Kyler Newby signed with the A's as a minor-league free agent in late November after having a very good season in 2012 with Baltimore's organization, working out of the back-end of the bullpen with Double-A Bowie.
Before 2012, Newby had spent his entire career in the Arizona Diamondbacks' organization. The D-Backs' 50th-round pick in 2004 has a career 3.22 ERA with 551 strike-outs and 183 walks in 492 innings. He has allowed only 40 homeruns. Newby has yet to make his major league debut, but he spent time on the D-Backs' 40-man roster.
Newby joins Oakland's organization having the versatility of being a former starter and back-end reliever, despite not having an overly explosive fastball. His 2012 was his best season as a pro, netting 20 total saves and upping his strikeout-to-walk ratio to around 3.5, while allowing just 38 hits in 56.1 innings.
We recently spoke with Newby, who is preparing for spring training, about his thoughts on joining the A's organization, his relationship with A's manager Bob Melvin and more...
Chris Biderman: You grew up in Vegas and went to Mesa Junior College. Were you recruited by them?
Kyler Newby: I wasn't recruited by them. I really didn't have [many offers] coming out of high school. I had a couple offers from some smaller schools out in California – kind of under the radar. I had a buddy that was signed to come to Mesa and he brought me along on one of his visits and told the skipper, ‘I got a buddy who can run it up a little bit and throw strikes.'
He asked about the last time I threw and I told him about an Easter tournament when I threw a no-hitter and he said, 'Oh, you can come here!' So he signed me and gave me the opportunity to play.
CB: Were you expecting to get drafted out of high school?
KN: I had more interest from professional teams coming out of high school than colleges. I was kind of disappointed out of high school – I thought I was going to get drafted. Scouts were telling me I was going to get drafted and the draft happened and it was crickets, not a peep.
So I went to Mesa, and my first year I knew there were teams that were interested in me, so I didn't know I was going to get drafted. I was actually in Calgary, Canada, playing summer college baseball. I was up there and got a phone call on draft day from the Diamondbacks saying that they just drafted me in the 50th round.
I was like, ‘Oh, isn't that last?' He said, ‘yeah, no big deal.' He was asking me where I was and all that. That wanted to draft me to follow me, they didn't try to sign me my first year. But I was just grateful for at least getting drafted.
CB: Since turning pro you've been both a starter and reliever. Which role do you like more and which role does your pitching style lend itself to?
KN: I really don't mind any role. I get a better rush coming out of the bullpen. It's a different feeling. I don't care as a long as I have a jersey and a ball. I'll start and relieve.
At the big league level I see myself being a middle-relief guy that could come into the seventh inning and get a guy out of a jam – strike guys out. I do see myself kind of being a swingman – picking up a spot-start or coming in for long relief. I prefer to be in the bullpen, but whatever the team needs, I'll do.
CB: How much attention did you pay to what the A's were able to do last year, with a bunch of un-proven pitchers contributing heavily to a playoff team? What was your original reaction when you found out you would be joining the Oakland organization?
KN: I actually paid a lot of attention because I have been playing for eight years professionally and, shoot, half the team for Oakland came from the Diamondbacks.
I've played with Brett Anderson a few years ago. I know Jarrod Parker. Colin Cowgill just left but I knew Cowgill. I've been keeping tabs on Chris Carter. I've been facing him for years in the Cal League and with Reno. And there's Chris Young.
But actually I did follow them a lot. They were exciting to watch. Ryan Cook, an All-Star and just dominated the major leagues after I played with him in Double-A. It's just awesome to see guys succeed like that. They were really on my radar.
Jarrod Parker is another guy. He had Tommy John just a couple years ago and now he revamps himself – throws more sinkers and gets more movement – and the guy threw 200 innings or something like that? That's impressive for a guy like that.
CB: Coming from the Diamondbacks organization, what was your experience like with Bob Melvin?
KN: He was my manager in both 2009 and 2010 when I was on the 40-man roster in spring training. That man is absolutely incredible. I'm so excited to be with Oakland because of Bob Melvin.
I remember my first year in big league camp and I was a little nervous. He came and talked to me like we were friends, just asking me how I was doing, if I needed anything to let him know. I think that leads to the success that they had last year.
They had a lot of young kids, but when you have a leader that allows the individuals to be themselves, it's a good recipe for winning. You can't make everyone be the same – you let everyone be themselves individually and you're going to get a lot more out of your players.
CB: Do you think you made a good impression on Melvin, possibly leading to the A's wanting to bring you in this offseason?
KN: I hope so. I imagine that I'll be going in for big league camp. Between him, Mr. Beane and the scouting department that's seen me – I pitched better in my first big league camp than in my second year. I kind of got a little roughed up and didn't do so well. So this year I'd like to come in on fire, ready to rock and roll and just go for it.
CB: You had a very solid year as a reliever in the Orioles system last year. Have they communicated if they want you to assume that role when you come into camp?
KN: There hasn't been a defined role for me. I think what's appealing about me is that I can start off a starter, or I can close like I did last year in Double-A. I think it's a luxury for teams to have – to have versatility.
I think a lot of guys label themselves and if they don't need that label at the next level – like you say you're a closer and they don't need a closer – then you won't get promoted. Sometimes it's good to be a guy that can do whatever and help the team win.
CB: From 2011-2012 you saw your strikeout numbers increase pretty dramatically while your walk numbers decreased. What adjustments did you make to see those improvements? Were you able to snap your breaking pitches a little more and reach back more on your fastball while focusing on being a reliever instead of a starter?
KN: That's what's the most the different between the two roles. Last year I came in and I had a job to do. I came in with bases loaded and no outs in the eighth to help the other guy get out of a jam and shut the door. It's that rush you get, it's almost indescribable, the feeling.
Your stuff might not be any different, but mentally I'm way more locked in than in the first inning of a start when you can be kind of lackadaisical and just look for spots. As a starter you have to establish inside and out, you have establish balls and strikes, you have to work with the umpire, etc.
As a bullpen guy I don't have to establish the strike, it's already been established. When I come in during a jam I try to punch out the side. When I start I'm trying to get ground balls and bad contact to get into the game late. As far as the numbers, I can tell you that I was blessed with phenomenal year. It probably had a lot to do with first pitch strikes that set up the off-speed and allowed me to put guys away.
CB: Scouting reports say that you have four pitches. When you relieve, do you use all four and if you could give a scouting report of yourself, what would it be?
KN: Sometimes I come across scouting reports and I find it kind of funny what some of these people say, that aren't totally correct. One thing I try to do with all my pitches is have every one coming out of my hand looking like a fastball. So a lot of times my teammates will ask me if I struck a guy out with a slider or a split. They can't tell the difference in the direction, but they both drop down.
I try to mimic everything out of my hand to look the same and I would give you a scouting report of myself, but I don't want to see it posted online [laughs].
Basically the first thing I do is establish a first-pitch strike, no matter if it's a fastball, slider, or split. As far as my changeup, I throw it but it's probably not my best pitch. My best pitch is a strike. If I'm ahead 0-1, 0-2, I'm going to strikeout mode. Everything is going to mimic a fastball coming out of my hand and I'll react and see what the hitter does. I don't throw 95 miles an hour, so I have to learn to read hitters and hit certain spots.
CB: So what was your velocity like last year?
KN: Last year I was a closer, and closer these days like Cook throw 98 miles-an-hour and I could probably name 10 other guys that could do it. This year, we were always teasing each other and guys would tell me I was throwing 87 to 89. I was like, ‘Yeah, right! That gun must be wrong.'
But consistently, I'll be 88-91, throwing sinkers and four-seam fastballs. Sometimes the split comes up to 88 as well, which I don't really understand. I wish my fastball was harder off that, maybe scouts would like me a little better.
CB: With the A's ability to develop to arms, especially at the minor league level, do you come to the system with a new sense of confidence after seeing so many guys get promoted to the big leagues and contribute to a playoff team?
KN: Yeah, I'm absolutely ecstatic with coming to Oakland. I can't tell you how excited I've been since I signed on November 20. I wake up every day excited to work out and get better to mold into to what they're doing here.
The strength and conditioning program I've been going through has been great. We're in great shape. And my throwing program is great as well. What's nice about Oakland, like I said, is they let you be an individual. So they take feedback from a player, and if a player says he doesn't like anything, they'll make an adjustment for him and not the other way around because when that happens you create problems.
They won't make you do things you don't like that don't end up working for you. I've been to other places where it was their way or the highway, it was too military like. I haven't met everyone with Oakland, but the ones I've met have been great, from the trainers to strength coaches, they keep in touch with you. It's real hands on and really nice to be apart of.