Name: Matt Buschmann
DOB: February 13, 1984
The unfortunate part is Buschmann carried a 5.34 mark over six starts in May, comprising just over 20 percent of his starts on the year.
"I think he struggled a little bit early with mechanics and was throwing too much across his body," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said. "When he got his fastball back and used his fastball more to get hitters out – that made him more aggressive. For the last three months he was outstanding."
Still, the right-hander managed to piece together a 2.89 ERA for the season over 28 outings, including 25 starts – all in the California League.
"He started out terrible this year and finished strong," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk said. "It boils down to him keeping his elbow up and having that consistent sink and short breaking ball instead of the big breaking ball.
Even with the high water mark of May, Buschmann compiled an impressive season. The problem during the stretch to forget was inconsistency in mechanics.
With a three-quarters arm angle, Buschmann's elbow was dropping. The result was the flattening of his two favorite pitches – a two-seam fastball and a slider. When those pitches didn't change planes to the hitter they would get tattooed.
Cognizant of the fact, Buschmann put in extra time to keep his arm slot and release point consistent. With his unique arm angle, it is a difficult proposition but the results were evident in the second half.
"I think he was more or less searching for his delivery that he had in college," former Lake Elsinore and current San Antonio pitching coach Steve Webber said. "He found it and was able to regain that – that is what started the turnaround."
In 18 of his 25 starts, Buschmann yielded two earned runs or less. And he allowed two runs or less in 12 of his final 13 starts, posting an 8-2 record with a 1.67 ERA after the All-Star break.
Did we mention this came in the California League?
Ironically, his most impressive start came on May 18 – in the midst of his worth month – when he blanked Lancaster over 6.2 innings during a 30-0 drubbing.
That has been the trademark of Buschmann. He pitches well in big games and keeps his poise in the face of adversity. Unfortunately, he was kept out of playoffs when the team could have used the dominance he was displaying.
The Vanderbilt alumnus favors the two-seam fastball and the significant run he gets on the pitch. Working in the low-90s, Buschmann tops out at 92 MPH. Its tailing movement down in the zone makes it a quality pitch that produces ground ball outs. He also has a four-seam fastball that hits 94 MPH, but Buschmann has used is less and less over the last year.
Buschmann also has a sweeping slider that comes in at around 82-84 MPH. It has good movement across the zone and he is comfortable throwing the slider in any count and any situation.
With a deceptive motion that hides the ball well, right-handers, in particular, have a tough time picking up the ball.
Buschmann could use a consistent pitch that goes from left to right as his two best pitches run inside to a left-hander and away from a righty. While both pitches have had success against right-handed hitters, they often end up in the wheelhouse of a southpaw batter.
His changeup is that pitch, and Buschmann was counting on it this year after flashing a plus one, at times, last season.
Its erratic behavior, however, didn't give Buschmann the confidence to throw it in any count, although he began using it more down the stretch with success. If he can bring that pitch with a little more consistency, Buschmann could be a force against both righties and lefties.
A great competitor that is very cerebral in his approach, Buschmann is tough to beat when he is staying on top of the ball. Each of his pitches has significant movement down in the zone, lending credence to his three-pitch or less approach and ability to setup hitters.
"He is a guy that has some deception across his body," Padres roving pitching coordinator Mike Couchee said. "Everything moves. He has the good slider, the changeup, the sinker (two-seam) – everything moves. That is a good thing. And he is not afraid to throw it over the plate. I like him. He stuck out."
It hit him pretty hard not competing in the playoffs, as he landed on the disabled list during the final week of the season.
"He also works hard and has a great work ethic," Lezcano said. "A tall kid with a nice physique. He had a little sore elbow at the end and we shut him down. That hurt us in the playoffs not having him."
"Another great makeup guy," Bryk said. "A guy that has great belief in himself – he is a winner. He will be a big league contributor – fourth or fifth starter or reliever."
He is also a gifted athlete that fields his position well and is able to critique himself and adapt as the situation dictates. He keeps a journal on the hitters he faces throughout a game and regularly consults how hitters have fared against him, exposing holes and shoring up others. That dedication to his craft bodes well for his future.
ETA: Buschmann is targeted for Double-A in 2008. If he gets off to a hot start, he could coast through the Texas League and end up in Portland by the end of the summer. With solid movement on his pitches and the ability to consistently work ahead in the count, Buschmann could find himself in a major league bullpen role in 2009. It would not surprise to see him break in as a reliever and become a starter down the road.
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