Name: Richie Daigle
DOB: September 9, 1982
Possessing a cannon arm and a key ear for taking in what he is taught and applying it on the field, Daigle went from out of work outfielder to solid relief pitcher in the span of two years.
The plan took effect after college ball. He already had earned a reputation for someone you didn't want to take an extra base on while he was playing in the outfield and decided to take the mound in a wooden bat league in Georgia – just to keep playing. A tryout with the Padres came and he didn't disappoint.
Daigle made the jump from rookie ball to High-A Lake Elsinore in the San Diego Padres system and performed admirably.
"He is great," former North Georgia teammate Brian Lauderdale, who played with the Eugene Emeralds last year, said. "He never pitched in college. He was an outfielder with an incredibly strong arm. I am tickled to death that he has the opportunity to pitch and is doing well. He is tearing it up. I talk to him every few days. We keep up with each other and wish the best for each other."
The shocker came in two words – throwing strikes. Daigle had the best first pitch strike percentage of any pitcher at the Padres' fall Instructional League. Did we mention he only started pitching in 2005? He does, however, try and get too cute with his pitches once he finds himself ahead in the count instead of continuing to attack the zone. It leads to more pitches per at bat than should be necessary considering his strike throwing ability.
With a fastball that tops out at 91-92, the right-hander had to work hard on his changeup and slider. Both have come along with his slider proving to be effective as an out pitch. It took work. He changed grips a dozen times to get the right feel and action. And his changeup has become a pitch that he utilizes to keep the opposition off-balance.
"He has really done an outstanding job – coming from nowhere to pitch in the California League and putting up the numbers he had is really a great attribute to him and his innate ability," 2006 Lake Elsinore pitching coach Steve Webber explained. "His slider has improved. He is another guy that tinkers, works and comes up with seemingly the answer to his grip or the way his pitches move and slider breaks."
Amazingly, Daigle has some of the best mechanics in the system. Perhaps it is a result of not being tainted and growing up with faults in his pitching motion or it could just be his baseball acumen. Either way, Daigle has proven to possess a repeatable delivery that does not get herky-jerky or offer varying release points. He also stays on top of the ball well and extends, giving him maximum life on his offerings.
His smooth, loose arm also gives life to his pitches and not being able to worry about different checkpoints allows him to mess around with different grips on his pitches to get the proper feel. He is very methodical in planting his foot in position to get the most oomph on his pitches and follows through. Rarely does he leave his fly open - and it shows in his ability to throw strikes.
Daigle ended the year with a 6-1 mark and a 3.42 ERA in 68.1 innings, allowing one run over his final 11 appearances. One bad outing pushed his ERA up by nearly half a run. He led all Storm relievers in inducing ground ball double plays.
Everything hinges on the success of his fastball. He is not yet able to place it with absolute precision but it has a lot of movement just before it hits the zone. It has led to a lot of broken bats and curses from the opposition as they pound the ball into the dirt. He had a near 2-to-1 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio this year.
"Richie is a pretty good story," Webber said. "He really has a live arm. His fastball has a lot of late movement; he misses the barrel of the bat a lot and gets a lot of ground balls. He is around the strike zone and with experience he is going to have better command of his fastball."
With his mechanics in tune and not something he has to worry about, Daigle can focus on the precision of his pitches and furthering their development.
He believes in the system. If his coaches feel he would be best suited to change, he listens and changes accordingly. There is no teaching that he dismisses and it has aided his development immensely. You would be surprised by how many pitchers don't open up their ears, eyes or mind.
ETA: Daigle is very much a youngster on the mound despite turning 24 in September. His rapid development has the Padres quietly excited about his future. While he has picked up on many of the nuances of the game, Daigle still has a lot to learn and won't be rushed. He probably won't be ready until 2009 but the outfield conversion seems to be working just fine.