Name: Nathan Staggs
DOB: March 4, 1982
It wasn't so much the wildness for Staggs as the exaggerated and violent delivery that matched Williams and Vaughn. To be fair, Staggs issued 22 free passes this year, with five coming in one game, in 62.2 innings and only hit two batters. Those wouldn't put the right-hander in the same category with either "Wild Thing".
Staggs did, however, have the appearance of working an oil rig on the mound when he first arrived from the Independent Leagues. With his hair flowing gently out the back of his hat, his windup was a scary thing to behold. It hurt to watch.
Fast-forward to the end of this year and a pitcher has emerged. Staggs is no longer mechanically deficient and he still has the fastball that clocks in the mid-90's.
It didn't come without work. Staggs worked hard with teammate Alfredo Fernandez on long toss and side sessions to make the advancements he did. And he was rewarded with a solid season of long relief.
"He worked hard on his mechanics the whole year," 2006 Fort Wayne pitching coach Tom Bradley said. "He was rushing to the plate, his arm was dragging, and he wasn't able to throw strikes consistently. He spent an awful lot of time working on it.
"Everyday you have partners to play catch with and him and Fernandez they teamed up the last three months and played flat ground and long toss and we did some work on the mound also. It was a matter of ironing out his mechanics until his release point was consistent."
Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Independent League ball by Mal Fichman, Staggs was just trying to make a roster and had little expectations. The year before he was with the San Diego Surf Dawgs just trying to get his name out there.
And the start of the season had him looking over his shoulder, especially considering the low investment. It wasn't until he let go of his anxiety and started pitching like a player that wanted to own the mound that he excelled.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound right-hander went 5-1 with a 3.16 ERA. His ERA improved significantly as the season progressed – from 5.40 in April to 2.27 over his final 15 appearances. He went two innings of more in 19 of his 28 outings, striking out 59 while holding the opposition to a .247 average against. With runners in scoring position, Staggs limited hitters to a .205 average.
On two different occasions, Staggs threw scoreless ball for nine innings or more, topping out with 14 innings scoreless in late July and early August.
"Staggs-e, a San Diego product, cuts dust," said 2006 Fort Wayne manager Randy Ready. "His delivery is a little inconsistent but there is some arm strength there."
Staggs has four pitches in his repertoire but as a reliever he relied on his fastball and tilting curveball, using the two in conjunction to keep hitters at bay. But, both are hard and his goal is to compliment the two with something a little softer.
His changeup has been inconsistent on the rare occasions he uses it and his slider has been shelved while he toys with different grips on the change in side sessions in order to make it a usable pitch in game situations.
The changeup, in particular, will give him something softer to keep hitters from sitting on the hard stuff.
"He has good stuff," Bradley said. "He has an average major league fastball and at times it is above average. His curveball is hard and has good tilt to it. His slider and changeup – he didn't throw as much because coming on in relief for an inning or two you don't need four pitches. He has pretty good repertoire. I told him, ‘You have a chance. You need to get in good shape this winter and come into spring training in the best shape possible and keep improving like what we saw this year.'
"He kind of came out of nowhere, worked hard, and did a good job."
The Padres would prefer he throw more first pitch strikes, as he has a tendency to work behind in the count. That causes him to throw more pitches that a batter can sit on.
The former San Diego Surf Dawg has continually put in the extra work to succeed, making his release point more consistent over the past year and working on getting on top of the ball to create more leverage and velocity.
"He was a work in progress all year long for Tom Bradley, and I think Nate responded well to the adjustments," added Ready. "This guy came out of nowhere and has two pretty good pitches – an above average fastball, above average curveball and slider so this guy is going to have an opportunity to see what he can do next spring."
He spent the off-season working with Steve Delabar and John Madden – and expects to come into this year in tiptop shape so he can peak in April. His mechanics continue to be a work in progress and his changeup is something he wants to throw more of in the coming year.
ETA: Staggs will enter the 2007 season at the age of 25, meaning his clock has begun to tick loudly. Provided he pitches well, he will be pushed. It is not unheard of for a pitcher to make it to the majors in his late twenties, albeit not ideal for a prospect. Staggs has a shot, especially given his work ethic and solid two-pitch combo. Even if it takes longer for him to progress, he will have the ability to get outs – and that is all that matters. The coming season will provide a clearer picture of his potential.