Thanks to a move to the Beloit Snappers' bullpen this season, a former top-five draft choice of the Oakland A's is experiencing his first prolonged success as a pro. And a recent move into the closer's role has been icing on the cake.
Right-hander Tyler Vail signed out of high school as a fifth-round draft choice in 2010, but was nowhere near a finished product. He spent his first two full professional seasons refining his mechanics and his approach on the mound. But it wasn't until he moved to the bullpen that things started clicking.
"In high school there was no pitching coach and they just told me to throw the ball as hard as I could," said Vail, who returned to Low-A this spring for the first time since 2011. "I would be going into my senior year in college, so I think I've learned a lot.
"At the beginning of this season, I wasn't used to [a relief role] yet. I was used to getting loose before the game, stretching and long toss. That's why I struggled at the beginning of the year, but now I'm used to it. I stretch before I come out and my arm is getting used to it, because my velocity is back up."
After sitting in the low-90s as a starter, Vail is working with a 93-to-95 MPH fastball in the bullpen. His curveball is also improved, as is his change-up. He's pitched in 33 games for the Snappers, compiling a 3.17 ERA in 48.1 innings of work with a 34:18 K:BB rate.
Since closer Ryan Dull was promoted, Vail has been called on to close games for Beloit and has converted four save opportunities.
"He has taken advantage of that opportunity to be a towards-the-end-of-the-game guy," Snappers manager Ryan Christensen said. "He has a real good arm. [Pitching coach John] Was[din] has done some good work with his slider.
"He needed a secondary pitch to get people off of his fastball, which he has a tendency to leave up in the 'zone more than he wants. He's always had a good sinker and the slider has been a good addition to what he already has in his arsenal."
Getting back to the Midwest League and having success is a relief for Vail, who struggled mightily in his first go-around through the level in 2011. He started 13 games at Burlington in his first full professional season, but posted a 5.68 ERA and 34:28 K:BB rate in 57 innings before being sent down to Vermont.
Since he wasn't given much instruction in high school, Vail was overwhelmed with the adjustments he was making in pro ball.
"It was very frustrating," he said. "We were always working on mechanical differences and seeing how I could make myself better. That was making me inconsistent with my stuff. I came from being so consistent to all over the place. Me and the coaches took a step back and figured out how to fix it.
"Here you've got to keep the ball down, because in this league they free swing. When I was here before I was only 19, so I was more nervous than anything. At 21, I already know what's going to go on because I experienced it."