Emergence of pitching prospects visible

Pitching coach Wally Whitehurst spoke with MadFriars.com on the growth of Drew Miller, impressions of Cory Luebke, mentality of R.J. Rodriguez, changeup of Rolando Valdez, sinker of Wilton Lopez, aggressiveness of Yesid Salazar, confidence of Ernesto Frieri, stamina of Brandon Gomes, and attitude of Aaron Breit.

Drew Miller had a good year. How has he grown from last year when you had him in Eugene to the end of this year – the injury aside?

Wally Whitehurst: We all know he has electric stuff. He has a great fastball, a power curve. His changeup is in the works. At times he throws it really well.

The biggest difference between this year and last year was mental. He was more aggressive. Not so much concern with why things happened and why did I do this but going out and making things happen.

He was a totally different kid. His aggression, his mound presence was there. It was fun to watch.

He did have a little (tenderness) in his shoulder and an oblique muscle pull. Hopefully that stuff is in the past and in Spring Training he is ready to roll again.

He is exciting to watch. He has a bright future and a good kid.

You had Cory Luebke for a handful of starts and when I got a chance to see him in Eugene I really thought I was looking at a kid who will pitch in the big leagues.

Wally Whitehurst: His size and left-handed, willing to work, he has shown to have a plus fastball, getting it up to 93 MPH. And that is after a college season so he is only going to get better with rest.

He has a feel for a changeup and a slider. His slider to me probably needs a little work. At times he throws an average to above average slider.

He is a great kid and is willing to work. He has a high ceiling.

R.J. Rodriguez had another good season for you, relishing in the role of closing. Eventually he is out of there too.

Wally Whitehurst: There were nine of them so we could go right down the line.

R.J. was with us for two years and in save situations over two years I think he has blown three saves, which is outstanding. You know you can count on him in a save situation.

His only problem was when it was a non-save situation and needed to get some work he got hit around. The mentality – when the game is not on the line you tend to relax and I think he relaxed and wasn't ready to pitch at times. Yet, when it was three runs or less in the ninth we could count on him.

His velocity got better. His slider got better. And he has always had that plus changeup.

The kid wants to pitch every day, which is a good thing, but you have to tell him to back off sometimes.

Rolando Valdez was fantastic until the final two weeks of the year. As a converted outfielder with a plus changeup already, what does he need to do?

Wally Whitehurst: He needs to continue to work on his curveball. It gets a little too big.

For a while in the middle of the year, his curveball was coming around. Then he lost the feel for the changeup and went to the curveball and it got too big.

He is another guy that comes in and throws strikes. He and R.J. over the last two years were a big bonus for us.

Hopefully, Rolando will come into Spring Training and tighten his curveball up a little bit and find the feel for his changeup – he does have an above average changeup.

He is a strong kid that could pitch for a while.

Wilton Lopez came to you with a nice power sinker. He is probably the most talked about prospect outside of the organization – another good thing. What did you see out of him?

Wally Whitehurst: He pounds the strike zone. He can get his fastball anywhere from 91 to 95 MPH with power sink, as long as he stays on top of the ball.

He worked on his changeup in Instructs and it was pretty good. That and his slider. He needs to tweak his slider a little bit. At times he will throw a good one but he is just inconsistent with it because he doesn't use it.

He has a bright future for a kid – he has two our three walks in 30 some innings. He threw strikes and as I said, our philosophy is pitch efficiency, pounding the strike zone, pitching to contact and ground ball mentality. He did that.

There was a lot of talk in the Instructional League on where he could end up – which could be at the higher levels. He is such a good kid and we hope for the best.

Yesid Salazar came to you down the stretch and seemed to have his confidence. What did you see from him?

Wally Whitehurst: He has been with Razor more than he has with me. I did see him in extended.

His thing was getting the fastball down in the zone and keeping it down and throwing strikes. He gave us a big boost out of the pen. His fastball is average. His breaking ball is OK.

He is very aggressive. He gets in there and throws the ball; he is not afraid to take the mound. It was a boost for us.

Ernesto Frieri had a great season and really seemed to have his confidence back. His fastball also seems to be spotted better than it ever has in the past.

Wally Whitehurst: Absolutely. I have had Ernie for three years. The two things I worried about was throwing strikes and being able to have a feel for an off-speed pitch. He did both of those this summer.

He showed an average changeup, his curveball still needs some work but he got it in the zone, and his fastball just exploded. By the time he got up to Elsinore he was at 95 MPH. We saw some 94's and 93's. You move up a level and the adrenaline starts going.

He had one heck of a year. He is on a prospect list for everyone in the organization.

Brandon Gomes came to you from the draft and seemed a little tired with one good outing followed by a bad one. What kind of stuff does he have and what do you expect next year from him?

Wally Whitehurst: He threw a lot in college. He came to us and pitched out of the pen a couple of times and all he did was throw strikes – change speeds and throw strikes.

His stuff is not going to wow you but he has the confidence to get the job done.

There is a sign you are tired when you have one good one and then one bad one. That is kind of how it went for Brandon. His velocity was a little bit better towards the end than when he first got there. He worked hard. He has a fastball, split-change and is working hard on a cutter/slider type pitch to have something moving the other way instead of always arm side.

With a little rest he will come back with an average fastball and his split is pretty good.

What makes a successful year then? Do you just want to see progress?

Wally Whitehurst: At our level that is what you want. It is not how you start but how you finish. Whether guys have the aptitude to work on the things we ask them to work on. You are probably not going to have success right off the bat when we change some things. The way they start and the way they finish – we sent nine pitchers to Elsinore and that is very good for young kids – to skip a level. That puts them that much closer to the major leaguers.

Does that make Breit's performance even better because he stuck with something that wasn't necessarily working and continued to battle through it – that has to be one of the toughest things to do because everyone wants immediate dividends.

Wally Whitehurst: Absolutely. As a player you are trying to do something different and the results aren't what you expected them to be and yet as long as you have trust – and I think that kid has trust in what we are trying to do for him – it showed at the end. It took a while. He got to the ballpark early every day and busted his butt to do things – it started to pay off for him.

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