Headean, 22, a thirteenth round selection by the Padres in 2015, currently has a 2-4 record with 4.98 ERA in nine starts with the short-season Tri-City Dust Devils. However, he also has 43 strikeouts in 43.1 innings against only 12 walks while developing a third pitch, crucial if he wants to remain a starter; a changeup.
Headean could have a much better record with Tri-City by just throwing his fastball and mixing in an occasional curve, but that isn’t going to get him where he wants to go. Frequently players at this level are doing something new or different, with the knowledge that while they may slightly struggle in the present, refining a new pitch or some other skill could lead to success in the future.
Last season Headean was dominant in the Arizona League with a 34:7 walk-to-strikeout ratio with a 3.12 ERA after pitching for three years at Illinois State. While Headean put up solid numbers with the Redbirds what attracted scouts was his six-foot-four athletic frame, being left-handed and ability to consistently throw a fastball in the low 90s. The organization, and Will, are well aware that the continued development of his secondary pitches and changeup will determine his future.
We caught up with Will before a recent Dust Devils’ game to talk about his background and mastering the changeup.
How did you get to Illinois State?
Will Headean: Both my brother and sister went there and it was only thirty minutes up the road for me, so I thought it was a good fit. Also, I knew a little about the Missouri Valley being a good baseball conference too.
You played basketball in high school too correct?
Will Headean: I was born in Indiana but we moved to Illinois when I was about seven or eight. I’ve always loved basketball and when I’m done with baseball - whenever that will be - I want to go back and be a basketball coach.
I coached last off-season and really enjoyed it. I would have played more, but there wasn’t much for a guy that is six-foot-four I always loved baseball too so it was an easy pick on what sport I was going to concentrate on going forward.
What do you generally throw?
Will Headean: I throw both a four and two-seam fastball. I throw the four-seam glove side and the two-seam to the arm side. I’ll mix them up depending on the situation. I also have a curve and a changeup. The changeup is developing, but it has come a long way.
For most pitchers that we talk too that is the toughest pitch to throw. What makes it so difficult?
Will Headean: There are a million different grips, it is just finding one you are comfortable with and can throw consistently. I’ve worked with it on throwing programs, flat ground and bullpens; its repetition, repetition and repetition.
Eventually you have to get hitters out in a game with it, that is what will give you confidence.
You sound pretty intense about getting better with it.
Will Headean: I’ve heard about it since the first day that I was drafted. Because I want to be a starter and I need to have a quality third pitch or I won’t start. For me that is going to be the changeup.
Did you get a chance to work with Trevor Hoffman in Spring Training or the Instructs?
Will Headean: I did. I went to the Instructs just for a week based on the number of innings that I threw; mainly just to get the information. We got linked up and he did a changeup drill which is where I got the grip that I am using today.
He has a funky grip that if you ask him that he has shown to a lot of people; his is really difficult to throw. He said that it took him multiple years to master it, so there is still time for me.
I saw you pitch the other night and it seemed like there were one or two things that just set you back, but otherwise you blew threw the lineup.
Your manager, Ben Fritz, said that you need to learn to step back some because you are such an intense competitor. Is that something that you have been working on?
Will Headean: I’ve always been an aggressive guy on the mound. My game plan has been to pitch with intent and go after the hitters. What I am working on now is not letting up, but managing the situation.
The game you saw I had the bases loaded with one out in the fourth and got out of there with only allowing one run. I took a step back and limited the damage. When I don’t do that, I get into trouble.
It seems you really enjoy being a starter much more than being in the bullpen.
Will Headean: I enjoy the routine of a starter more; when I’m going to throw, when I long toss, lift. It just is more of a comfort level; but I enjoy pitching more than anything else.
Last question. All of you guys always want to get better at everything, but if you had to pick one specific aspect of your game what would it be?
Will Headean: Changeup, it begins and ends with it.