RHP Keyvius Sampson, a fourth round pick in the 2009 draft by the Padres, breezed through his first two years of pro ball with Eugene and Fort Wayne dominating the competition, having articles written about him in Baseball America and being highly ranked in nearly all prospect lists.
Then came AA.
The big problem for Keyvius has always been about getting a consistent third pitch to go along with his plus change-up and deceptive four-seam fastball.
When he has three pitches going, he is very tough to beat as the opposition in the Texas League found out last year when he went 10-4 with a 2.26 ERA and 110 strikeouts in 103.1 innings against only 33 walks.
What was particularly impressive about that performance is that it was after he struggled in AAA Tucson with a 7.11 ERA where he easily could have gotten down and regressed.
This year in AAA El Paso, Keyvius, 23, has been up-and-down, bouncing between the starting rotation to the bullpen to back to a starter.
His secondary numbers have been good with 85 strikeouts in 83.1 innings, but what has been killing him is 59 walks and 19 home runs in the free flowing parks on the Pacific Coast League.
But things have been picking up since he’s moved back to the starting rotation because the athleticsm and “stuff” is there; it’s just about not quitting and continuing to learn how to pitch - or “hanging in there.”
Second time through AAA. How is it pitching here as compared to Tucson?
Keyvius Sampson: It has varied a little bit. The ball moves pretty well in the day. At night the air is a little heavier, so the ball doesn’t fly as much.
The fans and the atmosphere are great here. Best environment in the minors that I’ve been around. I’ve really enjoyed my time at all of the minor league parks I’ve been too, but nothing compares to this particularly in terms of crowds.
With the crowds that they draw here it must be as close to a major league environment as you can get?
Keyvius Sampson: Oh, there is no doubt. I can’t believe how many sell outs we have had this year. It’s been a great opportunity to be here. You walk around town and everyone knows who you are and hold up the ears [the sign of the Chihuahuas].
I always thought there wasn’t a giant difference between AAA and AA and I was wrong. Pat Murphy has said that not only are the parks different in terms of San Antonio and here but the guys are so much more experienced they don’t bite on bad stuff like they do in the Texas League.
Keyvius Sampson: Very true. I learned that last year when I was in Tucson and it was re-enforced here this season. A lot of people say there is not that big a difference from AA to AAA, but there is.
I’ve had a few conversations with Matt Wisler on this because when he first got here he found out about it too. I told him just to remember you are here for a reason. It is hard for pitchers to pitch in a league where the ball really flies.
I pitched in Albuquerque earlier in the year and gave up nine runs and for the most part I made good pitches. It’s just a fact that if you get some good contact the ball goes.
They tell you to forget about it and concentrate on the next hitter - and you want to do that - but at the same time it is a hard less to learn. I’m starting to get there, but it takes some time.
Both you and Wisler are right-handed starters who are trying to develop a third pitch. With Matt it’s about the change-up and with you its the slider or the curve.
How important is that third pitch to you?
Keyvius Sampson: As a starter it is real important. For me, my curve ball has been there more this year than the slider.
This whole year my curve has been under control a little more. I still may bounce one but now I usually bounce it when I want too. This has helped my change even more because in a 2-2 count the batter is probably looking for the curve or the fastball and they get out ahead on the change.
I’ve been starting to get a little more swing and misses on my change because it is playing a “gas break” role when guys are sitting on the fastball or looking for the hump.
I haven’t used my slider as much, it’s kind of in between a cutter or can get too big. I’m still working on it during my bullpen sessions.
I do want that slider because when you have to face someone a third or fourth time, you want the weapons.
How do you contrast that last year to where you were last year in Tucson where you were pretty much just going out there with a fastball and change-up? It seems more mental?
Keyvius Sampson: Very much so. That is what Cat [Mike Cather, the Chihuahuas’ pitching coach] was saying. Right now it’s more then mental side of figuring out the game. You have the stuff and you are an athlete, now its about competing on a different level.
Learning how to bounce back, learning about it and then learning how to forget about the negatives.
To many times young pitchers like myself forget that it is really hard to hit and the odds are usually with me. A really good guy is just going to get me three times out of ten - and that is someone who is very good.
You have to take those odds.
How do you deal with scouting reports. You have an idea of what is and what is not working for you. How do you deal with the fact that maybe your fastball is working better than other pitches and the guy you are facing is a fastball hitter.
Keyvius Sampson: You want to stick to your strengths. If I try to pitch to the hitter’s weakness instead of sticking to my strengths nine times out of ten he is going to beat me.
If someone is gong to beat me, its going to be with my best stuff. If I can put a pitch on the outside corner with some movement, there isn’t much a hitter is going to be able to do with it.
I do listen to the scouting report and I want to know what they can do. I try to fit my strengths into what the hitter has problems with. I might look to pitch backwards to him or do something to mess up his timing.
How much of a process have you developed about looking at the scouting reports in terms of editing information. This is the type of stuff I can use and this is what I don’t need?
Keyvius Sampson: I know a lot of guys who write stuff down and sometimes I do the same thing. Most scouting reports you have to just take what you need from them and not the whole thing.
The most important thing for me to do out there is execution. Most times if I can execute my pitch, I like my chances.
How much do you rely on you knowing that as opposed to your catching knowing that?
Keyvius Sampson: I like to rely upon myself. But Rocky [Gale], Adam [Moore] and Deck [Cody Decker] are really good about knowing what I like to do as well. You really want to be on the same page with the catcher.
How is the hitting going?
Keyvius Sampson: [laughs] Oh, it’s been rough. Not pretty.
You have Jason Lane coaching you?
Keyvius Sampson: He’s been in the batting cages with me. I’ve had a couple decent bit of contact, but yeah, there is a lot of work to be done.