Jimmy Jones on AZL Pitching Prospects

Jimmy Jones had the tough task of being the pitching coach for the AZL Padres. No one has a harder job then Jones as he tries to work with and guide young, extremely talented, pitchers on their way to full season baseball and hopefully San Diego. He had some eye-popping reports on some of the young pitchers as well as a few of the rehabbing pitchers in Arizona.

Jeury Castillo showed some life with more strikeouts than innings pitched. What did you see from Jeury this season?

Jimmy Jones: He was surprising to me. I was doing my reports just the other day, and he looks unorthodox in the way he throws, but when you put him on video he does a lot of things right. He can throw harder because he's strong as an ox, but he throws 90-91 at best. The concern with him is just health. He just needs to stay healthy. He did a lot of good things this year as far as going out and competing, having an idea of what he wanted to do with the hitters which was surprising to me since this is his first year here. He was a pleasant surprise this year.

Luis De La Cruz had some success for you. What does he need to do to improve?

Jimmy Jones: Just throw innings. I know he's been in the AZL for two years, but he really showed some life at the end of the year. He was throwing 93-95, showed some decent offspeed pitches. That's what he didn't have in the past was his offspeed pitch. He didn't really have a feel for it. Right now it's, just like anybody else in the AZl, it's consistency. He needs to be able to go out there and believe what he has and be able to get hitters out with what he has. He fails when he tries to do too much. Trying to make the 95 MPH fastball 99 and it's 91 right over the middle of the plate. That's mainly what he has to do is go out there with some confidence and play baseball. He's really not playing baseball right now.

Rob Gariano was successful against the leadoff hitter of an inning but seemed to fall apart when men reached base. Was there a mechanical flaw in his work out of the stretch versus the windup?

Jimmy Jones: You're right about that. He's not very tall so he has a tendency to open up his hips and push the ball. Not being tall makes it worse as far as being flat. When he's in the stretch he has a tendency to do it a little bit more. That's one thing we really tried to do was first of all get him out of the college mode of pitching into the professional mode of pitching and also work on his mechanics at the same time. When you're 22 it's hard to refine things in 2.5 months. You're right about that when guys got on, there's more going on in the game so you go back to what you know, and that ball would tend to flatten out more, hips would open up more, and he would get in trouble. He did come up with a couple good pitches this year. The two seamer got better and his slider was a lot better. Early on he was trying to pull that slider away from the hitter and he started making it go down more instead of away, and he started getting some strikeouts with it.

Mark Hardy seemed to play above the league and continued his success when he moved up. One thing that was apparent was his ability to attack the strike zone. Is that what made him so successful?

Jimmy Jones: It did. He attacked the strike zone with more pitches. That helps your confidence when you know at any given time you can throw a strike with something. That's what he did. I think his last start was in AA. I think it was more of a necessity than "here you go, you deserve AA" but he did do well enough to go up there to do that. He was the one who was picked. He's a left-handed thrower who throws about 86-87 with four pitches to get guys out with. When you can throw four pitches at any given time the lower levels are going to be easy for you.

Juan Herrera has been viewed as someone with upside and talent. Does he have the mental capacity to reach his ceiling and does it boil down to limiting his walk totals?

Jimmy Jones: I think he can. He's 19 years old with a good arm. I'm going to knock on wood here, but with his mechanics and body type you don't foresee any injuries. He's fluid. He does a lot of things wrong, but he does a lot of things right, too, as far as shear throwing. He's just been taught to throw the ball. Again, doing my reports, he has big league stuff. I think he can throw big leagues strikes right now. Maybe not consistent big league strikes, but in games he's a little different than on the side or in the bull pen. He's a lot cleaner in the bull pen. He tries to do too much out on the field. In my reports it was that - just like de la Cruz - he's not playing baseball right now. He's getting the ball and throwing it and it's like a drill every time he throws the ball. He's not playing baseball. Just seeing guys progress, being in the AZL last year and having guys come back this year, there was a lot of improvement. If he improves like Cory Adamson improved over a year it'll be incredible. Cory really improved a lot over this last year. If Herrera can do that…I think he's pretty good I like him. He's just frustrating.

Esteban Javier was someone that the Padres thought could make strides this year after coming over from the Dominican. What kept him from having success?

Jimmy Jones: The first time I saw him throw in extended I thought "wow, this guy's not even close to being ready". That was his first game. He didn't seem to be throwing very hard and seemed to be a little overwhelmed. All of the sudden, after that game, throughout all of extended he did really, really well. When the season started I plugged him as a closer. We didn't want to label anybody at the time but I go "Hey, if we need a closer this is the guy who's doing it. He did it all extended." Reyes was too, but he became a starter during the season. Once the season started for Javier, when the lights went on it was overwhelming for him again. He really didn't start pitching well until August, and then he started showing his form again. He started throwing better, attacking the strike zone, not trying to throw away from contact, and it was successful for him. He's a lefty who throws 90-91 and has a decent changeup and breakingball. I think he's 20 but it's like he's 16 or 17. His mental capacity for baseball is sub par, but he also has a lot of bullets left in him. He was another guy I was pleasantly surprised in extended by how well he did, but I was unpleasantly surprised of how poorly he did during the season until the last month.

When I talked to Varo, he was excited about Eugenio Reyes. Reyes worked a lot in relief in the Dominican but started for you. Was that an effort to work on specific pitches?

Jimmy Jones: I'm not really sure. I was just told he was going to be a starter. It might've been just to get some innings in. He was throwing legit 95-98 in extended, and he had some 88-90 MPH sliders. That's electric stuff. He had that mentality where he loved the relief role. He wanted to come in and just be a power guy. All of the sudden he was in the starter role during the season, and I remember one game against the Reds first innings he was 84-86. I thought he was hurt. Mike Coujet was there and he goes "What's the deal, you ok?" And he goes, "Yeah, I'm fine." He goes "ok, right now I just want you to throw it as hard as you can and only fourseamers. I don't want you to throw anything else." He was throwing it 95-96 again. It was completely shocking. I don't know if it was like "I need to conserve my energy", but he went back to being a reliever in instructional league and there it was again, 94-96. Maybe that's his role, but that's for the higher-ups to decide, but he's a lot more aggressive in the pen than he is as a starter.

Adam Schrader was your most consistent pitcher all year. What did he do so well?

Jimmy Jones: One pitch he has that a lot of guys don't see is the cutter, and he was able to throw that for strikes. He keeps the ball down, figures out a way to do what he needs to do to get guys out, and he doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he has good stuff. He has to clean some stuff up, but he has stuff that'll play at the higher levels just like it does now. He just finds a way to do what he needs to do. He needs to get a more consistent, better breakingball. His changeup is good at times. When it's good it's really good. His cutter is his pitch. He keeps the ball down and it works both sides of the plate. Like Cliff Lee last night. He doesn't have Cliff Lee's stuff, but that's all he did was work in-and-out and make the ball move to get the guy out. He wasn't afraid to throw to the bat and let his movement get guys out.

Stalyn Valdez was your go-to guy with men on base and rewarded you with two quality starts near the end. What impressions did Stalyn leave you?

Jimmy Jones: Yeah, this was his second year. He was one of those guys who was in between staying in AZ or going to Eugene. At the first of the year he had a couple of starts as well. That was when Herrera and Reyes, they wanted them to start, and we had a couple other guys that they wanted to start. He was piggybacking the first two weeks and then he got put into the pen. When we lost all our good starters he was the guy who came back as a starter again. He throws a lot of strikes with his fastball. He has just struggled with his offspeed pitch. Sometimes it's really good. He can throw it for strikes but it's a roller. He wants to throw it when he's ahead in the count and these hitters are looking for something slow. He needs to learn to pitch a little bit better. He knows how to pitch backwards when he's behind in the count, but he doesn't know how to pitch backwards when he's ahead in the count. That's most guys, not just him, but with his breakingball not being very effective it really hinders him. But in those two starts he probably threw 120 pitches in twelve innings. He did a great job. He opened some eyes this year. Cuj said that too. He just needs to come up with some type of breaking ball to be effective.

You had a bunch of guys come through on rehab assignments. Did anyone impress you with their work ethic and habits?

Jimmy Jones: Jeremy McBride was one guy who really turned a corner this year. His attitude was really good. He's an older guy who's been hurt for more over a year with his back. He was frustrated in '09 and this year he just said "Hey, I'm hurt and I need to do something. Time is not on my side right now." He really impressed me with the way he approached his work and the way he wanted to get out of AZ. He didn't want to just bide his time there. He wanted to get out of there. Steve Garrison was down there again and worked hard. He's a Yankee now. Most of the guys on rehab get their work done. The Will Inman and Cory Luebke. They go in and get their work done and they're pleasant to be around because it's good for the younger guys to see how they go about their business like business. It's a job. It's not like you're just playing high school or college baseball. You're going out to earn your paycheck. All those guys I just mentioned, I hope I'm not forgetting anybody, those older guys, Will Inman, Luebke, Garrison, Jeremy McBride, those four in particular really stood out as far as getting what they needed done, done. They were pitching too. Guys like Steve Farris weren't pitching and he's not going to pitch for a while. He's getting his work done but he's not out on the field with these guys.

Working out at instructs, what was your impression of Zach Cates?

Jimmy Jones: I really liked him. He really likes the pro ball idea. He's glad he's done this instead of going back to school. He said that to me the other day. He said "I'm really glad I'm playing pro ball because I can really concentrate." He's a big work guy. He gets a lot of work in and the strength and conditioning guys need to back him off. If you do this next year in May or June you're going to be beat. He has really good stuff and he's a really hard worker, and he's happy to be out there. That's a pretty good mix. I like him. He's one of my favorites.

You also got a chance to see John Barbato. Any initial impressions of John?

Jimmy Jones: He's a little bit different. When you see him up against a guy like Zach Cates, Zach is really positive and loves to be out there. Playing baseball is a dream job for him. Same with John, but he's a little more laid back. Coming out of high school, he may not be as aggressive right now, but he has good stuff – really fluid motion and a lot to work with. He just needs to be thrown in the fire to be worked with and figure out what he needs to do to get guys out. He's going to get guys out at some point. He has that kind of stuff.

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