For San Antonio in 2014, James Needy took the ball.
Needy compiled a 10-5 record for a squad that didn’t provide much run support while throwing 145.2 innings, the second most for the Missions. His 2.90 ERA was the lowest of any starter and the only others in the Padres’ organization that posted a lower numbers were Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross for the big club.
“You knew that everytime Needy took the hill you at least had a good shot at winning if you could get a just a few runs, said San Antonio broadcaster Mike Saeger on the big right-hander’s twenty-four starts and two relief appearances.
“He was a battler, too. There were times where his command would just not be there and he’d usually figure out a way to get the job and minimize the damage.”
“Thank you. That is really a big honor with all of the talent that we have,” said Needy from his off-season home in Santee, California on being named the MadFriars’ pitcher of the year.
It’s been a long road for the six-foot-six right-hander from Santana High School who was was drafted in the sixth round by the Padres in 2009; passing up a scholarship to the University of San Diego.
A knee injury in the third day of his first spring training in 2010 followed by a back injury in 2011 didn’t really allow his career to get off the ground until 2012; and then it was primarily in the bullpen.
In addition to his injuries, James had to adjust his mechanics to take full advantage of his height. Despite his size, his game does not revolve around velocity and strikeouts, but is more about inducing bad contact with his sinker; which because of his size the ball arrives at the plate with greater tilt, or angle, that makes it difficult for batters to barrel up.
Needy releases his pitch with a classic overhand delivery that makes the ball appear as if it is going straight down. Throw in the movement of a two-seamer (which is the actual grip that he uses), and when he’s on and if you are sitting behind the plate, you will hear the occasional frustrated cursing of opposing hitters unable to make solid contact.
“James gets a really good angle on his fastball which generates a lot of groundballs,” noted Randy Smith, the former Padres’ Director of Player Development.
“His slider improved as did all of his pitches. He had a really good year and I think he’s just going to get better.”
Needy’s sinker/two-seam fastball arrives in the low 90s to go along with an improving slider, change-up and developing curve; but his ability to keep the majority of his pitches at the knees and eat innings is what will take him to the major leagues.
“My goal is to get out of the inning in 10 pitches or less. Three guys up, three guys down. If I can do that, it’s an extra inning.”
Needy’s further refinement of his command and learning that the concept of “down” gets lower as you move up the ladder was one of the big improvements this year that Saeger noted in his interview with FoxSports San Diego along with working with Jimmy Jones, the pitching coach for San Antonio, for his success this year. The next stop is AAA El Paso in the Pacific Coast League, a league known for having some rough ball parks for pitchers because of the elevations and thin air.
“I heard about all types of parks like that when I went to the Cal League a few years ago,” laughed Needy.
“The sad part was some of it was true.”
But with two solid seasons under his belt in High-A Lake Elsinore and AA San Antonio, things are different than when he was 21 and had yet to pitch a full season as a starter.
“To me the biggest difference is that I just feel that I have been around for a long time,” said Needy, 23, on his career. “I started in 2009 and have pitched at all the levels. I’ve been up and been down.”
“When you get a better understanding of what you need to do with your mechanics along with what hitters are trying to do, it really helps you mentally.”
Another change that comes with experience is knowing what is expected of you and how to filter what is and is not important.
“You know I do like many of the newer statistics on pitching because they really can measure so many things, but in the end I am kind of old school in that the two I am concerned with are innings and wins.”
“As a starter your job is to go out there and pitch quality innings, stay in the game and give your team a chance to win. If I can do that, with the help of my teammates, the wins are going to come.”
“If that happens, I’m going to be all right.”