Gil Patterson On Kane County's Staff

The Kane County Cougars are off to a terrific start, in large part thanks to the work of the Cougars' pitching staff, which boasts a team ERA of 2.45 over 12 games. We recently spoke with Oakland A's Minor League Pitching Coordinator Gil Patterson about the Kane County pitching staff.

Oakland A's Minor League Pitching Coordinator Gil Patterson spent six days last week with the Kane County Cougars. We caught-up with Patterson on Tuesday to get his thoughts on the members of the 2009 Kane County pitching staff. Below are Patterson's comments on each of the Cougars' pitchers.

Anthony Capra: Capra is throwing the ball very well. Pitches well with his fastball to both sides of the plate and throws a good change-up. Really, right now if you were to say, ‘what is the biggest pitch that he is working on?' it would be that he is working on and trying to develop a major league breaking ball. It's coming. Things are going in the right direction for him.

Ben Hornbeck: Last year, he pitched out of the bullpen and we lowered his arm angle a little bit. That helped up his velocity from 81 to 88 MPH. I just thought maybe having him start every fifth day, we'll see what we get from that. We can always move him back to the bullpen if necessary. His command isn't probably quite as good as Capra's right now, but he pitches to both sides of the plate. As a matter of fact, his change-up is so good that I said to Capra during the Instructional League, ‘hey, look at how Ben throws his.' It's a little bit of a different one. He splits the middle two fingers rather than the two fingers that you throw with. It's a little bit different. Capra has picked it up really well and Ben's change-up is outstanding. He is developing a curveball and a nice little cutter that he uses to get in on right-handers. He has done a very good job for us.

They [Capra and Hornbeck] had to pitch in some tough weather, too. It was cold, but sometimes that works for us because if you pitch in, no one wants to hit the ball when it is cold, so they did a good job for us.

Matt Fitts: I think he was just a little geeked up his first two starts. He is much better than his linescore indicates right now. He and I had a nice talk. He has good movement on his fastball, a good breaking ball and the makings of a good change, so he has almost three average or almost average major league pitches. It's just a matter of time to keep letting him pitch and, like I said, I think that early on he was just trying to do too much and trying to maybe strike-out a lot of guys. He'll get his share of strike-outs, but he should get a lot of early contact with the way that his ball moves down in the ‘zone.

Shawn Haviland: What a great improvement he has made over the past few months from the Instructional League until now. He worked really hard during the off-season. You talk about coming in and pounding fastballs to both sides of the plate – he does that. He has got a good curveball and he has a very good split-change-up that he can use to get swings-and-misses from both righties and lefties. And, of course, he went to Harvard, so make sure you don't get into any arguments with him. [laughs]

Brett Hunter: Hunter will generally start in front of Hornbeck. Even though Ben had his start the other day, for the most part, Ben is just going to be scheduled to pitch after Hunter every fifth day. We want to keep Ben stretched out just to see if maybe he could possibly be a starter, but Hunter is really that fifth starter there. And not really a fifth starter, but the fifth one in the order right now. He has worked really hard since pitching in the Instructional League and then in Hawaii and now this spring. He has a few obstacles delivery-wise that he has to overcome. Sometimes it doesn't matter that someone's delivery isn't the prettiest. All that matters is that they can repeat it. For the most part, we are trying to get him and basically everyone to have, in a sense, good balance, good direction and a good finish. We are not going to cookie-cutter everybody. Their deliveries don't have to look the same and their arm action doesn't have to look the same, but the three things that are fairly constant is that they do need some balance, direction and finish to get the ball in lanes. You throw the ball in lanes, up and down and, of course, back-and-forth to mess up their timing.

He is still in the process of finding his repeatable delivery. He does show good life on his fastball and he has a pretty good change-up and breaking ball at times. Right now, the consistency of repeating just isn't there for him. That's why he and Jimmy [Kane County pitching coach Jimmy Escalante] are going to keep working with him. Jimmy has done a fine job there in a short period of time.

Pedro Figueroa: He is our left-handed starter there. He threw the other day the first two innings. He just threw 94 miles-an-hour, 94 miles-an-hour, 94 miles-an-hour and he threw 40 pitches in the first two innings. He came into the dugout and I got with him and Jimmy and I said, ‘listen, this is not going to happen. We are going to go fastball-change the first two pitches to every hitter. You are not going to be able to just throw fastballs by guys. You are not able to throw fastballs by guys in A-ball, what makes you think that you are going to be able to do it the higher that you get?' So, he threw 40 pitches the first two innings and then over the next three innings, he threw something like 32 pitches. He was getting early contact and he was able to change speeds on his fastball and he was even able to throw some sliders for strike-outs. He ended up striking out six or seven guys in the five innings and he did a great job for us.

I don't expect him to pitch at 94 all of the time. If he is pitching at 91-92, I am going to be plenty happy with that. You take that with a little bit of a change-up and a slider, and it's a nice little project to have in Figueroa.

Kenneth Smalley: He is coming along. Early this spring, he was at 84-85 and now he can pitch at 90-92. When that fastball gets there – and he has a tremendous change-up – the two pitches when he is at 90-91 and the change, he can take you through an inning or two just with those two pitches. We are still trying to find him a breaking ball. We tried a slider with him the last six months without a whole lot of consistency and success, but just when I was in there last week, he spun some curveballs and it seemed like he got a pretty good feel for that, so we'll continue with his curveball.

Michael Hart: We have made a decision amongst all of our pitching coaches and really our entire organization. You know how important controlling the running game is and we are going to try to get all of our pitchers at 1.3 [seconds] to the plate or better. All of them. Michael Hart was a little bit higher than that. He was almost 1.6 sometimes, so he's had to make a big adjustment in trying to get down to 1.3. It's just taken him a little time to get that quicker time to the plate along with the quality of pitches, but he has a pretty good fastball with some movement, a change-up with some movement and a very good slider. When he gets those three pitches going, he'll be able to help us quite a bit.

Scott Deal and Jamie Richmond: These two guys pitched at Kane County last year. Jamie last year had about 170 innings in that league and Scottie Deal is going back for his third year in the league. It's not anything negative on them. It's really a reflection of how good our pitchers are in Stockton. Jamie and Scottie are inning-eaters and they throw strikes. They are great for a ballclub. We had them on a program that is maybe going to help them develop a little more arm strength and maybe tighten up both of their breaking balls. They both throw strikes. You know what you are going to get and they are great for the club. Pretty good change-ups for both of them and they keep the ball down. If they could maybe just tighten up their breaking balls a little bit, they could help us not only in Kane County, but maybe moving up the ladder.

For the most part, right now they are going to stay in the bullpen. They are probably not going to take the spots of Capra, Haviland, Figueroa, Hunter, Hornbeck and Fitts. If something were to happen with one of them, then moving Deal or Richmond into that rotation wouldn't be absolutely out of the question. In each of their outings thus far, they have done exactly what you would have hoped. It is nice to know that when you send them in, you are going to get some consistency. You don't want someone who is going to come in and strike-out the side in one inning and then give up six runs in the next inning. With these guys, you know what you are going to get. You are going to get pitches around the plate and you know that guys are going to be swinging. Now, not always are they going to hit it right at somebody, but you know what you are going to get with them and we are very happy with what we get.

Josue Selenes: We got him in the Rule 5. He pitches at 90, but the ball is pretty straight so what we are trying to do is get some movement. His arm angle almost doesn't allow you to get a whole lot of movement, but we are going to try to get him to have a tremendous change-up. We have him throw 30 change-ups almost every day. Jimmy is also working with him to develop a little bit better breaking ball, a more consistent breaking ball. If you can throw 90 miles per hour and locate it, and then you can go 80 miles per hour with a change-up, then you can help keep a team in the game for an inning or two. Sometimes without that major league breaking ball, the second or third time through that line-up would be difficult, but if we can get him to continue to develop that change-up, then he could have some success. In his last game when I was there, he threw something like three innings and he located his fastball really well and he gave up one hit in the three innings that he pitched. He was a very nice pick-up for us.

Did you work with him when he was with the Yankees at all?

When I did it was very short. He was in the Gulf Coast League when I was there [in Tampa] with my Yankee rehab guys. I did have some workings with him. Honestly, he hadn't changed a whole lot since a few years ago when he was with [the Gulf Coast Yankees] and that is why I really challenged Jimmy to make him better with the change-up and the breaking ball. Neither one from what I remember from a few years ago was very good. The fastball life was there, the velocity was there and even the fastball command was there, but not much else has changed over the past year or two. Like I said, I have really challenged Josue and Jimmy to get better – tomorrow. [laughs]

Leonardo Espinal: We dropped his arm angle down a little lower. Not quite as low as Brad Ziegler. We might get [Espinal] a bit lower, but he can throw some 91-93 MPH dive-bombing sinkers and spin a slider pretty well. Since the motion is a little bit new to him, he is having at times a little bit of inconsistency with the command, but when you are throwing 91-93 sinkers and can spin a good breaking ball, you are going to have a chance to get some guys out. We are really hoping for that to continue. We have this new Dartfish program [a video program], and so what I have done is take clips of Ziegler and now we are going to take clips of Espy and put them together and show them just to see if maybe Espy needs to move a little bit lower and have Espy watch some of the other mechanics that Ziegler has. Maybe now if you are talking about someone throwing down at that low arm angle and throwing 90-91 miles per hour instead of 85, that's pretty good.

Jose Guzman: Guzy has done a nice job so far. He did a nice job for us in Vancouver last year. He is kind of a small guy. Thick, but small. I'm not going to say that he has one of those things where he is trying to throw the ball too hard, but he tries to rare back and throw it as hard as he can. Well, it's only 91-92. I remember years ago somebody was grunting and grinding to throw 90 and someone says ‘son, if you have to grunt to throw 90, you are in for a whole lot of trouble. If you have got to grunt, you should be throwing 96, 97.' It's true. It's almost the same thing with Figgy [Pedro Figueroa].

I said to Guzy, ‘you think that you are going to throw belt-high fastballs at 91 by guys? You have another thing coming. In the bullpen the other day, you finished your last three pitches and they were knee-high. When you throw 90, that is where you have to pitch, so forget about all of this I'm going to throw it as hard as I can and it is going to be 91 miles per hour and I am going to have a terrible delivery because I don't know where it goes.' The next outing he finished his pitches and he kept the ball down. He's got a pretty good change-up and he's got a curveball and a slider. One of Jimmy's projects is just to pick one [breaking ball]. I'm not going to say that no one has two breaking balls that are good. Some guys do, but most do not and they look very similar. If they look similar, just pick the sharpest one and the best one and use that. So that is the process that he is in.

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