Today we continue our season ending question and answer session with Cleveland Indians rookie Arizona and Short-A Mahoning Valley pitching coach Mark Allen. If you missed part one, it focused on players such as Brady Aiken, Micah Miniard, Luis Jimenez, Tanner Tully and Randy Valladares. Look for part three (yes, three parts!) tomorrow.
Onto the Q&A…
Q: Left-handed pitcher Juan Hillman started strong but faded, though still had a strong year making 15 starts going 3-4 with a 4.43 ERA (63.0 IP, 66 H, 5 HR, 24 BB, 47 K). What kind of growth did he show this year?
Mark Allen (MA): Like with every one of these young guys, this was his first real taste of starting to throw in February and it was nonstop all the way through early September. It is a five day routine, so their bodies adjust to that in different ways. He did a pretty good job with the breaking ball and changeup. Every now and then every pitcher hits a little bit of a lull velocity-wise and that just comes from fatigue. I think that is what he learned [at the end of the year]. Maybe physically he could not rip off those 94s as it had been a long season and he had thrown a lot of innings, so that is where he was. You have to balance your body and your pitches. He did a good job of balancing things out. It is not a high school mentality anymore. He knows he has to pitch. You have to have some mix and bend it a little bit and subtract a little bit with the changeup and be sharper with the fastball. He learned quite a bit.
Q: Hillman looks like he will have an opportunity to pitch in a full season next year. What is the next step he needs to take to be able to handle that?
MA: I would say he is going to want to keep up and maintain his flexibility. The offseason’s now become much more important for these guys. The offseason is where you make or break your season. The more you submit to the offseason and you stay locked in, then you can go into spring training not looking to get in shape. I am not saying that is the case with Juan, but I think that would be a good focal point for Juan to stay on top of his offseason workouts or attending anything we do in the offseason that would be beneficial. It has kind of been a normal growth pattern. I would say he has a good changeup. Being strong within his motion and within his delivery is important. I also think that being able to apply a lot of the things he learned this year and moving forward is huge.
Q: Right-handed pitcher Shane Bieber impressed in his pro debut at Mahoning Valley making 9 appearances (8 starts) and went 0-0 with a 0.38 ERA (24.0 IP, 10 H, 0 HR, 2 BB, 21 K). You really limited his workload and just used his time as a way to introduce him to pro ball, but even though the sample size was small what stood out to you about him?
MA: He is very mature. He is actually kind of young to be a college junior we drafted. He is just very stinking sharp with the baseball. We only threw him three innings an outing just because he threw so much in the college season and he went to the World Series, so we just tried to keep a cap on him. He stays within himself very well. He does not get sped up. He is very disciplined and mature on the mound. For being in Mahoning Valley and what he does, he is pretty in control.
Q: How advanced is Bieber?
MA: He has a pretty good feel for his stuff and he can just really locate a fastball. He can jam it in, he can stick it to the other side of the plate, he can elevate it and he also has a little bit of life to it. He extends to home plate very well. He just has some savvy and knows how to use that fastball. He is pretty good with it. Obviously, that helps set up his secondary stuff. He has a pretty good feel for his slider but it has some upside to it in the sense that he locates it well but he could create a little more snap with it. He is very good at maneuvering it and he can direct it very well, but every now and then it is more direction and location than finish. When I say finish I am talking about the break and snap. And then the changeup every now and then he gets it too firm, but it does sink and it does have some action. That is one of the things he is working on is his changeup. When he hits it right it is pretty salty. It is a good pitch. In college he was a little more fastball and breaking oriented and didn’t use the changeup a ton because he didn’t need it. But as far as his development path goes, bringing that changeup along more is important. Of course, as an organization, we believe in changeups. Once he taps into it more it is going to be more beneficial. It just broadens his arsenal and gives him more options. He is a great kid and a joy to be around. He is very consistent on and off the field.
Q: Left-hander Ben Krauth is someone who jumped onto the scene with some very good numbers as he combined to make 16 appearances between rookie Arizona (7 games), Short-A Mahoning Valley (7 games) and Low-A Lake County (2 games) going 4-0 with a 1.66 ERA (38.0 IP, 28 H, 2 HR, 7 BB, 46 K). He is an older pitcher and maybe took advantage of some younger, inexperienced hitters in Arizona, but was there more to it than that?
MA: He was a senior signing out of Kansas. He is very passionate about pitching and has a high aptitude. He is not one of those guys who gets sped up and he throws a lot of strikes. It is a four pitch mix and a lot of strikes. He has a lot of weapons to use against lefties and righties. I would venture to say the changeup is a very good pitch, and going into the scouting side it is a solid average changeup that will flash you plus. I am going to tell you this too – and I might get my hand slapped on this one – but it might be one of the best pickoff moves in the organization. I am throwing this out there, but from me being in the organization as a long as I have, his pickoff move is an absolute weapon. It is very Mark Buehrle-esque. I know that is giving him a lot of credit but it is a great pickoff move. It’s not a balk either; it is as clean as a whistle. They don’t get better than that. He helps himself out more than just with pitching and throwing strikes as he can help himself out with baserunners, too.
Q: Right-hander Ryan Colegate rebounded from a tough 2015 campaign and start to his 2016 campaign to really come on strong the last two-thirds of the season. In 19 appearances for Mahoning Valley he went 6-2 with a 3.22 ERA (50.1 IP, 46 H, 1 HR, 15 BB, 44 K). He looked like he got stronger physically which helped bring his stuff together. Would that be a true assessment?
MA: [In 2015] I think it was a thing of getting used to the day in and day out [of pro ball]. He was not very physical last year. I am not saying he was not strong, but I would say there was some weight room stuff he was not necessarily aware of. Since he has gotten into the organization he has done a better job with that kind of stuff. He has gotten stronger, but you know what, I swear this guy has grown an inch or two since we got him. He was like 6’2 but now he looks more 6’3ish or even 6’4” as a late bloomer kind of guy.
Q: What kind of upside does Colegate bring and how is the development of his pitch mix coming along?
MA: He has always had the sinking fastball. In college that was kind of what he had as he would flash a changeup – but you would say it needed to be worked on. He’d flash a little bit of a breaking ball but it was more of a curveball, and again, it needed to be worked on. Since he has been here he has developed a cutter and he has dumped the curveball and developed a slider which he has tightened up and throws well. Recently, the changeup has come along. He has always been able to throw strikes with the fastball, but you have to have somewhere else you can go. He has been very good with that in that he now has the cutter, slider and changeup. His upper half is very flexible. His lower half works in a unique way. He is able to elastically expand and extend and makes for a unique look which allows him to get on guys quickly. He has been able to balance out and not get sped up and not try to do too much. He did a good job of banging the strike zone with all his pitches. He’s always been able to put it across the plate, even in college, but it was rapid fire. Now he can step off and slow things down and take a deep breath and make his pitch. So that’s another in-game maturity thing with him. He also still has some strength to come that is going to be up to him to submit to the weight room and stay on it. He has the kind of frame that he can add some strength in there without losing flexibility – especially in the upper half.
Q: Right-handed pitcher Ping-Hsueh Chen was a primary reliever for Mahoning Valley this year as he made 21 appearances and went 2-2 with a 5.29 ERA (32.1 IP, 33 H, 3 HR, 19 BB, 33 K). He’s been solid in the bullpen the last few years though had some injury issues. How is he coming along?
MA: Ping has been pretty good. I had him in Arizona for two years and he was one of our most dependable bullpen guys. His thing is he is kind of in straight attack mode 24/7. He is coming at you. It is a lot of energy and a rapid fire kind of delivery. Recently, he has been able to find a little bit of a balancing point where it is not just 100% or nothing to where he can settle in and show a better feel with the breaking ball. The breaking ball is a good pitch as he gets swing and miss with it and he can land it. It is going to come down to his fastball. If he is dotting the thing and throwing it for strikes, he has the secondary pitches to put guys away. It has just been about fastball command and control. He is a high motor guy when he is out there. He doesn’t make any bones about it. He is very aggressive. That’s kind of been his deal.