

“I had a very good sinker,” said Odom “If I got two strikes on you, I had a slider the umpires said was the best they’ve ever seen. That was my best pitch. I had a pretty good curveball that I’d show once in awhile, but my out pitch was my slider.”

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Mickey Lolich didn’t face Odom often, or have an out pitch when he did. The man they called “Blue Moon” — a childhood friend thought his faced looked like the moon — went 4 for 5 with a home run against the portly left-hander.

Lolich won over 200 games pitching for the Detroit Tigers, including three in the 1968 World Series, before finishing his career in San Diego. He shared a story from his Padres’ days in the back of the Comerica Park press box during the 2012 ALCS.

“When I was in San Diego, our bullpen was down in left field and our dugout was on the first base side,” said Lolich. “I went down to warm up one day and there was a cannon sitting there. The San Diego Chargers used it when they scored a touchdown. I was smoking a cigarette and when I walked by the cannon, I flipped it down the barrel. I took two steps and all hell broke loose. The thing was loaded. Everybody in the dugout said, ‘Mickey’s dead.'”

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Dave Rozema resembled a Dead Head when he signed with Detroit in 1975. He could pitch a little bit, too. The pride of Grand Rapids, Michigan joined Mark “The Bird” Fidrych in the Tigers rotation and won 15 games in 1977. Rozema remembers those bygone days fondly.

“I was a hippie,” said Rozema. “Fidrych had the hair, too. A lot of guys did. I came in [to spring training] with long hair, white shoes, and a yellow glove. My high school team was like the Oakland Athletics: They had long hair, mustaches and white shoes. They were kind of flashy. We grew up in that era.

“I was short-haired until my junior year of high school, but then I was like, ‘You know what? I like the group of people that are hanging around.’ They were all just…they were always happy, if you get what I‘m saying. I believed in their theory, the way they lived. It was, ‘Hey man, peace, love.’”

——

Carl Crawford grew up in Houston. Myles Smith grew up in Detroit. Each learned to play baseball at a young age. Their formative years with the sport were similar in many ways, yet also quite different.

You’re familiar with Crawford. The Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder has played 12 big-league seasons and made four All-Star teams. Smith is lesser known, as his career is still in its infancy, The 22-year-old pitcher was selected by the Red Sox in the fourth round of last year‘s draft.

Smith has baseball bloodlines, although they skipped a generation.

“My grandfather played in the Negro Leagues,” explained the right-hander. “His name was Jonathan Pryor, but we called him Grandaddy. My father was actually a college basketball player, but he pushed me to baseball.

“I played on the RBI [Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities] team for about a year and a half,” continued Smith. After that, I started playing travel ball in Georgia, for East Cobb. I was 16 at the time. Before that it was just inner-city Detroit.”

Crawford had a more direct line to baseball, but he also excelled on the hardwood and the gridiron.

“I watched a lot of baseball growing up,’ said the uber-athletic outfielder. “I saw my uncle, Jack Crawford, playing in the minor leagues. That’s who introduced me to baseball. I played Salvation Army to start out and kind of graduated from there. Like everyone else, I played Little League.

“When I got closer to high school, I started to get a little more individual instruction. Not too much, though. I didn’t really have too much time for that, as I was pretty much always playing another sport.”

The racial make-up of their amateur teams trended in distinctly different directions.

“As I got older, there were more and more African Americans playing baseball, but at the beginning, I was the only African-American on the only high-level team,” said Smith. “It was suburban guys, with me the only one from the city.”

“The whole Little League I played on was African-American,” said Crawford. Then, when I got to high school, I was the only black person on the team.”



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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.


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