Northcraft Harnessing His Game

The Carolina League champions, the Lynchburg Hillcats, had an arsenal of pitchers to put on the rubber and one key members of their pitching rotation was Aaron Northcraft. Since the beginning of the season he has been striving to improve and his performance this year certainly proved it.

"My control and ability to repeat has definitely improved," Northcraft said. "I've started to notice hitter's weaknesses a little bit more, like their swings and what they are trying to do at the plate. So I am not quite there but I have improved a lot on that as well.

"Every start if I notice that something feels good I will write it down in my phone and I have notes of it so that I can go back and see what's going on if anything feels off and get those points back."

A true student of the game, Northcraft, who went 10-11 this season with a 3.98 ERA and 160 strikeouts in 152 2/3 innings, actually saw a rise in his strikeout ratio in the second half of the season.

"I've kind of stayed the same the whole year when it comes to weight and power," he said. "Physically I have felt a whole lot better. I have improved a lot on my stamina and I have changed my running to more sprint work so that has helped a lot.

"I haven't been throwing any different pitches just fine tuning the same ones. I think I topped out at 95 this year and I haven't done that since high school. Usually I sit in the low 90's. The last couple years I was at high 80's and touching the low 90's. Now I am usually at the low 90's and I pumped it up to 95 in at least one game."

Not only did he see his strikeouts bump up in the second half, his control was a lot better too, seeing his walk rate cut nearly in half.

"My windup is getting close to where I want it to be. The last 5 outings I lost a spike on my right foot so I got new cleats but it wasn't until Bo pointed it out that I would lose balance at the ‘moment' so that's why it would tail off. My last outing was probably the best control that I've had.

"My last outing was pretty fun. I was putting it where I want it more consistently that I had been. I felt in control."

"I've been working on my slider and changeup. I'm trying to be able to throw that at any count and be more consistent with it."

The HillCats pitching coach, Derek Botelho, is more than impressed with the improvements that he has seen in Northcraft this season.

"Nothcraft was a guy that I always knew had a pretty good arm but you didn't always know if the consistency was going to be there, Botelho said. "Here's a guy in Spring Training that I knew was going to start for us this year but for me my feeling on him was that he was going to be our fifth starter this year because he had so much inconsistencies.

"I didn't even know if he was going to throw the ball over the plate. I didn't know if he was going to be able to command his breaking ball to be anywhere around the plate. Here's a guy that I saw in Spring Training that could throw one inning and then the next inning I didn't know if I was going to have to get the bullpen going.

Going from walking about four batters per nine innings in the first half to just 2.23 per nine innings in the second half of the season was just one good sign of his increased consistency. The other was allowing three earned runs or less in seven of his last eight regular season starts.

"When we got him up we started with out with 30 to 45 pitches and then moved up to 55, 60 and then to 75 pitches, which is the natural progression for a starter. Well, when his day came to go from two innings to three or four inning he couldn't go do that because of his inconsistencies.

"He would go out there and throw 10 pitches in the first inning and come back and say that was nasty stuff. Then he would go out there the next inning and I would have to go and get him.

"In a nut shell he has come and made drastic adjustments that have made him a prospect," Botelho continued. "He is a bona-fide pitching prospect now for the Atlanta Braves. It's all back on his shoulders.

"I have made some adjustments and suggestions but all I did is say if you want to stay the way you are right now then you're going to struggle and be inconsistent. You will be just a mediocre A-ball pitcher again.

"You have some ability and a pretty good arm. I said we just got to get your mechanics straightened out and get you a good sound wind up and then you can take it from there. So he had to buy into those things and he had to trust those moves that I was making with him. He did and you can see what he has done right now."

It wasn't as if Northcraft had to make major changes either. The natural great stuff was always there. He just had to tweak his mechanics, work on attacking the zone more, and learn to trust his stuff.

"He has something that 99 percent of those guys out there don't have and that's natural ability. He can't throw a fastball straight and he is throwing 91 to 93 miles an hour. His ball has a lot of movement; the catchers out there are always saying that they don't know where the ball is going to go.

"He has harnessed that a little bit as far as getting some consistency with it and getting the ball in the zone. Right now he is just skimming the surface he isn't even close. Wait until he starts putting it all together and you're going to see a major league pitcher."


Atlanta Dugout Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\n\"My control and ability to repeat has definitely improved,\" Northcraft said. \"I've started to notice hitter's weaknesses a little bit more, like their swings and what they are trying to do at the plate. So I am not quite there but I have improved a lot on that as well.
\r\n
\r\n\"Every start if I notice that something feels good I will write it down in my phone and I have notes of it so that I can go back and see what's going on if anything feels off and get those points back.\"
\r\n
\r\nA true student of the game, Northcraft, who went 10-11 this season with a 3.98 ERA and 160 strikeouts in 152 2/3 innings, actually saw a rise in his strikeout ratio in the second half of the season.
\r\n
\r\n\"I've kind of stayed the same the whole year when it comes to weight and power,\" he said. \"Physically I have felt a whole lot better. I have improved a lot on my stamina and I have changed my running to more sprint work so that has helped a lot.
\r\n
\r\n\"I haven't been throwing any different pitches just fine tuning the same ones. I think I topped out at 95 this year and I haven't done that since high school. Usually I sit in the low 90's. The last couple years I was at high 80's and touching the low 90's. Now I am usually at the low 90's and I pumped it up to 95 in at least one game.\"
\r\n
\r\nNot only did he see his strikeouts bump up in the second half, his control was a lot better too, seeing his walk rate cut nearly in half.
\r\n
\r\n\"My windup is getting close to where I want it to be. The last 5 outings I lost a spike on my right foot so I got new cleats but it wasn't until Bo pointed it out that I would lose balance at the ‘moment' so that's why it would tail off. My last outing was probably the best control that I've had.
\r\n
\r\n\"My last outing was pretty fun. I was putting it where I want it more consistently that I had been. I felt in control.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"I've been working on my slider and changeup. I'm trying to be able to throw that at any count and be more consistent with it.\"
\r\n
\r\nThe HillCats pitching coach, Derek Botelho, is more than impressed with the improvements that he has seen in Northcraft this season.
\r\n
\r\n\"Nothcraft was a guy that I always knew had a pretty good arm but you didn't always know if the consistency was going to be there, Botelho said. \"Here's a guy in Spring Training that I knew was going to start for us this year but for me my feeling on him was that he was going to be our fifth starter this year because he had so much inconsistencies.
\r\n
\r\n\"I didn't even know if he was going to throw the ball over the plate. I didn't know if he was going to be able to command his breaking ball to be anywhere around the plate. Here's a guy that I saw in Spring Training that could throw one inning and then the next inning I didn't know if I was going to have to get the bullpen going.
\r\n
\r\nGoing from walking about four batters per nine innings in the first half to just 2.23 per nine innings in the second half of the season was just one good sign of his increased consistency. The other was allowing three earned runs or less in seven of his last eight regular season starts.
\r\n
\r\n\"When we got him up we started with out with 30 to 45 pitches and then moved up to 55, 60 and then to 75 pitches, which is the natural progression for a starter. Well, when his day came to go from two innings to three or four inning he couldn't go do that because of his inconsistencies.
\r\n
\r\n\"He would go out there and throw 10 pitches in the first inning and come back and say that was nasty stuff. Then he would go out there the next inning and I would have to go and get him.
\r\n
\r\n\"In a nut shell he has come and made drastic adjustments that have made him a prospect,\" Botelho continued. \"He is a bona-fide pitching prospect now for the Atlanta Braves. It's all back on his shoulders.
\r\n
\r\n\"I have made some adjustments and suggestions but all I did is say if you want to stay the way you are right now then you're going to struggle and be inconsistent. You will be just a mediocre A-ball pitcher again.
\r\n
\r\n\"You have some ability and a pretty good arm. I said we just got to get your mechanics straightened out and get you a good sound wind up and then you can take it from there. So he had to buy into those things and he had to trust those moves that I was making with him. He did and you can see what he has done right now.\"
\r\n
\r\nIt wasn't as if Northcraft had to make major changes either. The natural great stuff was always there. He just had to tweak his mechanics, work on attacking the zone more, and learn to trust his stuff.
\r\n
\r\n\"He has something that 99 percent of those guys out there don't have and that's natural ability. He can't throw a fastball straight and he is throwing 91 to 93 miles an hour. His ball has a lot of movement; the catchers out there are always saying that they don't know where the ball is going to go.
\r\n
\r\n\"He has harnessed that a little bit as far as getting some consistency with it and getting the ball in the zone. Right now he is just skimming the surface he isn't even close. Wait until he starts putting it all together and you're going to see a major league pitcher.\"
\r\n
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