One Last Thing

EL PASO, TX – It's always been conventional wisdom that there is very little difference between AAA and AA, with the higher level being seen as little more than a finishing school before ascending to the major leagues.

Just don't tell Matt Wisler that.

"It is a huge step from AA," said Wisler on an off day after a recent start in El Paso where he gave up five or more runs for his third straight outing since being promoted from AA San Antonio.

"The jump from the Cal League to the Texas League was big too but these guys up here do not miss mistakes."

After beginning his Pacific Coast League career with four straight outings that saw his ERA balloon up to 13.50 and surrendering 20 earned runs in 13.1 innings he has greatly improved by allowing only one earned run in his last two starts in 13 innings pitched.

"My big problem was that I was living up in the zone too high – around thigh high – for me to get people out it has been several inches lower.

It was speculated by many that AA San Antonio would be his last stop before going to the big leagues, but the Padres decided that Wisler needed to be challenged a little more before getting to the big leagues.

"I wasn't privy to a lot of those discussions," said Mark Prior, an assistant to General Manager Josh Byrnes who was in El Paso taking in the series on why Wisler was promoted.

"But with anyone you want to see them get challenged and face some adversity and see how they react; whether that is jumping from AA to the big leagues or here."

In San Antonio Wisler was dominant where he posted a 2.10 ERA, striking out 35 batters in 30 innings against only six walks in six starts with the Missions.

While Wisler does set in the low 90's, the strength of his game is his ability to locate his four-seam fastball down in the zone to go along with a plus slider. He can run into trouble when he doesn't get into the proper set position, which affects his arm slot.

In a nutshell, if his back is to straight, his arm slot will be too high with the ball rising in the zone and if he is too hunched over, the arm slot drops which flattens out his pitches and will also get smacked.

In El Paso in the first few starts Wisler was getting crushed mainly because of this problem.

"My change-up has actually been going pretty good; I've been throwing it more than I have in the past. My problem is with my fastball command, which is about my mechanics. I'm just leaving it up and guys are teeing off of it."

While the Padres obviously do not want to see Wisler struggle a key part of his development is learning how to make adjustments against better competition when things aren't going the way you want. And there is no better ground for this scenario to play out than the PCL South; if you can pitch here there isn't much left in the minor leagues left to prove.

"You come here and you have to pitch. You are facing guys that are older; many have been in the big leagues and have come back down," Prior said on the level of competition.

"They have a more developed and mature approach when they are approaching Wisler. Matt is forced to make some adjustments he might not have had to make in AA where you might see one guy in the lineup that has that kind of approach."

In addition to the differences in the quality of competition the differences in the pitching environment between the Pacific Coast and Texas Leagues is substantial. The Chihuahuas are hitting .298 at home as a team and while the hitting environment isn't as great as it is in Las Vegas or Colorado Springs; it isn't that far off either.

The hitting environment in Nelson Wolff Stadium in San Antonio May be one of the toughest in professional baseball. Both Nick Hundley and Chase Headley, while first stating the obvious that the competition is much greater in the major leagues, said that for just a pure hitting environment it's tough to find a worse park than San Antonio when the wind blowing - which is nearly every night.

While the environmental difference between is significant, it is not the biggest change.

"When you go to that next level more and more physical tools start to grade out even and what separates guys is what they do upstairs and stay one step ahead of their opponent," said Prior.

"You have to learn to get guys out in the zone because if you don't they are going to wait you out and exploit mistakes in your game. You have to start competing more mentally than physically."

"{Because} when you do go to that next level you can slow it back down because you will have the tools to compete."

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