Peoria, Ariz.: One of the better stories in the Padres’ system last year was the rise of right-handed pitcher Walker Lockett from Low-A Fort Wayne all the way to the Triple-A championship game with El Paso.
“From Day 1 of last year we started to see a different guy from in the past,” said Mark Prior, the Padres’ minor league pitching coordinator on the rise of Lockett. “We saw someone who had matured and looked a little bit different from everyone else. He competed and kept his sinker down.”
Lockett, 22, was part of the 2012 draft class that saw the Padres take three high school pitchers in the first four selections - Max Fried, Zach Eflin and Walker Weickel - all of whom have been traded or released from the organization. After three years of battling a variety of injuries, the fourth round pick from Jacksonville, Florida was finally healthy and got an opportunity to show what he could do.
Across four different levels, Lockett threw 164 innings for a 2.96 ERA with 123 strikeouts against 24 walks in 2016.
“In Lake Elsinore, Glendon Rusch, the Storm’s pitching coach, was a good influence on him,” said Prior. “He got up to San Antonio and didn’t skip a beat and then finished the year in El Paso strong. In addition to his sinker, his slider got better as the year went on and that also helped him. It took a bigger break and became a legitimate weapon for him.”
Lockett is a classic sinker-ball pitcher and uses his six-foot five frame to get a higher downward angle as the ball crosses the plate. When he’s on, its very difficult for the opposition to square it up.
“Early on Walker started off a little slower than everyone would have liked, but it also shows where we are at in today’s game.”
‘If you perform, you move.”
We caught up with Walker at the tail end of Spring Training to talk about last year and the future.
In 2015 you were coming off of some difficulties and then you had a great year in 2016. It has to feel much different in camp this year.
Walker Lockett: It’s always feels good after you come off of a good year.
You were hurt your first three years, this past year was the first season in which you were really healthy.
Walker Lockett: I’ve been battling through so many injuries which made last year so much sweeter.
The first one was a really bad blister. Then I had some shoulder tightness - impingement - a number of setbacks. It was definitely frustrating, but I am glad that I grinded through it.
Mentally it had to be tough. Coming out of high school you think you are going to be in a certain place at a certain time.
Walker Lockett: Definitely. I had it mapped out in my mind how everything was going to go. I’m sure there are a lot of guys who think that way too. The key is when things don’t go that way and how you react to it and bounce back.
In high school weren’t you more of a first baseman than a pitcher?
Walker Lockett: The pitching started to really ramp up my sophomore and junior year. I was still getting a feel for pitching coming into my freshman year. Around 10th grade year is where I shot up.
I was actually a catcher growing up.
Do you still miss catching?
Walker Lockett: No absolutely not [laughs]. I see what our guys go through; but I still do like to hit.
How about what you throw. I always get mixed up between a guy who throws a lot of two-seamers and someone that throws a sinker. Which one are you?
Walker Lockett: I would definitely call it a sinker. It goes straight down and a little arm side when it is going good. It has a late sink, which is what I am shooting for. When I leave it up it goes side to side, which is easier for the batter.
What are your other pitches?
Walker Lockett: Sinker, four-seamer which goes up in the zone, change-up and the slider,
What is your best secondary pitch?
Walker Lockett: I’m not sure right now.
I always have a bias for tall sinker ball pitchers. Because the batters can’t square the ball up.
Walker Lockett: Oh yeah, its fun to watch them beat it into the ground.
In the championship game for El Paso, you had one bad inning, but pitched really well. The reason they said was b because you were throwing with too much velocity. Can you explain that?
Walker Lockett: It’s more when you try to overthrow it, that is when you get in trouble with leaving it up. There is a certain velocity that is between 91-94 that I think is the best. That is kind of where I live, so its not a big thing.
You threw a lot of innings - 164 - did you do anything in the previous offseason to help you get there?
Walker Lockett: The off-season plays a big part. Last year was my fourth Spring Training so you pick up certain things that help you and remember the things that don’t.
What is the biggest thing that helps you the most in your offseason training?
Walker Lockett: Just having a solid routine and executing it consistently. My biggest thing was on range of motion and flexibility.
What is the biggest thing you are going to try to work on this year?
Walker Lockett: Just staying consistent, day in and day out. If I did have a bad start, not letting it trickle into two or three bad starts.
There is just a difference between learning from something and dwelling on it.