Dave Rajsich: The biggest thing for me is he just needs to throw strikes. He will overthrow and when you overthrow you open up.
If you watch him it is backwards. His body falls to the third base side and that is where he opens up and loses his line. It is not that – his posture creates that.
He got to where he was throwing more changeups and he really fell in love with his off-speed and he went down on velocity trying to maintain his line to the plate. He was throwing 94 to 95 (MPH) and now he was throwing 88 to 92, which isn't bad for a 20-year-old arm.
The biggest thing is his line to the plate hasn't improved enough. That is where he has to really concentrate on – throwing strikes down in the zone.
He has good games and then he doesn't. His confidence – he thinks too negatively all the time. He has to think more positive.
As soon as he gets up one run it all goes out of whack. If they give up zero they are fine. But if they give up a run they think the world is going to collapse and they are going to get released.
Medina and Lara and Martinez were all the same. They all think the same. They think it is all about velocity. And when they give up that hit and you leave them out there to get out of it – because that is how they have to learn how to pitch. In the Dominican, you give up a hit and you are out of the game. They never learn how to get out of trouble. Here, we teach them how to get out of trouble. They think we don't like them because of it but that is the step they need to learn how to do. They have to figure that out. Part of what we do what we do.
Yesid Salazar seemed to toy with the opposition when he was with you. What did you see from him?
Dave Rajsich: He came back with a lot more confidence. In Eugene he didn't do so well – overthrowing, up in the zone, trying to throw it past college hitters.
When he came back down after failing, he said I want the ball and I gave it to him in the ninth inning. He pitched dynamite. He was outstanding. He was focused. And that was key. That is what you look for in terms of improvement.
Then he went to Fort Wayne and finished the year. I think he is starting to figure it out. That is going to be a big factor.
Geoff Vandel had his junior year with the AZL squad. How can he return to the form of several years ago when he dominated and is going through three years of the AZL good?
Dave Rajsich: It is not bad. He was 18 and now he is 20. He started out like gangbusters and went backwards. He found out that for him it is a lot about conditioning and maintaining his weight. At the end of the year he was throwing 88. That ain't bad when he was throwing 82 or 83. His best pitch is his changeup but he is learning a cutter. He is learning how to spot the fastball.
The curveball is getting tighter. We worked on it the last couple of weeks and the velocity picked up two miles per hour in the last two weeks. He is on the right track. Three years – but some guys need that and that is ok.
Tyler Davis had a great year for you. What were your impressions of him?
Dave Rajsich: Davis did a nice job. He is a low three-quarters, almost sidearm, sneaky that comes right out of his shirt.
He is a fastball, slider guy with a decent changeup and nice arm speed. He just keeps the ball down.
He is a college kid that throws strikes. He did a nice job and did a nice job when he went up to Fort Wayne as well.
Yoeli Florentino gets converted to pitcher and performed well. What can you tell us about him and how it happened?
Dave Rajsich: Apparently he wasn't hitting. You know how that works. ‘Let's get him on the mound; he has a cannon. Let's get him on the mound and see what we got.'
We put him on the mound and he is very stiff and very mechanical. Like an Iron Mike. That ball comes out of his hand at 93 or 94 miles per hour. It is straight. But the hitters just don't catch up to it. It is amazing.
I showed him a little cutter and we turned it into a slider; he is throwing that slider at 85 miles per hour – 85 for a slider! That is impressive. Not 81 or 82 like every college pitcher – this kid is throwing an 85 or 86 miles per hour slider that is coming out of his hand pretty easy. He doesn't have a feel for a changeup. We also took him over the top – hands go over the top to create a better turn. The other way he was just kind of stand there and playing catch. Give him a turn, get some motion going, a little deception, but the ball explodes out of his hand.
Next spring we will add a two-seamer and give him a little bit of sink and life to the fastball. I showed him the split-fingered the other day because he is not a young pup. You can show it to older pitchers and not younger guys.
When he was out there in Eugene, the last game he pitched – two innings – was outstanding. The game where he gave up five runs in one inning we missed three balls. Carvajal missed one in right and Durango missed one in center and a ground ball error they gave a hit. He was throwing well. He has a very strong arm and the ball comes out easy.
At 24 going into Eugene, is that project worth it for you guys?
Dave Rajsich: Well, you look at what you have and what is available. If he can continue to click at 25 or 26 – you want pitchers to get in the big leagues by 25 or 26 that are more mature. They all want to be there yesterday and we all want them to be there tomorrow. They all think they are ready but in reality they are not. They have to go through the process, learn to slide step, how to hold runners.
Even though he has made that conversion – just like Bush who has a hell of an arm – let's go through that next step and see where it goes. Obviously, Bush is farther ahead than Florentino, but it is the same type of thing. Get used to throwing, the routine and build on it.
Cooper Brannan struggled for much of the year. When I saw him in May it seemed like his velocity was still in the 83 range - did his velocity ever kick up and what strides did he make?
Dave Rajsich: He was throwing 82 or 83 at the beginning of the year and he said he was throwing 89 – at the end of the year we saw flashes of 88. We saw some 85 or 86 with a couple of games where he hit 88. The delivery – as you start wearing down and throw every day and playing catch – you have to tear down to build up. That is what this year was.
It was a year he has to find out what he can do, get back into throwing, get back into elongating the muscles – I told him, ‘You have got to long toss. You have to do a lot of long toss to stretch the body out so the ball comes out in front.'
He would do that. He would long toss and it never came right away. I think it is a longer process.
I told him, ‘A straight fastball is not going to help you. It doesn't matter if it is two or three MPH harder. If it is 85 or 88 it is still 85 or 88. We have to work on sink. He started throwing more two-seamers and more on a downward angle and he started to get a lot more ground balls. At this level, when you get ground balls it can become chain-link baseball in a hurry. We had games where he would give up four hits and you would think, ‘My gosh, if we were higher up maybe we make those plays or turn a double play.'
All those things considered, now he sees what he is up against. This is not as easy as it looks. The guys in the big leagues make it look easy because of their work ethic and the time and aptitude. They make it look easy but it is far from easy.