Abbott on Championship prospects

Glenn Abbott was the pitching coach of the Texas League Champion San Antonio Missions. His favorite level to teach at – he relied on the big three of Josh Geer, Wade LeBlanc and Cesar Ramos while also knowing Mike Ekstrom would rebound nicely. We talked to Abbott about each of the prospects, including six-year free agent Paul Abraham, as well as what it was like to win as a coach.

What was it like for you as a coach to win the Championship?

Glenn Abbott: It is really gratifying. Everyone wanted to win a Championship. We had a good bunch of kids as a unit. They all got along well and all wanted to play.

I have been on three or four Championships in the minor leagues and every one of them had a good mix. It was a good atmosphere on the ball club.

The thing that is gratifying for me is the things that you talk about – that you preach to these kids all the time – they are able to do it. Next thing you know, they see the things you are talking about make a difference.

Is that difficult at the Double-A level – is it hard to get through to these older kids who have more experience? It seems it is harder to get through to kids as they get older.

Glenn Abbott: Double-A is my favorite level. They are still hungry. When they get to Double-A they start understanding about changing speeds and how to read the hitters – read the bats. How to slow the bats down and speed them up. At that level, pitchers should be able to throw strikes and throw a breaking pitch for strikes, so they have better command.

It is hard to talk about a lot of things like that when you have guys that don't have command.

Josh Geer – Texas League Pitcher of the Year. What enabled him to have so much success?

Glenn Abbott: I think understanding how to pitch inside. He understood it but he wasn't doing it effectively. Last year he had a lot of hits to innings pitched. I didn't see him then. I talked to him a lot about how important it is to pitch inside.

He has good command and gets the ball down. He got the ball down more as the season went on. He saw what a difference it makes when you pitch inside to keep hitters off-balance.

When you throw a lot of strikes and use both sides of the plate – they have to understand that a guy can't hit a fastball inside and outside. He might be able to catch it but he can't hurt you.

He has to understand the changeup being your money pitch – keep those guys reaching for that ball. If you stay away, stay away, they sit out there and look for it.

There was a situation earlier this year, and he was pitching well, we were playing Frisco and he didn't go but four innings. I went out there and he said, ‘Geez, these guys are just hanging all out over the plate and hitting everything.' I said, ‘Remember what we have been talking about.'

That is what really opened his eyes to how important it is to pitch inside whether you are throwing strikes or not. He made that adjustment from that point on and he made sure he was using the fastball inside and pitched a lot inside.

You learn a lot when you are getting hammered.

Glenn Abbott: A lot of guys don't look at it that way. "It is something else. I am just not making good pitches.'

Little things like that about how to use their pitches and how important it is to use your pitches in the situations. When guys are pitching well they all feed off each other.

Wade LeBlanc completed the trio – they seemed to be fighting one another to see who had the best outing.

Glenn Abbott: We talked a lot about controlling his effort level – understanding his delivery and staying in line and understanding his effort level. ‘What difference does it make if you throw it 88 as opposed to 86?' He said, ‘Not much.' I said, ‘Exactly.'

If you go from 86 to 93 now that is a difference. To hitters, two miles doesn't make a difference. He just got better and better and better. He gained a lot of confidence. It made him think more.

That is all I try and do. I try and give them information so they can process. They have to figure it out.

Cesar Ramos quietly had a solid season. With so much like on his fastball, what does he need to do to take the next step.

Glenn Abbott: Cesar Ramos did the same thing – understanding how to pitch inside. He has good life on his fastball but does not have that kind of life where he can stay away, stay away.

How did you get Mike Ekstrom to figure it out? He had a slow start but turned it on down the stretch and was great in the Championship game. What adjustments did you make with Mike?

Glenn Abbott: He had a disappointing year. It was disappointing to Mike and the rest of us. We thought he would have a better year.

He had command problems coming into the strike zone.

Ekstrom has very good poise – about as good as I have ever seen in the minor leagues. He has a presence on the mound. He does not get excited and knows what he has to do.

He rose to the occasion. He pitched well the final month of the season. He threw much better. He came out in the big game of the season and showed why we had confidence to put him out there.

He comes after guys and is aggressive. His command got him in trouble this year. He kept the ball up in the zone.

The thing about Ekstrom, and all the guys we had, they didn't take it personal. They realized they just had to make better pitches. They didn't let it get them down. Ek was a great example. He never got down on himself. He was a true professional. He just kept on pitching and ended up pitching well at the end of the year.

Paul Abraham never seemed to get enough play in my eyes. At 27, this guy has done nothing but get it done it seems.

Glenn Abbott: I had him last year in Mobile. He really made some improvements since last year. Last year, you never really knew what you were going to get. He could be good for three or four outings and then not be good for two or three.

This year, he got his delivery under control, and we worked on it everyday. He stayed focused and held it together. He has a very good slider. He did an excellent job for us. He was very steady all the way through the year.

Randy Ready said he feared he would lose Abraham to the big league club.

Glenn Abbott: He was throwing that kind of good. He went through a stretch before he got hurt where he was just dominating. They had no chance. I even put that on my reports. ‘They had no chance.'

You don't see that every time out as well. Abe made a lot of improvements on consistency and keeping his delivery together. He really held our bullpen together.

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