Right-hander Kyle Finnegan, a sixth-round selection in last June's draft, struggled last summer during a limited first run through the Midwest League. Back with the Beloit Snappers in 2014, Finnegan has gained more consistency with the third pitch in his arsenal, which has enabled him to get more outs through his first 28.2 innings of 2014.
"We worked on shortening my stride just a little bit to help me get over my leg and throw downhill, which helped my breaking ball," Finnegan said. "I was cutting myself off and struggling to throw my breaking ball. That [adjustment] put me in a good position to have success."
While he was able to pump fastballs and change-ups for strikes last summer, Finnegan didn't have the complete arsenal to be a starting pitcher in the higher levels. Since the A's still viewed him as a starter, that meant developing a better third pitch.
"Last year when we drafted him, he came into the system with a strong arm and unorthodox delivery," Snappers pitching coach Craig Lefferts said. "He was jumpy to the plate and we tried to work on getting more of a consistent delivery. He had a hard time spinning a breaking ball, jumping out so far.
"This year he's really focused on spinning a better curveball and he's gaining a roundness to his game. Plus he already has pretty good command and throws strikes."
Finnegan opened the season with three solid starts, combining to allow just three earned runs on 12 hits in his first 17 innings. Although the results were good on paper, he also pitched to a 7:6 K:BB rate that left much room for improvement.
The 6-foot right-hander couldn't make it out of the fifth inning in an April 22nd start at Kane County, allowing three earned runs on six hits. However, Finnegan pitched seven innings on Sunday. He allowed three earned runs on six hits and walked just one batter at Burlington.
Known as a cerebral pitcher who puts in extra time between starts studying his craft, Finnegan breaks each game down pitch-by-pitch.
"We talk a lot about execution over results," he said. "You may throw a bad pitch and get a pop out – good result, but bad execution. You may throw a great down-and-away fastball, and he might hit a blooper for a base hit. You don't get down on that, but build on the execution. Over time, you will increase your success rate.
"I think I've progressed in each start as the season's gone on. I had some success early, but personally haven't executed as well as I'm capable of, so there's a lot of room to build off of. I've been working with [Lefferts] a lot, watching video and reading scouting reports on other teams and hitters. I'm excited for the season, to go out there and keep pitching."
The early results this April are much improved over Finnegan's two late-summer starts for the Snappers in 2013. After making 11 appearances at short-season Vermont, Finnegan was added to the Beloit roster shortly before the playoffs and he allowed eight earned runs on 12 hits in 7.1 innings. He also walked six batters, while striking out just five.
The late-season cameo gave Finnegan plenty to focus on during the off-season.
"Coming up at the end of last year helped me get a little edge for this year," Finnegan said. "You can't get away with as much as you could at rookie ball. A big thing to focus on in this league is using your fastball and throwing it for strikes, as well as getting ahead of hitters. If you're behind hitters and let some of these guys sit on fastballs, you're going to be in trouble.
"Just my overall pitch-ability has really improved. I've been working on my breaking ball and trying to bring it all together and make it work. That's going to come with repetition and getting out there and getting on the rubber."
Oakland challenged Finnegan throughout the spring with spot starts for higher-level minor league squads in Arizona, which helped him analyze the game at a more advanced rate.
"I came in pretty prepared and was ready to go, and a lot of that had to do with having some success in spring training," Finnegan said. "I got the chance to throw in some Double-A and Triple-A games, so I think the speed of the game in those situations gets you better prepared. I was feeling pretty confident when I left Arizona."
The main objective for Finnegan for the rest of the season is to build up innings and experience working with and throwing three pitches for strikes.
"He really needs to keep developing the breaking pitch," Lefferts said. "Last year it was pretty non-existent, but this year it's coming around. It's still not at a big-league level, but he's getting there. He has a really good mind, in terms of being able to grasp concepts and make adjustments quickly. He's a smart player that takes a lot of notes. I'm really impressed with his work ethic."