Whitehurst on Padres pitching prospects

Former Lake Elsinore Storm pitching coach Wally Whitehurst has been watching many of the San Diego Padres young arms for years. We asked him about Wilton Lopez, Drew Miller, R.J. Rodriguez, Evan Scribner, Rolando Valdez, and Robert Woodard.

Wilton Lopez came back down to you after starting the year in double A. He seemed to find himself. Is the biggest challenge for him maybe the mental side of things?

Wally Whitehurst: It could be. I think he still needs to learn how to pitch. He goes out there and throws and it's easy to throw when you're throwing 95 like Wilton does, or 96. But, there are times where he still gets hit just because of his off-speed pitches, he's not consistent enough with them. That's a big thing to work on this fall is making him throw his off-speed pitches and getting them in the strike zone and taking enough off of them where it makes his fastball even better and then make sure he maintains a good sink on his fastball. I think he throws it too hard and it gets flat if that makes any sense at all. A lot of times you throw it too hard and it takes the sink out of it. So, we're going to get back down to basics and hopefully work on those things this fall.

Drew Miller had trouble keeping runners close on the base paths. How can he improve in that area?

Wally Whitehurst: We've just got to do a better job of putting ourselves up to home plate with runners on first base. We did a little bit of that, but for guys that haven't ever done that, it takes away from their command, especially at an early age, just learning how to quicken their stride and get their hands going a little bit. It was an ongoing battle for a lot of us this summer. We've just got to do a little bit better job of that coming into spring training with a little more emphasis on controlling the running game. You don't always have to be so quick to home plate; you just vary your times and vary your looks over to the runners on base and things like that.

Was he hitting too much of the plate with his fastball this year?

Wally Whitehurst: Partly. Too much middle away to everybody. I don't think he pitched in with any kind of effectiveness. For the first half of the year, he wasn't bad. There was some improvement, especially with his two-seam fastball; he had that working for him. His curveball, he had some success with when he was throwing it in the strike zone. I think he lost the feel of his curveball and changeup there in the second half. When you become a one-pitch pitcher, you're not going to last very long. I think a lot of that has to do with the confidence part of it, of him just getting back, getting his curveball over the plate and keeping it in the strike zone and that's going to help him tremendously.

R.J. Rodriguez was taken out of the closer roles after some struggles, never really seemed to recover. What was the difference between last year and this year?

Wally Whitehurst: I think a lot of it was overthrowing so bad. He's small in stature, but he's got a big heart and a big ego and will just keep going harder and harder and harder. I think that was detrimental to him until his last 20 outings probably were the best on the staff other than maybe Brandon Gomes. He probably had a 1.00 ERA for his last 20 outings.

He calmed his delivery down, he wasn't over throwing, he was hitting the spots, he still had his plus changeup and his slider came around. If you go back and look at probably the last five weeks of the season, he really ended up having a good year. I think his ERA ended up being in the mid 4s, where it was in the 6.00 or 7.00 for a long time. For a guy throwing one inning at a time, it takes a while to get it down and he did that. He just calmed everything down and started to pitch instead of just throwing.

Evan Scribner comes in after the trade and just attacks the strike zone. What makes him so good at getting outs? He seems to have this mentality to put pitchers away too?

Wally Whitehurst: He does. He has an out pitch in his curveball, which is a very good pitch for him. His fastball, velocity wise, if you look at it on paper is 90–92, which is average or a tick above, but it's got some life to it up. It's sneaky because he throws it with a lot of ease. When he gets strike 1, strike 2 and he drops that curveball on, it's tough to hit. He comes right at you.

Rolando Valdez seemed to find life in the starting rotation and performed well with one bad outing. What did you see from him in that role?

Wally Whitehurst: Just perfecting his changeup. He's always had a good changeup, but he threw it more which, in turn, made his fastball even better. His command is pretty darn good. He starts mixing in that changeup, a plus changeup with an average fastball; all of a sudden his 90 mph fastball turns in to 95. Even though, velocity wise, it doesn't say that, but when you're throwing a 68 mph changeup and then throw 95, or throw 90, it looks 95 – 100. He was able to spot it, and his curveball was effective at times, but he ended up having a good year for us. He was very consistent until right at the end. Like you said, take away the one bad outing.

Robert Woodard was very effective as well in his time in Lake Elsinore. What impressions did he leave?

Wally Whitehurst: Very good. Here's a kid that, I shouldn't say he bugged me, but he wanted to pitch so much. He was so used to, even in Fort Wayne, he would go 3-4 innings, have two days off, come back for 3-4. We didn't quite need him in that capacity. He would throw two innings and I would say, "Ok, we're going to go with so and so,' and he would say, "Yeah, but I can still go, I can still go,' and you love that about him. He wanted to be out there, he wanted the ball every night. You have to look at the health and the long haul of some of these things that these kids don't quite understand yet.

But, he came in; he's got a little bit of a different delivery that I think works for him. He throws three pitches for strikes; he's got a changeup, a slower changeup and then a slower changeup. The same thing with his slider, he just mixes his pitches well. He adds and subtracts off of his pitches and he was very effective for us.

The first time I saw him I thought there was somebody behind him he was trying to kick.

Wally Whitehurst: I always wondered why he hadn't blown out a knee yet. That's just part of his deal.

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