Veal Learning to Relax

After his season ended, top Cubs pitching prospect Donald Veal went to the club's annual Instructional League camp in Arizona from late September until mid-October. He went to work on his usual array of pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup), of course, but also his emotions.

Keeping his emotions in check posed a problem for Veal this past season, particularly early on, he says.

"It was just about relaxing more and not getting myself so amped up for games," said Veal, who was 8-10 with a 4.97 ERA in 130 innings this past season at Class AA Tennessee. "That cost me a little bit early. I'd just get too excited and too revved up for games as opposed to relaxing. I think it was affecting me."

It would be easy to look at Veal's 2007 season and conclude that it was by and large a disappointment for the player ranked as the Cubs' consensus top pitching prospect by most minor league experts and publications entering the year.

Since those rankings were made, a few critics have even labeled Veal's masterful season at Class-A Peoria and High A Daytona in 2006 as a fluke.

Veal doesn't care.

"When you're going good, they'll pump you up and when you're not, they'll kick you. It's just a part of it," he said, not referring to anyone specifically.

"As far as proving anything to anyone, I can only prove it to myself."

The thing is, Veal has already proven himself to the Cubs, who lauded no player's efforts and work ethic this time a year ago more than Veal's.

"He was inconsistent pretty much the whole year (in 2007), but he got better," said Pat Listach, Veal's manager at Tennessee. "He did get better and continued to improve, which is what we wanted to see."

There is a litany of reasons why Veal struggled in 2007, just one year after sharing Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors with Rich Hill.

The most obvious is walks. Veal began the year with 20 walks in his first five starts and had issued 54 free passes by the All-Star break.

Were emotions solely to blame for the poor control?

"No, it was just me trying to make too fine a pitch," says Veal. "Being (too) pumped up for games, I think if you had a bad inning, it just kind of snow-balled. But not pounding the strike zone, trying to be so fine, trying to throw every pitch on the black, and trying to throw the best curveball ever ... stuff like that is what got me behind late in the counts."

"It's more a thing of when you do make a mistake, not getting down so much and just re-focusing and letting it go. Don't focus on what happened on the last pitch or the last inning or whatever. You just regroup, make an adjustment and move on."

Of course, there was also the small problem of Veal wanting to get too much accomplished in a short period of time.

"Definitely in the first month of the season," Veal said, "I was trying to prove that I was ready (for Chicago) when I wasn't."

But every cloud has a silver lining, and Veal would find his.

After the All-Star break, the left-hander got back to basics and began to throw strikes, not concentrating as much on being – as he put it – "so fine."

Veal closed the year with a 3.88 ERA over his last 10 starts at Tennessee, striking out 48 in 46 1/3 innings and, more importantly, walking just 19.

He turned in his longest outing of the season on Aug. 27, going 7 1/3 innings against Chattanooga and allowing three runs on seven hits.

Veal didn't allow a walk in that start, which proved to be the difference between allowing just three runs opposite of four or five.

Games such as those have given the southpaw a lot of confidence heading into 2008, a year in which he could reasonably be back in Double-A.

"It definitely helps a lot," said Veal.

"Early on in the season, I think I was trying too much to prove that I could pitch at the Double-A level and was just trying too hard," Veal re-iterated. "I started to relax and it became a little easier. Guys weren't overwhelmingly harder to get out; it was more just about myself."

Veal also drew upon the success of fellow pitching prospect and Tennessee teammate Mark Holliman.

Holliman, like Veal, isn't an overpowering pitcher per se, but he presents a challenge to opposing hitters by relying on control of his pitches.

"You saw Holliman and he wasn't walking a lot of guys," Veal said. "He didn't have a whole lot of strikeouts – he had strikeouts, but it wasn't like he struck out two every inning. He was still going into the sixth and seventh innings."

Those are the kind of innings Veal has logged in the past, and he wants to log them again in the future.

"Not trying to be perfect all of the time, knowing you have good stuff and just to work with it," he said of his goals.

While Veal's numbers this past season may have altered from those he put up a year ago, his upside did not. He will still enter 2008 as one of the top two or three pitching prospects in the Cubs' chain.

"He's got tremendous upside and the sky is the limit for him," said Listach. "We're really looking forward to him putting it together pretty soon.

"He's only 23 years old, but it's time for him to step up and become what type of pitcher he really is," Listach added.

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