The one of most dominant relievers in the Oakland A's system is a right-hander who most casual fans have never heard of. However, with Tucker Healy now a step closer to the big leagues with Double-A Midland, he could soon become a household name.
"I think there is definitely something to prove coming from a Division III school and not being a very high-round draft pick" - Tucker Healy.
A 23rd-round pick out of Division III Ithaca College in 2012, Healy split the 2013 season between Low-A Beloit and High-A Stockton. Despite missing the final four weeks with a shoulder injury, Healy still put together eye-popping numbers. In 48 innings, he posted a 1.31 ERA and he struck-out 74 while walking only 10. Opposing hitters batted just .189 against him and he allowed just four homeruns.
Healy's injury kept him from pitching with Stockton in August, but by the time the season finished, he was 100% healthy and he was able to prepare for the 2014 season without restriction."I think [his off-season preparation] definitely changed a little bit," Healy said. "Last year was my first full season and my first spring training was 2013, so I didn't really know what to expect. This year, I had an idea of how long the season is and what to expect during spring training. I think I prepared probably better this year than the previous year because I knew what to expect and how it all worked."
Healy's focus this off-season was preparing his body for the grind of the 142-game season.
"I think the main [change from college] is just playing every day for five month or however long the season is," Healy said. "You have to change your sleeping habits, eating habits, really all of your day-to-day life habits change. Everything you do everyday is different. That's probably the main obstacle that you have to adapt to is that change in daily routine."
Healy makes his home in the Boston area, so he had to deal with plenty of weather challenges this winter.
"It was definitely brutal out there this year," Healy said. "We had a ton of snow and rain this winter, but I was able to use a couple of facilities in the Northeast.
"There are a couple of bubbles at Harvard and BC that are available and my high school is open to me. I wasn't able to work out outside, but every week or so I'd have a day or two where I could throw outside, but that was about it."
With roughly six weeks of experience in the Cal League under his belt, Healy returned to Stockton to start this season. Having those 19.1 innings last season gave Healy additional confidence playing with the Ports this year.
"I saw a bunch of the same guys that were up there [in the Cal League] last year again this season," Healy said. "Even when I wasn't pitching last year and was on the DL, I was able to watch those guys and see how they approached their at-bats. Just being comfortable with the home ballparks and the away ballparks. I had pretty much pitched in all of them already. That gave me a sense of comfort out there on the mound."
That comfort resulted in a dominating 13 appearances with the Ports this April and May. In 17.1 innings, Healy posted a 1.04 ERA. He struck-out 29, walked just four and he gave up only nine hits. Healy says that mindset, as much as anything, factored into his success with Stockton this year.
"I think just having confidence in myself and being able to throw strikes," Healy said. "Being able to command my fastball and throw my off-speed pitches when necessary. Definitely controlling the fastball and getting ahead of hitters."
Healy's best pitch is his two-seam fastball that darts down in the strike-zone. He also has a four-seamer that can touch 95 and a developing slider and change-up. The 23rd-round Division III alum pitches with a fearlessness of someone selected in the first round out of an SEC powerhouse.
Healy admits that he has had to push to be noticed since turning pro.
"I think there is definitely something to prove coming from a Division III school and not being a very high-round draft pick," Healy said. "You have to prove yourself, for sure. You may not get as many chances as some of the upper-echelon guys.
"But I don't really read into it that much. I just like to go out there and pitch. I like to look at my teammates as we are all the same and we are trying to reach the same goal."
Like last season, Healy moved up a level mid-year. He is still getting settled in the Texas League, but he's off to a good start. In two appearances through Sunday, Healy had yet to allow a run in four innings. He struck-out three, walked one and allowed one hit in his two outings. Healy says the transition to Midland has been pretty smooth thus far.
"I know a bunch of the guys here already," Healy said. "They have been pretty welcoming. I've enjoyed it."
In Midland, Healy joins several members of the 2013 Stockton staff, including fellow right-handed relievers Ryan Dull and Seth Frankoff. Last July, Dull, Frankoff and Healy were part of a dominant Stockton bullpen. Healy is looking forward to trying to recapture the success that trio had pitching together last season.
"I know last year was a blast when we had all three of us out there closing out games," Healy said. "I think we created a mini-competition among ourselves, a friendly one, but when one of us did well, the other one wanted to do well. We pushed each other in that aspect. I think that was good."
Healy leaves behind in Stockton a group of teammates that he played with for much of the 2013 season, as well as this year. That group has developed a tight bond
"I'm definitely excited to be here, but I will also miss the guys I played with in Beloit last year and Stockton again this year," Healy said. "We had a pretty good bullpen there, too."