Name: Stephen Faris
DOB: June 30, 1984
A 12th-round pick out of Clemson, Faris was a late signee, inking his deal with short-season already playing three weeks worth of games.
He played in the College World Series for Clemson and strongly debated returning for his final year with the Tigers. It is part of the reason that he ended up signing so late and being able to go back to school, with the Padres' permission, at the end of the year was a big draw, along with San Diego paying for those final two semesters.
Faris went 9-3 with a 2.36 ERA over 18 starts for the Tigers. In 103 innings he allowed 77 hits and 20 walks while striking out 86.
"Stephen came to us and probably was a little tired," 2006 Eugene pitching coach Wally Whitehurst said. "He started off slow and I think that was the 2-3 weeks he had between the draft and his college season."
He debuted with the Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League on July 10, pitching a 1-2-3 inning. Things didn't go nearly as well for a stretch.
The right-hander would allow 14 runs over his next 14 innings on 23 hits before settling into a more comfortable routine as a full-time starter in August.
"He really pitched well his last four or five outings," said Whitehurst. "His off-speed stuff needs work but he spots his pitches well, moves it in and out and did a nice job for us. He just started to find it before he left again."
Behind in the count to many of the hitters, Faris had to come up with a magic trick to get the batter out and often failed. It was particularly troublesome regarding the leadoff batter – they held a .432 on base percentage off him.
His saving grace was the elimination of the big inning – he held the opposition in check with runners in scoring position, allowing nine hits in 49 at bats for a .184 average. Considering he had 166 at bats against on the year, many a time he found himself with runners on the bags.
He understands the importance of first-pitch strikes after having seen the percentages and batting averages rise after issuing a ball on that all-important pitch. While he wasn't able to do it consistently in Eugene, it is something he plans on shoring up in the coming year.
Faris features a fastball that sits in the high-80s and will top out at 91 MPH. Last year, he primarily sat in the mid-80s and should see some of that velocity come back this year.
He also tosses a slider, curveball and changeup. The changeup wasn't a pitch he threw a lot in college and is still in the development stages. Like many pitchers who begin learning the "feel" pitch, Faris' came in too fast.
His curveball and slider offer differing looks, with the curveball softer and the slider offering more tilt. He favors using the slider against lefties and the curveball to righties.
Sloppy mechanics had Faris looking a bit violent on the mound. He was rushing his delivery, causing him to open up and short-arm the ball. That resulted in elevated pitches and being wild just outside the zone.
"He gets a little quick at times and he's a little short, his arm action is a little short," added Whitehurst.
Pitching from the stretch, he eliminated many of those problems and had better balance and extension going to the plate.
The evolution of his changeup will be vital to his success as all of his pitches come into a left-handed hitter and the changeup will be a pitch he can throw away and have it stay away. Left-handers hit .333 off him last year and were responsible for half the extra base hits he allowed, despite facing off against them half the amount that he saw righties.
A savvy leader and a player that appreciates the finer points of the game, Faris showed that he is not afraid to ask the tough questions of himself and ask for help when it is needed. He embraces constructive criticism – knowing he will learn to adapt from what he is told to make him a better prospect.
"What are you going to do to get better? What are you going to do when nobody is here? What am I doing before the game or tomorrow when I run? Am I just doing it because people are out here watching? Just being out here, talking to guys and being around the coaches that come in. They say, ‘Take everything in. Question things.' I use those resources and go up to them after I throw to say, ‘What do you think? What do I need to work on?' Anything and everything about pitching and the game of baseball I will ask about. So far, they have answered some questions. Some things have been good and some things I have to work on. Great, thanks for telling me. Now I know instead of just going out there and not always knowing. Different viewpoints from different guys who have been successful in the big leagues. Wally has been great.
"Constructive criticism. That is what is going to make me better and that is why I am here. Build from that."
ETA: Faris will see a big benefit from the off-season and is willing and eager to learn the differing nuances of the game. First-pitch strikes come to the forefront and that will be a big determining factor for his success this year. As he moves up the ladder, it becomes increasingly more difficult to get by without opening with a strike against a batter. A full year in the Midwest League will give a lot better indication of his future status.