Name: Stephen Faris
DOB: June 30, 1984
Drafted in 2006 out of Clemson, the right-hander split his time across three levels in 2007 with the bulk of time coming in Fort Wayne.
He saw action in 21 games with the Wizards, going 7-7 with a 4.37 ERA across 103 innings. He also notched 11 innings of work in the California League and one four-inning appearance in Triple-A.
Despite a 4.37 cumulative ERA entering the year, the Padres felt comfortable placing him in Double-A San Antonio.
"Number one, the development of the breaking ball we did last year in the Instructional League where we got the hump out of his breaking ball and now he is throwing it out and down rather than up and down, which is a much more deceptive breaking ball to hitters," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said of the decision to move Faris to Double-A. "His confidence has grown because of that. Now he knows that is a legit weapon. Because his confidence has gained, his fastball command and feel has gained ground.
"He is in Double-A now. He is not a kid anymore. I have always admitted they take a little more ownership."
The Virginia native made 36 starts for the Missions, going 8-5 with a 3.85 ERA. Across 138 innings, he allowed 145 hits, walked 39 and struck out 102. He also induced 16 double play grounders.
Going into the final month of the year, Faris was sporting a 2.82 ERA – coming on the heels of a seven-inning one-hitter. He would allow 25 earned runs over that final month, posting a 7.67 ERA in the process.
It was a tale of dominance surrounding by bouts of inconsistency. From June 4 through the end of July, no one was better. He allowed 11 earned runs over 11 starts, allowing one run or less in five straight and eight of 11. He did, however, give up over six runs four times – three coming in the final month. And Faris didn't make it past the first frame in his May 1 start – seeing nine runs flash on the board in that dreadful inning.
Sixty-three percent of his pitches went for strikes, helping to earn him the third best FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) in the league at 3.57.
"He did well really against our plan with the changeup," Fuson said. "He can throw it in the bullpen, but there was something going on where he was throwing it in the game almost yippy like in the first half of the year. Then he got so good with fastball/curveball and changing speeds off the curveball that for a few starts he dominated but was only throwing three or four changeups a game.
"But I said to him, ‘Listen, there are two sides to this coin. You are pitching very effectively here but you are doing at the expense of not using this pitch. Without this pitch, you are going to end up struggling at some point at the next stage. You can sit here and pitch your butt off all you want but without establishing and getting that pitch fixed, well, you mine as well buy real estate in San Antonio next year.'
"As dominating as he was, there is no concern in my mind that he can't figure between him and the catchers and pitching coach how to get that changeup in there 10 to 15 times a game.
"Don't get me wrong, if it was a guy who was struggling with fastball command and could never get himself in counts where he could throw that pitch, that would be a little bit more understandable. Stephen Faris has had some six or seven inning starts and gone through it in 70 or 80 pitches. There are places in there for him to throw that pitch where he can't get stung to bad on the bad end of it."
Faris pitches off his two-seamer, using the mid-80s fastball to work ahead in the count and set up his breaking ball. He is able to spot the pitch at will and has confidence working inside to the opposition.
His two-seamer has late tailing action, assisting him in inducing ground balls. Faris is at his best when he is working to contact. He is a firm believer in the three pitches or less mantra the Padres preach and does not fall behind hitters very often.
A vicious hammer can be used at any point in the count – to get ahead or as an out pitch. It is a true two-plane curveball that is a plus pitch, getting hitters to buckle and commit weak swings at the offering.
His changeup is still in its infancy stages. He was supposed to use it more this year but failed to comply. Instead of using his time in Double-A to gain confidence in the pitch, Faris went with the tried and true fastball/curveball combination.
The lack of sacrifice improving his changeup, however, will hurt him in subsequent years.
"I think he struggled with it a little bit, throwing it for a strike and that kind of scared him off it a little bit," San Antonio pitching coach Steve Webber said of Faris' changeup. "As he used it more later in the year than it got to be better. I think it's an effective pitch once he gained confidence in it."
"Faris got caught up in trying to perform without it, and he knows he's going to need it to be successful at higher levels," Fuson said. "It probably cost him about a half a year of development."
Faris is a terrific athlete that might have done well as a hitter (he went 6-for-21 at the dish this season). He fields his position well, falling into a solid base from his delivery.
One thing that needs definitive improvement is his pickoff move and ability to hold runners close. He and his catchers nabbed just 3-of-23 runners attempting to steal.
"We were still trying to figure it out," Masse said of his lack of success catching runners. "The only thing you can do with trying to hold base runners, basically you've got one or two options with a runner at first: you can hold the ball longer and become set so it makes the guy at first kind of freeze, he can't get a good jump, get in any kind of a rhythm, you vary your holds, or you quicken your delivery to the plate.
"All of the guys with the Padres are trying to get somewhere in that 1.3 (second) area to the plate. They try to get around 1.3. Unfortunately, for Steve, sometimes, he didn't feel real comfortable sometimes with his stuff when he was real quick to the plate.
"So, we tried to pick and chose when he could go higher. This is a work in progress. This guy only pitched in Low-A ball last year, and here he is making the jump to Double-A, and it's a big jump. He did an awesome job for a guy who only pitched in A-ball, Low-A. He took the ball every fifth day. He's one of our solid every fifth day starters. He put up some good numbers. But, you're right, as far as holding runners, he's got to keep working on it, there's no question about it.
"One of the things too, his breaking ball is a little bit soft. It's not like your typical kind of swervy, hard breaking ball. It's more of a 12-to-6 downer. When he throws that combined with being a little slow to the plate, you're looking at a 1.5, 1.6, and I could steal that. So, if you guess right, if you guess breaking ball, you can pretty much walk to second base."
"He's just got to work on his delivery; he's got to work on quickening it up. There were times I don't think he felt comfortable quickening it up. That's the old theory, you think you lose stuff, you think you lose velocity, you think you lose command if you quicken up your delivery too much. So, there's a happy medium in there. That's something that guys with slower deliveries have got to continually keep working on. The last thing you want to do is go out there and three or four guys in the lineup can steal and every time they get on first it's an automatic double."
Faris has a high leg kick that can be exposed, and he favors its use because it keeps his balance in check and his mechanics consistent. He does not, however, vary it enough and good runners can time their release to take advantage.
Conclusion: By ignoring the changeup, Faris has punched his own ticket back to Double-A. The minors are a time to improve on all pitches and tinker with new ones – even at the expense of a higher ERA. The Padres aren't looking at just the numbers. Charting pitches gives them the details on what pitch is being hit. If it is the changeup that drives an ERA higher, it will be evident.
Faris has to commit to using the slip more frequently. His fastball is below average and a two-pitch ensemble won't get it done at the highest level. That third pitch is essential. Until he masters it, Faris will be in the minors.