Name: Will Startup
DOB: August 3, 1984
A sore elbow in Spring Training set him back to begin the year, as he did not throw at all when it was discovered he had inflammation in his pitching arm.
In May, he had a further setback in his attempt to comeback in extended spring games. While he avoided surgery, he still felt the affects through all of 2008 and did not pitch competitively.
It wasn't until after the season that surgery was performed, making 2009 a question mark.
Acquired from the Atlanta Braves along with Wil Ledezma in a deal that sent Royce Ring east, Startup ascended the organizational ladder quickly and found himself in Triple-A in his second professional season.
This past season was supposed to be the one that saw him debut in San Diego, especially after he dominated the Arizona Fall League with a 0.71 ERA across 12 appearances.
"It was great to know I could learn and make adjustments," Startup said of the AFL experience.
Startup will forever be associated with his leg kick – a kick that makes Tae Kwon Do students envious. He varies the looks, going up higher than his head with his kick and shortening it up with men on base.
What the kick does, however, is give him a lot of deception. While his body is turned towards the first base bag during the kick, the ball sneaks behind his body – making it difficult for hitters to locate. As he comes home, the ball comes out of nowhere, making his fastball – which sits in the low-90s – have extra hop. Hitters have to decide what to do quickly and often don't get good wood on the ball.
"In 2004 with the Georgia Bulldogs, I was doing what I thought was Dontrelle Wilis was doing at the time," Startup said. "It has evolved since then.
"From a mechanical standpoint, I feel like I am loading up and exploding toward the plate. From a deception standpoint, hitters don't see that every day."
The separator for Startup has been the gradual improvement of his slider into a plus pitch. What used to have a loopy drop has become much crisper. The break is shorter and sharper – darting across the zone.
Left-handed hitters, in particular, have a tough time adjusting to the separation between his fastball and slider. Coupled with his kick, the ball looks like it is coming from the first base bag – sweeping across the zone. He has mastered the ability to throw it into the dirt to get hitters rolling over or swinging over top.
His fastball sits in the high-80s and touches 91-92 mph. Being able to spot the pitch is essential to how he works the count. Startup is a stickler for error margin. He believes his is limited because of the velocity of his fastball and works hard to keep the ball in the lower half of the zone.
He has a show-me curveball that needs to tighten up. Its use is relegated to right-handed hitters who have a better beat on his fastballs (both the two- and four-seam) and slider.
Susceptible to some high pitch counts when he tries to become too fine, Startup is at his best when he works to his strengths and doesn't overanalyze.
Startup is a student of the game. He is willing to take instruction and isn't afraid to incorporate changes into his game. His mental makeup has made strides as he has matured, and he is having fun now. In the past, he was too hard on himself and would let his emotions take over.
It is no surprise to hear, therefore, that Startup is an intense competitor that commands the mound. He does not believe in giving in and is regarded as a pitcher who thrives on pressure situations.
"Everybody is valuable to what they bring to the table," Startup said. "I am always trying to learn from the guys around me – to pick something up. I know I can't slack off. You can learn a lot from failure."
Conclusion: Startup is a winner that will not settle until he is in the big leagues. He loves the game and is taking his time away from competition to learn from the other side – staying involved by watching other pitchers and acting as a supporting coach.
While the injury is certainly a setback, Startup's work ethic and positive demeanor will allow him to progress on schedule. After that, the focus will return to how good his stuff can become again. If it all returns, Startup would be a perfect eighth inning bridge to the closer.
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