Name: Casey Daigle
Position: Right Handed Relief Pitcher
History: In 10 starts, Daigle's ERA was over 7.00, and he averaged less than five innings an outing. For an inning or two Daigle would look magnificent, then suddenly he would look lost.
Which very well might have been the reason behind what would happen when the Diamondbacks broke camp in '05. Daigle had come into camp expecting, like most who followed the Diamondbacks, to compete for a spot on the big league club's starting rotation. He wasn't assured a spot, but certainly figured to be in the mix, at worst moving back to Triple-A waiting for an injury or one of the other young starters to falter. Instead, Daigle was bumped all the way back to Double-A.
The reason was simple, the Diamondbacks wanted to see Daigle in the bullpen, and specifically at the end of it. But the transition would be far from simple. To add insult to the Double-A injury, when Daigle arrived in Tennessee, he found himself back in the rotation because of injuries to several of the Smokies starters. His performance in those two starts (0-0 with an ERA over 11) seemed to highlight why he was back in Double-A.
But once he was moved into the bullpen full time, Daigle started making the scouting department look like geniuses. He started off by giving up exactly one earned run in his first 20 trips out of the pen. He was moved into the closer's role full time in the middle of May, and was spectacular, compiling a 9-3 record with 19 saves over the final three and a half months. Critics will point to his opponent's batting average (.290 for the year, 281 out of the pen) as too high and his 47 strikeouts in 56.1 relief innings as too low, but the bottom line was that he was effective.
Pitches: The most obvious reason for his success was his fastball. As a starter it sat in the upper 80s and low 90s, topping out at 93mph. As a reliever though Daigle is throwing harder, occasionally amping the fastball up to 96, and he's found the ball is moving more. While Daigle would throw four pitches as a starter, mixing sliders, curves, and changeups into the mix, he's whittling down his repertoire, and focusing on going right after hitters.
"You could see him nibble a lot more when he was starting," a scout who watched Daigle in '05 says, "trying to catch corners all the time and pitching scared. Since he's been a reliever he goes right after guys, and is getting them to swing at the first two or three pitches. When he's doing that, he doesn't need four pitches, he basically only throws two now."
Though that may change as well. During the middle of the season Daigle would rely on the fastball and slider, occasional mixing in a change up, which had naturally become more effective with the added ticks to his fastball. But during the last two months of the season, he started toying around with another weapon.
Phil Avlas caught Daigle for much of the '05 season, "He's been working on a cutter, and it's starting to get pretty effective. His attitude was great all season, he really adjusted well, and his work ethic is great, he's one of those guys who'll get back to the show, you can tell."
Prediction: The Diamondbacks bullpen, a sore spot for the past three seasons, suddenly got a lot betting in the offseason, but there are still question marks, and Daigle, because of his big league experience, figures to get a look sooner than later. It would probably take a great spring, or a rash of injuries, for Daigle to make the club out of the spring, but he should start '05 in Triple-A, and be one of the first to get a call as the need arises.
ETA: When he gets that call, his next great opportunity will present itself. After Daigle struggled in the '04 season, and then was demoted in '05, there were some that thought it was the pressure of pitching in the big leagues that Daigle couldn't handle, but the Diamondbacks, and even Daigle now, are starting to believe it was the role, and not the game, that was a poor fit. There are numbers to back that up as well. Despite being a first round pick Daigle had never had a won/loss record over .500 as a starter. He had averaged more than six innings a start in only two stops in his minor league career, and his ERA last season coming out of the bullpen was a full run less than it had ever been as a starter. If given the chance again, now that he's in a role he's better suited for, Daigle could very well emerge as a go to set up man by July of '06.
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