Q&A with Rick Waits

Newly appointed New Orleans pitching coach, and current organizational pitching coordinator, Rick Waits sat down for a Q&A with Inside Pitch to discuss many pitchers across the farm. Inside, he talks about what he likes about Brant Rustich. Get his thoughts on Jonathon Niese's success this season, Eddie Kunz's game and more...

InsidePitchMagazine.com: You were previously a Triple-A pitching coach before becoming a coordinator. Can you explain what this position switch was like for you?

Rick Waits: Well actually I'm still doing both, so I'm still doing the coordinating but now I just won't be able to go and see the players on the other teams. But I've coached for ten years in the Mets system at all levels, of course the last four years in Triple-A. So it's good getting back in here, having to do reports and working with pitchers individually.

Inside Pitch: What are your thoughts on Carlos Muniz? In what areas does he need to improve to have a longer stay and impact with the big league club?

Waits: I don't think he needs to work on anything. I mean he's been a terrific pitcher and its just timing. He got up there this year; he got up there last year. I think that if Carlos just stays consistent with what he's doing right now with his three pitches he's got a long time in the big leagues.

Inside Pitch: Of all the young pitchers you worked with during Extended Spring Training, can you name a couple that stood out to you and why?

Waits: We have a kid from our Dominican Academy that came in for the first time this year, Jenrry Mejia. He's had a great start, a young kid only 18 years old. He is very powerful for a young man, and he throws hard and has a very good breaking ball. He's started one game in the Gulf Coast League already this year and pitched five shutout innings.

Another kid that came out to the states last fall in our instructional league, Jeurys Familia. He pitched also on Friday, and had a real good outing, in five innings he gave up one run.

So those are two powerful young pitchers that are really learning how to pitch and we are very excited about.

Inside Pitch: Brant Rustich was rumored to be moving into the starting rotation before going to the bullpen in Savannah. What have you seen from him that you like and what areas of his game need further improvement?

We saw a lot out of the draft last year and he pitched terrific in Brooklyn. He is very powerful, he has a 94, 95, 96 fastball and he's got a great slider. A couple years ago he had a little issue with his finger. So we weren't able to pitch him a lot last year, but now it's fine. This year in spring training he had a weak shoulder so we had to shut him down for a couple of weeks to build up his shoulder. But again he's not hurt; he's just had a slow start because he missed all of spring training. I'm looking for a lot of big things from him the second half. He has everything he needs to start on his way up to hopefully getting to the big leagues.

Inside Pitch: What do you think of Jonathon Niese's performance this year? What significant steps have you seen him take over the past season?

Waits: With Jonathon, he's in Double-A pitching great, pitching left handed which is always an advantage, is that every year he has improved and I think that's what to look for in a pitcher. His first year he was overthrowing a little bit and avoiding contact. His second year he was starting to learn how important the changeup is. The second half of that year he really started using his changeup more. Last year in the Florida State League he really became a complete pitcher in the second half, where he really started using all of his pitches and going with his strengths. This year he knows what kind of pitcher he is and it's just a matter of getting those innings and getting those experiences. He's a very hard worker and very hungry to get to the Major Leagues.

Inside Pitch: Dillon Gee has shown good consistency this season, if you have seen him, what makes him capable of being so effective in the strike zone? Keeping walks at a minimum is a central focus of his game.

Waits: I think the main thing is that all his pitches he can throw for strikes. He's got a very good sink on his sinker and has a sharp breaking ball. I think the difference between last year and this year is that he had a good changeup last year but he didn't command it as well as he is doing this year. He has three solid pitches. His velocity went up this year from last year. I think that's the difference from pitching in college and then coming into pro ball, he was probably tired. So we have seen his velocity go up and he throws a lot of strikes and is a very, very smart pitcher.

Inside Pitch: Dylan Owen, like Gee, has been consistent by keep walks down and limiting damage despite not being that hard of a thrower. What about Owen's game breeds success?

Waits: He is what we call the true gamer. He's the kind of kid that's got the stuff. He's able to throw a lot of pitches, he's got a strong arm, and he doesn't seem to tire so easily so he's going to give you innings. Even when he does not have his good stuff, he will find some way to win. He's a winner. You're going to see him win ballgames with his good stuff and when he's off.

Inside Pitch: Have you seen Eddie Kunz this season? What do you think of the development of his secondary pitches?

Waits: Excellent. The main thing with him is that he already has a nasty sinker and everyone knows that. He was throwing it a lot in college. He's getting his slider better, it's been steady through last year and through spring training and even into the season. He has the slider he needs and now it's just a matter of knowing how to pitch with it, knowing when to use it and when not to use it, when to go with his strength, which is his sinker. But he's not only got the slider, he has a changeup now and he's starting to get a good feel with that. He's another gamer, he's a guy that can pitch every night, we don't pitch him every night but he can.

Inside Pitch: How important are they [secondary pitches] to the maturity of his game?

Waits: I think that everyone will find out when they go to the Major Leagues that if you're just throwing one pitch eventually they will figure it out. As we say you can throw 95, 96 in the big leagues, but if that's all you've got, big league hitters will find a way around that. You've got to have two pitches or three pitches if you're a reliever, whereas a starter would need three or four. Another thing about having multiple pitches, if in a night one of them isn't working, say the change up isn't then he has the slider. It's hard to go in there with one pitch.

Inside Pitch: Tobi Stoner is having a very impressive season. He walk total is way down and he seems to be attacking hitters with more authority. What do you like of what you've seen from him? Has there been a noticeable improvement in his already deep repertoire?

Waits: Tobi is a complete pitcher, he's a great athlete; fields his position, helps runners and can even swing the bat a little. He's a four pitch pitcher, and now he's really starting to mature and throw all four of his pitches for strikes if he wants to. I've seen steady growth from him. In his first year he was trying to rely on just throwing hard and maybe using his curve ball. Now he's added the slider and his changeup which might be the most improved pitch he has in the last couple of years. He's really starting to believe in it [changeup] and therefore his pitching efficiency has really improved. A lot of guys start out throwing great, but they throw too many pitches trying to get hitters out. Tobi's understood how important the changeup is to make that a difference; therefore he can go deeper into the game.

Inside Pitch: Have you had a chance to see Maikel Cleto pitch this season? If so, what are your early impressions?

Waits: He's another one of our kids that we have signed and developed down in the academy in the Dominican Republic. He came out to the Gulf Coast League last year. And we saw a lot of interesting things from this kid, he is a very powerful guy. I don't think he knew he had it in him. He also has a potential for a very good breaking ball and he's starting to develop that and had a useable changeup and now he loves his changeup. His velocity has gone up this year. He has hit 94 and 98 and that makes his changeup even better.

But overall he hadn't quite put it together yet, we saw that over the winter and in spring training but we gave him a chance to go to Savannah and he has really proven us right in a lot of ways, he's a big strong kid and very teachable. He is learning how important it is to throw strikes, I mean he's not afraid of any hitter, every pitch he has is getting better.


Amazin Clubhouse Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nInsidePitchMagazine.com: You were previously a Triple-A pitching coach before becoming a coordinator. Can you explain what this position switch was like for you?
\r\n
\r\nRick Waits: Well actually I'm still doing both, so I'm still doing the coordinating but now I just won't be able to go and see the players on the other teams. But I've coached for ten years in the Mets system at all levels, of course the last four years in Triple-A. So it's good getting back in here, having to do reports and working with pitchers individually.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: What are your thoughts on Carlos Muniz? In what areas does he need to improve to have a longer stay and impact with the big league club?
\r\n
\r\nWaits: I don't think he needs to work on anything. I mean he's been a terrific pitcher and its just timing. He got up there this year; he got up there last year. I think that if Carlos just stays consistent with what he's doing right now with his three pitches he's got a long time in the big leagues.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: Of all the young pitchers you worked with during Extended Spring Training, can you name a couple that stood out to you and why?
\r\n
\r\nWaits: We have a kid from our Dominican Academy that came in for the first time this year, Jenrry Mejia. He's had a great start, a young kid only 18 years old. He is very powerful for a young man, and he throws hard and has a very good breaking ball. He's started one game in the Gulf Coast League already this year and pitched five shutout innings.
\r\n
\r\nAnother kid that came out to the states last fall in our instructional league, Jeurys Familia. He pitched also on Friday, and had a real good outing, in five innings he gave up one run.
\r\n
\r\nSo those are two powerful young pitchers that are really learning how to pitch and we are very excited about.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: Brant Rustich was rumored to be moving into the starting rotation before going to the bullpen in Savannah. What have you seen from him that you like and what areas of his game need further improvement?
\r\n
\r\nWe saw a lot out of the draft last year and he pitched terrific in Brooklyn. He is very powerful, he has a 94, 95, 96 fastball and he's got a great slider. A couple years ago he had a little issue with his finger. So we weren't able to pitch him a lot last year, but now it's fine. This year in spring training he had a weak shoulder so we had to shut him down for a couple of weeks to build up his shoulder. But again he's not hurt; he's just had a slow start because he missed all of spring training. I'm looking for a lot of big things from him the second half. He has everything he needs to start on his way up to hopefully getting to the big leagues.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: What do you think of Jonathon Niese's performance this year? What significant steps have you seen him take over the past season?
\r\n
\r\nWaits: With Jonathon, he's in Double-A pitching great, pitching left handed which is always an advantage, is that every year he has improved and I think that's what to look for in a pitcher. His first year he was overthrowing a little bit and avoiding contact. His second year he was starting to learn how important the changeup is. The second half of that year he really started using his changeup more. Last year in the Florida State League he really became a complete pitcher in the second half, where he really started using all of his pitches and going with his strengths. This year he knows what kind of pitcher he is and it's just a matter of getting those innings and getting those experiences. He's a very hard worker and very hungry to get to the Major Leagues.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: Dillon Gee has shown good consistency this season, if you have seen him, what makes him capable of being so effective in the strike zone? Keeping walks at a minimum is a central focus of his game.
\r\n
\r\nWaits: I think the main thing is that all his pitches he can throw for strikes. He's got a very good sink on his sinker and has a sharp breaking ball. I think the difference between last year and this year is that he had a good changeup last year but he didn't command it as well as he is doing this year. He has three solid pitches. His velocity went up this year from last year. I think that's the difference from pitching in college and then coming into pro ball, he was probably tired. So we have seen his velocity go up and he throws a lot of strikes and is a very, very smart pitcher.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: Dylan Owen, like Gee, has been consistent by keep walks down and limiting damage despite not being that hard of a thrower. What about Owen's game breeds success?
\r\n
\r\nWaits: He is what we call the true gamer. He's the kind of kid that's got the stuff. He's able to throw a lot of pitches, he's got a strong arm, and he doesn't seem to tire so easily so he's going to give you innings. Even when he does not have his good stuff, he will find some way to win. He's a winner. You're going to see him win ballgames with his good stuff and when he's off.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: Have you seen Eddie Kunz this season? What do you think of the development of his secondary pitches?
\r\n
\r\nWaits: Excellent. The main thing with him is that he already has a nasty sinker and everyone knows that. He was throwing it a lot in college. He's getting his slider better, it's been steady through last year and through spring training and even into the season. He has the slider he needs and now it's just a matter of knowing how to pitch with it, knowing when to use it and when not to use it, when to go with his strength, which is his sinker. But he's not only got the slider, he has a changeup now and he's starting to get a good feel with that. He's another gamer, he's a guy that can pitch every night, we don't pitch him every night but he can.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: How important are they [secondary pitches] to the maturity of his game?
\r\n
\r\nWaits: I think that everyone will find out when they go to the Major Leagues that if you're just throwing one pitch eventually they will figure it out. As we say you can throw 95, 96 in the big leagues, but if that's all you've got, big league hitters will find a way around that. You've got to have two pitches or three pitches if you're a reliever, whereas a starter would need three or four. Another thing about having multiple pitches, if in a night one of them isn't working, say the change up isn't then he has the slider. It's hard to go in there with one pitch.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: Tobi Stoner is having a very impressive season. He walk total is way down and he seems to be attacking hitters with more authority. What do you like of what you've seen from him? Has there been a noticeable improvement in his already deep repertoire?
\r\n
\r\nWaits: Tobi is a complete pitcher, he's a great athlete; fields his position, helps runners and can even swing the bat a little. He's a four pitch pitcher, and now he's really starting to mature and throw all four of his pitches for strikes if he wants to. I've seen steady growth from him. In his first year he was trying to rely on just throwing hard and maybe using his curve ball. Now he's added the slider and his changeup which might be the most improved pitch he has in the last couple of years. He's really starting to believe in it [changeup] and therefore his pitching efficiency has really improved. A lot of guys start out throwing great, but they throw too many pitches trying to get hitters out. Tobi's understood how important the changeup is to make that a difference; therefore he can go deeper into the game.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: Have you had a chance to see Maikel Cleto pitch this season? If so, what are your early impressions?
\r\n
\r\nWaits: He's another one of our kids that we have signed and developed down in the academy in the Dominican Republic. He came out to the Gulf Coast League last year. And we saw a lot of interesting things from this kid, he is a very powerful guy. I don't think he knew he had it in him. He also has a potential for a very good breaking ball and he's starting to develop that and had a useable changeup and now he loves his changeup. His velocity has gone up this year. He has hit 94 and 98 and that makes his changeup even better.
\r\n
\r\nBut overall he hadn't quite put it together yet, we saw that over the winter and in spring training but we gave him a chance to go to Savannah and he has really proven us right in a lot of ways, he's a big strong kid and very teachable. He is learning how important it is to throw strikes, I mean he's not afraid of any hitter, every pitch he has is getting better.
\r\n
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