R.J. Seidel faced a sometimes dizzying number of options. Now he's working on baffling opposing hitters who don't know what might come next.
The La Crosse, Wis., native and 2006 Central High School graduate has used a three-pitch repertoire and uncanny patience in taking measured moves to reach his current position, that being as a starting pitcher for the West Virginia Power.Milwaukee selected the now 6-foot-6-inch, 215-pound right-hander in the 16th round of the June 2006 first-year player draft, and Wednesday night Seidel will take the mound as the Brewers' Class A affiliate begins South Atlantic League postseason action.
Seidel finished the regular season with a 9-5 record and 4.51 earned-run average. However, he rebounded from a rough stretch to post a 6-1 record since the All-Star break and a 2.22 ERA in August. Seidel has been particularly sharp during his last three outings (2-0), allowing 14 hits while striking out 15 and walking only four in 18.1 innings.
The three-sport prep standout said that dealing with the good and bad during a grinding season is often tougher than facing a .300 hitter with the bases loaded—but surviving both are necessary if he wants to pitch in the big leagues someday.
"It's all a matter of confidence," said Seidel, whose father, Dick, is a former New York Yankees farmhand—taken in the 29th round in 1982, the same draft in which the Bronx Bombers selected two high school shortstops named Bo Jackson and B.J. Surhoff with their second and fifth picks, respectively.
"This has been one of those years with a lot of peaks and valleys, and getting through a long professional season like this mentally is the hardest part," Seidel said. "I suffered through a stretch where I couldn't get my curve over and guys were sitting there licking their lips waiting for the fastball. You go through streaks where guys are smoking the ball and hitting your good pitches and sometimes you miss your spots and you get guys out. Baseball is weird like that, so it's all a learning experience and confidence is the key."
Seidel, who turns 21 for the playoff opener, has benefited from having a coach in his back pocket—and a supportive mother (Linda)--somebody who can always be a sounding board.
"Dad has been through these ups and downs, and I wouldn't be here without my parents," Seidel said. "He was my coach with the Boys & Girls Club and Little League teams and was our high school pitching coach, so he's been there the whole time."
Poor weather and shorter seasons inherent in coming from the Upper Midwest usually puts many young athletes at a disadvantage, so sticking with it through early struggles and adversity also proves that Seidel has what it takes.
"Being from Wisconsin, you don't get all of the repetition that almost everybody else does," Seidel said. "So, it was a matter of getting out on the mound a lot and learning how to pitch and command my pitches. I knew that everybody in pro ball can hit the fastball and that I wasn't going to blow them away like in high school."
That meant developing and improving his second and third pitches, a changeup and curveball. While he's still trying to improve on them, Baseball America listed his changeup as the best in the Milwaukee organization.
"My fastball was clocked as high as 94 mph last year, but this year my velocity's been down a bit and usually goes at the lower end of the 88 to 94 range," Seidel said. "My changeup is anywhere from 78 to 81 and my curve goes 74 to 75. The changeup has been a good pitch for me because I have the same arm action and it looks like a fastball, but I don't get a lot of strikeouts with it. Actually, because guys are out in front, it's a groundball or fly ball pitch. My curveball is the strikeout pitch."
Seidel proved to be a quick study as he overcame a three-week bout of biceps tendonitis to finish 4-0 with a 3.07 ERA in 12 games, including eight starts, last year at Helena in the rookie Pioneer League. He limited batters to a .207 average, while striking out 36 and walking 16 in 41 innings.
But as he said, the jump to Class A has been a big one, and taking the next step will require even more work, which is why he's heading back to the Arizona instructional league this fall.
"One of the goals they've set for me this off-season is to get stronger, maybe put on another 10 to 12 pounds, and that should help my velocity," Seidel said. "I'm always working on my pitches and commanding them. And the word is that I'll be introducted to the slider, a possible fourth pitch."
Another option and another way to improve his game, something that Seidel has taken advantage of since deciding to turn pro rather than accept a scholarship to Arkansas or even take offers to play football or baseball at the Division II or III levels.
"I had signed a letter of intent to go to Arkansas, but I loved playing all three sports and wanted to keep an open mind," Seidel said.
And he was a popular commodity in the June 2006 draft: The Chicago White Sox offered him $300,000 in the third round, and he spurned the Minnesota Twins and Brewers' $100,000 deals in the sixth. Milwaukee grabbed him 10 rounds later with the stipulation that they wanted to watch him play American Legion ball during the summer.
Milwaukee scout Harvey Kuenn Jr. became a family friend through his many days of watching Seidel pitch. The latter performed well in Legion ball and was selected the MVP in the 23rd annual Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association all-star classic in late June, setting a record with nine strikeouts in four innings.
The Brewers had seen enough and, a day before he was scheduled to head for Fayetteville, offered Seidel a $415,000 signing bonus—he jumped at the shot that he always wanted.
"I knew all along that I had a passion for baseball and that playing professionally was a dream," Seidel said. "And it's been a lot of fun, especially this year. Most of us were together last year at Helena and it took all of us awhile to get used to this because it's our first full year in the pros, but we started piecing wins together late in the first half and have been rolling ever since. Hopefully we can win a ring to cap it off."