Payton Baskette, 20, is the classic situational lefty. He doesn’t throw that hard, but has very good command with a running two seam fastball and a diving slider. His problem is that he can also throw a few other pitches well enough to be an effective starter which places him in a role that he is not likely to occupy in the major leagues.
He was drafted in the sixteenth round by the Padres in 2013 out of Grayson Count College (Denison, Texas) after just one season as a collegian. At Grayson he had a 3.37 ERA with 47 strikeouts against 17 walks in 56 innings.
Baskette signed for an above-slot bonus and threw well in the Arizona League last year both coming out of the pen and in six starts. In 16 appearances and 46 innings, the opposition could only muster earned runs against him three times as he held the opposition to a .207 batting average.
This year has been a different story as again Baskette has bounced between relief and starting with a 5.29 ERA in 12 starts.
As the Padres build more depth with their starting rotation Baskette will probably transition into a middle relief year, which he is best suited for.
You went to Greyson County College, a two-year school. What made you decide to go to the professional route instead of going to a four year school?
Payton Baskette Really I was going to go back to Grayson for my second year when they called me the night before the third day. I had told them no, I didn’t think I was gong to sign. Then I spoke with a bunch of buddies and family and thought what if I got hurt the next year?
I might not ever get a chance to pursue my dream and so I called them back and told them to put me back up on the board.
After my freshman year I had an opportunity to go to the University of Arizona and the head coach of Grayson told me there were a bunch of places I could go, he just had to make a phone call. So, I called back Arizona and told them no, that I was going back to Grayson.
In the end it was more personal. I am not a hard throwing lefty and in the end I would have just been another guy on the staff instead of “the guy” at Grayson.
Usually when you are drafted as you were with just a year of college there is also a provision that the club will pick up the tuition costs that you passed up in order to play.
Did you get that in your deal?
Payton Baskette Most definitely. I have a basically a full ride to the University of Texas, six semesters, if I choose to take it.
You had a good year in the AZL in 2013. What made you so successful at that level?
Payton Baskette Last year I was coming off a pretty good year at Grayson. My arm was fresh and my command was there.
This year I have been struggling a little bit, but I’ve started to improve as well. It is a completely different mentality coming out of the pen as compared to being a starter.
I was averaging nearly a pair of strikeouts an inning before I moved into the starting rotation. I’ve tweaked a few things to get my command back.
When you talk to people who bounce back and forth between starting and relief, there are basically two camps.
Guys who move into the starting rotation talk about the extra days give them a chance to perfect a third pitch and fine tune other aspects of their game. When guys move to the pen some of them like it because it is usually just about getting guys out with one or two pitches.
What camp do you fall in?
Payton Baskette Out of the pen you have less opportunity to mess up. You have to make a pitch. I should have that mentality as a starter too.
But so many times when you are coming into a game in middle relief you have to get that out because runners are on and the game could hang in the balance and I really thrive on that adrenaline.
Right now, it’s good for me to get work both as a starter and reliever at this point in my career.
You just described yourself as a “soft-tossing” lefty. So what do you throw?
Payton Baskette I use my location most of all to get guys out. Two-seam fastball down and away to roll a guy over, nice easy play.
I can get them off balance with my change-up. I like my slider a lot this year. I will use my four-seamer to maybe throw up around their eyes, getting the batter to think he can catch up to it, but at that level it’s tough too.
So yeah, out of the bullpen I have more pitches that most guys.
If your best pitches are a two-seam fastball and a slider, that is a good mix for a lefty coming out of the pen and could take you pretty far.
Payton Baskette As a starter my change-up has been iffy this year and I haven’t been able to rely upon my splitter as much this year. I’ve brought it back and taken it away. The off-speed pitches are what have been giving me problems.
Out of the pen you really only need two pitches. Two-seamer away and slider, down and in.
I’ve always thought the two-seamer is a really tough pitch to control. Has that been the case for you?
Payton Baskette Burt [Hooten, the TinCaps’ pitching coach] calls it a sinker sometimes because I get the depth of a change-up but the run of a slider. It will run two to three inches and drop three to four inches. He refers to it as a sinker, but I call it a two-seamer.
It must drive you nuts that you see that the third pitch can work, you see it in the bullpen but you just can’t get the consistency that you need from it in games.
Payton Baskette It really does. Last year my change-up was working in the AZL and I just can’t get the feel back. I’ve left it up to many times.
I know it can be so effective, but it seems so many things can go wrong with it. The grip isn’t right, the arm speed or arm slot is off - and it goes a long way.
Payton Baskette You have to replicate your motion on every pitch. You don’t want to guide it in there, you want to throw it but it has to be with what you said; the perfect arm speed and slot - and you also don’t want to be tipping it off either.
It is one of the harder pitches to throw but then again it is one of the hardest pitches to hit in the game too. So it’s worth the effort.
What has been the biggest adjustment to the Midwest League?
Payton Baskette Keeping the ball down. Last year I got away with a bunch of stuff. I could throw a two-seamer outside and leave it up a little and younger hitters will chase it or try to pull it.
If it is up in the zone these guys are going to hit it, usually against the wall. So I have really been working on keeping the ball down. I have much more success when it’s down and my pitches have a little more life as well.
The slider is sharper and the change-up has more depth.
When you guys talk about keeping the “ball down”. This isn’t just keeping it below the belt, you are talking about missing three or four inches above the knee.
Payton Baskette Oh yeah, maybe one-half to two baseballs above the knee is “down in the bottom” of the strike zone. If you bring it up to mid-thigh the guy is going to smoke it.
We can consider a “ball up” anything around mid-thigh. Anything that high is not a good pitch.