Huseby's Adjustments Lead to Improvement

Simultaneously mastering a new pitch and getting used to a new arm angle are two things that can present quite a challenge for a 19-year-old pitcher, especially one that is just getting his feet wet in pro ball at the short-season minor league level.

But Chris Huseby has never been one to back down from a challenge, starting with his attempt to bounce back strong from Tommy John Surgery, which he underwent during his junior year at Martin Country High School in Florida.

Having received a scholarship offer from Auburn before graduating high school, Huseby had the option of playing college baseball in the Southeastern Conference but instead chose to begin his professional career with the Cubs after he was selected in the 11th round of the 2006 draft.

Chicago would sign Huseby and award him a $1.3 million signing bonus, the largest ever for an 11th-round selection. Huseby subsequently flew to Chicago for a short stay and threw in front of Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild before beginning his pro career in the Arizona League.

This season, two years removed from surgery and in his first full season of pro ball at Class Low-A Boise, Huseby was struggling with his consistency.

"In Spring Training and the first half of the season, I struggled with my off-speed pitches," said Huseby. "I couldn't really locate them."

Cubs coaches soon got to work on the 6'7", 215-pound right-hander, and he was converted to an over-the-top delivery after previously pitching from a three-quarters arm slot. The development of his breaking ball then followed.

"He just had a problem with repeating his arm slot and getting a feel for his curveball, and it just wasn't effective enough to use at this level," Boise pitching coach Tom Pratt said of Huseby. "So we got him a breaking ball now that really complements his natural arm slot and goes along with his fastball."

"You can call it a slider, but it's really a hard curve, kind of a slurve," said Pratt.

Huseby already had some experience throwing a slider from his prep days.

"In high school, I was throwing curveballs and sliders and my curveball was simply better," recalled Huseby. "But I was coming back from Tommy John surgery and never really had the same feel for it. This year, I was struggling with my breaking ball so I said, ‘I have to work things out and try this.'

"I went back to the grip with the slider and it's made a heck of a difference."

Huseby's numbers in the second half with Boise would back that up.

Despite the early season inconsistency, he finished with a 3.39 ERA in 15 starts for the sixth best ERA among all Northwest League starters.

He logged 66 1/3 innings, striking out 53 and walking 31.

"He was definitely one of our most improved starters," Boise manager Tom Beyers said of Huseby. "Not only on our team, but in the league."

Pratt meanwhile noted that every pitcher at the short-season level has certain goals outlined by the coaching staff and Minor League Pitching Coordinator.

(The Cubs are currently without a pitching coordinator at the minor league level because the man who previously held that position, Alan Dunn, accepted the position of Bullpen Coach on Baltimore manager Dave Trembley's staff.)

A few of the goals assigned to Huseby called for him to command his fastball, repeat his delivery and most importantly, stay healthy.

To help with that, Pratt kept a watchful eye on the number of pitches Huseby threw this season and made sure the pitcher didn't get overworked.

"Since he's come off that surgery, he hasn't thrown that much," said Pratt. "We were breaking him in and really keeping an eye on his pitch count."

Health is not currently an issue for Huseby.

"It feels great right now," Huseby says of his elbow. "I was able to make every start this year and didn't have any injuries."

All the while, Huseby showed no drop-off in velocity from his high school days prior to the surgery. His fastball was consistently in the low 90s this season and topped out at 93 mph.

"I'm really satisfied with where I'm at right now, especially after missing basically two years of high school," said Huseby. "I started out this season a little rocky and was a little inconsistent. I would be on one game and off the next. In the second half of the season, I just wanted to concentrate on throwing strikes and getting ahead. You can see a difference in the stats."

Stats aren't always everything at the minor league level, but they're usually good enough to earn a player a promotion. That should come next spring when Huseby vies for a spot on a full-season club, maybe Class High-A Daytona.

Beyers believes Huseby is ready for a move up.

"There was a lot of precaution with him early in the year, but he turned into one of our strongest starters," said Beyers. "I think next year when his pitch count is a little higher, he's more than capable of going into the sixth or seventh inning."
Huseby is also looking at next year, and how he can continue improving.

"I really want to try and work on getting my walks down," said Huseby. "I (was) a little wild a couple of times during my outings and just couldn't find the zone. That's one thing I need to work on a little harder, just better command.

"For the most part, I'm pretty satisfied with where I'm at right now," he added.

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