Whitehurst on Storm pitching prospects

Wally Whitehurst, now a pitching coach in the Pittsburgh Pirates system, was growing along with several prominent prospects in the San Diego Padres chain. He has seen the return of Cesar Carrillo while noting the progress of Nathan Culp, Mike DeMark, Corey Kluber, Cory Luebke, Ernesto Frieri, Brandon Gomes and the departed John Madden.

We'll start with Cesar Carrillo. His command obviously wasn't that great, but how was his progression through the year as he returned from what is major surgery?

Wally Whitehurst: Coming back from something like that, it's just building arm strength throughout the summer, and he has done that. He has accomplished a lot of that. I'm sure he's not back to where he was before the surgery, but that's just going to take a little time.

His command was a little shoddy at the beginning, but towards the end of the year, his last three or four starts, things started to click for him. He got a better feel for his fastball command, which was the biggest problem, and that just comes with repetition and getting back out on the mound and pitching again.

You get Nathan Culp who performed extremely well for your staff. Is this a kid who is going to get even better as the defense improves with his ground ball ability?

Wally Whitehurst: I think he will, I think he will. Obviously, pitching in the Cal league is pretty tough just because the infields are hard and things like that. For a year and a half, two years now, he's been a mainstay. He's a guy you can count on every time out to give you at least six, get you into the 7th inning and keep you in the ballgame. That's why his numbers have been the way they've been.

Obviously, you would love to have an All-Star infield behind him, or behind anybody, but he will definitely benefit with better infield play down the road, as he continues to move and gets away from playing on some of these cement infields that we have in the Cal league. But, he's just been so consistent with all of his pitches and keeping us in the game. Any time you get into the 6th and 7th inning, you've got a chance to win a lot of them and he has.

Mike DeMark had a terrific year for you guys, really continued to have success in Double A. What makes him so good?

Wally Whitehurst: Well, he's sneaky. He's got a sneaky fastball that's anywhere from 90 – 94. It's kind of unorthodox, his delivery, and that could have something to do with it.

This year, he really commanded his pitches a lot better. I didn't have him last year, but I know he had quite a few walks, and that's the one thing that he tried not to do this year and he didn't. He commanded the fastball.

His slider got better as the season went on, and he even started to throw changeup which really helps his fastball. He went out there and he had a job to do, he did it. You never can tell once you get to Double-A. You're fairly close to the big leagues, so you never can tell with him.

Ernesto Frieri moved into the starting rotation about halfway through the year where you saw some success. Was that an effort to get him more innings and to improve the quality of his pitches?

Wally Whitehurst: Probably a little bit of both. Having him in the bullpen for an inning at a time, maybe two here and there, he was a guy that we put on the 40-man roster. They felt like they needed to see what we have, and not just a one-inning stint, but get him in the rotation, work on his pitches, especially his curveball. His changeup has come a long way. He has developed at least an average changeup to go along with his plus fastball. His curveball is a work in progress, but there are signs that it could be o.k. He's just going to have to continue to work on it.

Corey Kluber had some struggles. What did you see that contributed to that?

Wally Whitehurst: Corey's fastball command early, he struggled with. When you're pitching behind, no matter what level you are, you're going to have some tough outings. That was one of the things that we ended up moving him to the other side of the rubber that really seemed to help him and put him in the bullpen right at the end before he went to Fort Wayne, and he started to feel his comfort again and he pitched well.

As soon as he went over to Fort Wayne and getting back into the rotation, he ended up having a very good year for them. There are a lot of plusses there.

Cory Luebke seemed to have a bit of confidence issues and maybe even a slip in his mechanics.

Wally Whitehurst: There are just a lot of moving parts. He's a tall kid; he's got long arms, long legs. Any time you have unnecessary movements because you're the size that he is – I'm not saying he's a giant by any means – but he is a pretty tall kid, it's just going to take him a little more time because he's a little more spread out and not as compact. Which, you'd like him to be a little more compact than spread out.

Everyone is always looking for those prototypical big pitchers. And then, it's a catch-22.

Wally Whitehurst: It's nice to have. He's got some plus pitches, but he just needs to calm some things down in his delivery. Like I said before, some of them are unnecessary, and he's worked on that. When you throw 90, up to 92-93 from the left side, has a good changeup and his breaking ball was a little inconsistent. Once he squares those things out, I think he'll be fine. I think the best thing for him and Kluber was to go back to Fort Wayne and confidence has a lot to do with a lot of things, and I think both of them found that there and hopefully they can just take off.

Brandon Gomes seemed to find a comfort zone for you guys in the bullpen and was extremely effective with runners on base. Did you see a difference for him from last year to this year?

Wally Whitehurst: A big difference from last year, you hate to try to judge anybody and coming out of college having pitched there and then getting right into pro ball where you're playing every day, it's an adjustment period. His velocity shot up this year. He changed his arm slot just a little bit. He's a little bit lower than he was. He touched 95 on quite a few occasions for us. He tightened his slider up which, he had one last year, but it wasn't as effective as it was this year. And, actually, he threw it at two different speeds, which was a big thing to go along with his split fastball. But, any time you can take an off-speed pitch and throw it at two different speeds, it's obviously going to help your fastball. He came in and actually dominated for the most part for us.

John Madden rebounded from a subpar year in 2007. What did you see out of John this season?

Wally Whitehurst: Confidence. He started off well and maintained that for us throughout the summer. The biggest thing with him was just having some success and getting his confidence back, going out there every other day like he did, he's a workhorse for us out of the bullpen; a big strong kid. He needed to have some kind of success to mentally get himself over the hump, and I think he did that.

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