Mike Couchee on Padres pitching prospects

Eugene, OR: San Diego Padres minor league pitching coordinator Mike Couchee has been impressed with the progress of several pitching prospects – many who have taken extraordinary steps forward this season.

The progression of Simon Castro has been amazing. In Eugene a season ago you could see him breaking out and now in Fort Wayne the command has improved even more and he is becoming electric.

Mike Couchee: This kid – going back to the first day he was up here throwing in the bullpen and I could picture that ball flying everywhere. To me, in my seven years over here, he is by far the one prospect who has made the largest strides and biggest improvements year in and year out. He keeps getting better and better.

Now, the command is starting to show up. The stuff has never been an issue. He has a great arm. He has, by far, progressed further, quicker than anybody else that I have seen.

Anthony Bass posted incredible numbers in Fort Wayne and it was almost a shame he couldn't be promoted sooner.

Mike Couchee: This whole organization – you can see we are getting better and better, higher and higher. It used to be we had a few young kids down in rookie ball and one or two in Portland. Now, you can go down the line, especially the rotations in all of our clubs right now. It is fun to watch.

Anthony Bass has been dymanite all year. He deserved the right to go to the next level and we needed to make a spot available. Something always comes up and it did.

Wynn Pelzer – the numbers don't necessarily bear out how good he has pitched and can pitch. Talk a little bit about him.

Mike Couchee: He is another kid that didn't pitch a lot before we signed him. He had the busted up leg and didn't pitch a whole lot in college. He was a guy with a very good arm and rather crude delivery. He has awareness on the field.

He really surprised me last year. I thought we were rushing him a little by sending him out to the Midwest League. He handled himself out there and has continued to do the same thing in Lake Elsinore year.

If you look at just pure stuff, he is one of the ones that is as good as we have in the organization. He is kind of like Castro, at a different rate maybe, that continues to get better and better.

Corey Kluber is a guy that can sometimes look phenomenal and sometimes look ordinary. What is the difference between the two for him?

Mike Couchee: His head. We talk about how much of this game is mental. I was talking to Bronswell Patrick about this the other day, that group that began the year in Lake Elsinore – they are all big league pitchers. They all have big league stuff. They will all pitch in the big leagues one day.

To me, they are such perfectionists that they make the game too hard on themselves. I will talk to all of them about it. Go out there and relax and let their stuff take care of what happens in the game. They are so anal about everything.

Kluber is a perfectionist. Hefner expects perfection. Pelzer, McBryde, Luebke…

They expect way too much of themselves at this stage. Go out and have fun instead of putting those kinds of expectations on things.

Bryan Oland is a guy that has stuck out the last two years. He goes after it with an attack mentality and has been dominant.

Mike Couchee: He has come out of nowhere. He was kind of left out in extended. We needed help, we sent him out, and he has absolutely run with it. You hit it right on the head – for his role, he has the perfect mentality. Nothing bothers this guy. You wouldn't know if he just gave up 10 (runs) or just punched out eight in a row. He keeps taking the ball and going out and getting them out. He has put himself on the map.

Mat Latos has been brilliant all year, going from the Midwest League to Double-A to the big leagues.

Mike Couchee: An incredible year. The biggest part is he stayed healthy once we were able to get him out there pitching. He took the ball every fifth day and the numbers are phenomenal.

The biggest thing is keeping him healthy. He has learned what it takes to be able to pitch every fifth day and that has helped him mature a little bit. His maturity level has come in leaps and bounds.

One thing that has impressed me about Latos is that he hasn't tried to change anything. He saw success in Fort Wayne and skipped a level. He threw the stuff that got him there. He did the same thing going to San Diego.

Mike Couchee: That is the part I am talking about with the maturity level. He has given himself a chance to go out every fifth day and see what kind of results he can get. In the past, he wasn't really healthy long enough to see what he could do.

The stuff was so good in Fort Wayne that we felt we needed to move him to the Double-A level for a challenge. Obviously, I don't know how much of a challenge it was because the numbers there were phenomenal too. He made three starts and was in the Texas League All-Star game. He pitched well in the Futures Game and continues now in San Diego to throw well.

The sky is the limit for him. He has been something to watch this year.

Ernesto Frieri – perhaps one of the best things that happened to him was moving him into the rotation where he could work on his secondary pitches.

Mike Couchee: That was by design. In 2007, we saw some signs of some really good stuff. He came to spring training that next year and we didn't see the same breaking ball or changeup and felt like putting him in the rotation would give him a chance to get that stuff back. Coming out of the pen in a one run or two run game, there is not a lot of time to go out and experiment.

We put him back in the rotation to find the breaking ball we saw before. Because of that, the breaking ball is back. The changeup is progressing and much better than it was before. He has put up some very good numbers in San Antonio.

Cory Luebke put up some impressive numbers in the California League before going to San Antonio – a year after perhaps taking a step backwards. It seemed a lot was mechanical – part of it was not staying very tall on his follow-through.

Mike Couchee: It was a combination for both him and Kluber. Luebke was more mechanical. He used to have that tap-step in his delivery and a lot of little quirks we wanted to work out. We started that process in Fort Wayne where there is a little less pressure and you can get away with a few more mistakes. By the Instructional League, we really hammered it and he got off to a great start this year.

He has pitched well in Double-A too. He had that hamstring injury that wasn't bad. His velocity is up from where it was a year ago. He is working inside and both sides of the plate much better than he has in the past. Last year, he was pretty one-sided.

It is a credit to him. He came into Instructs and mastered all of the things we preached. It has allowed him to have a great year this year.

Wade LeBlanc has pitched really well out on Triple-A. It is getting over that hump when he gets to the majors. What do you say to a kid like that? It is so hard to get the mental part down – that you don't have to change. How can you instill that confidence?

Mike Couchee: That is it. I wish I knew. If I knew, I would be making a lot of money somewhere. It is hard. All of us that coached went through it. I went through it when I played. You always think you have to do a little bit more because you are at that next level.

They don't understand and trust us enough as coaches. We wouldn't be doing it to them if we didn't believe what they are doing at whatever level is going to work at the next level. It is a lot easier said than done. You just keep trying to hammer it down on them and convince them it is going to work.

I think it will. He has pitched way too well in Portland. Last year, he didn't pitch as well in Portland. He went up to the big leagues at the end and scuffled a little bit. This year, he is pitching well enough that if he buys into it that stuff is going to work at the big league level. He should be fine.

Has anyone gone above expectations for you this year?

Mike Couchee: The expectations were pretty high throughout.

Nick Schmidt comes to my mind because he was coming off surgery and dominated Fort Wayne early on.

Mike Couchee: I saw him real early in April. We skipped a start at one point because of the cold weather. Getting through that injury process, for me, is still a two-year deal. It takes two years before Tommy John is a non-issue. I saw a couple of times and saw him getting better and better and better.

He hasn't carried it over to the California League. There are still a lot of ups and downs with that process.

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