Bradley on Fort Wayne pitching prospects

Tom Bradley had it all in 2009 as a pitching coach in Fort Wayne. The San Diego Padres winning affiliate earned it on the mound first. Everyone had something click. We caught up with Bradley to discuss everyone from the bullpen and rotation.

Is Zach Herr a guy that can thrive at the higher levels? We know how well he did for you this year but is this a case of someone who may stall out once he gets to Double-A?

Tom Bradley: I think he'll do fine. He's got to be able to throw his changeup over. I think he learned that when he went to San Antonio for that week or so. He's got an average fastball, 88-90. 88, 89 to 90. His curveball is his money pitch. It's got two-plane depth to it.

You look at his numbers. My gosh, he struck out 80 hitters in 57 innings. That is pretty impressive, very impressive. He only gave up 50 hits. There were a couple innings where he gave up some runs. I think that's why the ERA was a little higher. My gosh, he had two saves and was 5-2 on the year and was consistent throughout.

I think it just depends, on all these guys, it depends on how well they command the baseball. They've all got the stuff to advance and pitch well. It's just a question of how is their command going to be? I think in Zach's case, he's got two good pitches. He's got to throw that changeup to right-handed hitters, though. I think it's tough to live with just two pitches because they higher they go, these hitters to eliminate one of them and then they sit on a curveball. You throw it and it's a good one and they whack it and they say, ‘Well, how did he hit that?' Well, he was looking for it. You throw a changeup in there, it's got some movement away to right-handed hitters and that adds another dimension; part of the zone that pitchers can use to get hitters out. So that is a pitch he is going to continue to work on. I think he'll do fine, it's just a question of command and control like all these guys. He certainly has the stuff.

There was no better pitcher in the second half than Alexis Lara. Something clicked for him and he went on to blow away the competition.

Tom Bradley: No, you are right. The first half he started out with a 7.00 or 8.00 ERA and willowed it down to 3.03 during regular season; 39 hits in 65 innings and 28 walks and 80 strikeouts.

I think it's just a matter of repeating his delivery, not being so violent. He used to jerk his head real bad, at times he still does a little bit. He is able to command his fastball better. He throws it in the zone. I think he pitched backwards a lot of times. He's got a very good changeup and he would throw that too much. He's throwing 93, 94, 95, and I think he finally realized after we told him and catchers told him, and I told him, and Dougie told him, ‘Now listen, you've got an above average fastball and you've got to use it more.' He started doing that and he saw that he could get hitters out with it and he stayed with it.

His changeup is a plus pitch. His slider is a little bit slow, but he's going down with that auxiliary league, or whatever they call that, and that's the one thing he's got to work on.

I think Bob Cluck is going try to and work with him to speed his arm up and get a little bit harder break to it. He throws it for strikes, he just needs to get a little bit tighter. As hard as he throws, he should be able to throw, 83, 84, 85 and then he'll really have a nasty slider. I just think it's a matter of him gaining a lot of confidence.

He just kept having a success. He only gave up a couple runs the last, gosh, the last half of the season. He had a string of like 19 or 20 innings where he didn't give up a run. I think he's growing up. He's maturing more and that I think plays a big part in it. He set off the fact we had a good bullpen. He saw how well everyone else was doing and he wanted to be a part of that. Winning breeds that confidence, that swagger, that, ‘Hey, I don't want to be that guy that can't do the job. I want to join the parade.' He took the ball and went from being a pitcher that really was not in a lot of close games initially in the season, but then at the end – look at the games in the playoffs. He came in and got two big outs in the last game and in a crucial situation, so there you are. That's what you are looking for. He had a great year.

It didn't last long but Mat Latos was with you – one of his stops en route to the big leagues. How good was he while he was with you?

Tom Bradley: Well, he was totally dominating in this league. I had him in '07 in Eugene, and he's grown up a lot and he's matured a lot mentally. He's only 21, 22 and it takes boys longer to mature. Science tells us that.

He just came in the league and pretty much just mowed everybody down. I think he gave up one or two runs – one run, and had an overpowering fastball and threw an occasional slider and a couple changeups now and then. He just pretty much mowed everybody down. He's right in the zone and clusters his pitches pretty good. He's got to get better command within the strike zone. I think that's the only thing, and then stay out of the middle of the plate against big league hitters. He learned an awful lot. He went from Fort Wayne to the big leagues, and that's the first time a player has ever done that in Fort Wayne history. He obviously did well in San Antonio, and they thought he was ready, and I think that was a good decision.

Rob Musgrave struggled when he first began the year as a starter but then found success in the bullpen. What changed?

Tom Bradley: He had a lot of success in the bullpen. He pitched that first game in the playoffs, he pitched the crucial game against Great Lakes. The second game, which we had to win, he came in relief of Osuna and came and threw 4 and one-third innings.

As a starter, he did struggle, but I tell you, as a reliever, he started throwing a cutter and that really helped him out, especially against left-handed hitters. He had a little bit of trouble throwing his curveball over the plate consistently. He's got a good curveball, but it wasn't real consistent in the early part of the year. He needed some kind of breaking ball against lefties. When he came up with that pitch, because it was two-plane and had that action to it and he could get in on right-handers and he could get left-handers out with it.

And his changeup is a plus pitch. He's got a big league changeup. With right-handers it makes them look foolish. He also started throwing harder. When he started, he was probably 85, 86 and at the end of the year he was anywhere from 88 to 90. So his velocity picked up; it made his changeup and all his other pitches better because when you throw harder your changeup's going to be a little bit harder. It made his slider better, his cutter better. He was able to throw his curveball over the plate better with better consistency.

So, he's got four pitches – left-handed. They invited him to that Auxiliary Fall League. So he really put himself on the map during the second half of the season. My hat's off to him. He won some big games for us.

For Stiven Osuna, it was just the opposite. He seemed to find his confidence when he went into the rotation and was dominant during one stretch of the season.

Tom Bradley: He was Pitcher of the Month in July. He started of 2-6 and then he won seven or eight in a row. I think what happened is he started spotting his fastball, locating his fastball a lot better, and trusting his fastball.

He's got a good changeup. Sometimes he pitches backwards too much. We told him, ‘Look, your fastball's good enough. You just have to locate it better. You can't throw it down the middle of the plate. You just have to locate it down or away, down and in.' He started doing that and he started having success.

He won a big game against Great Lakes for us. He pitched some big ball games. He finished up pretty strong for us. I think he's 21, so there's room for some improvement there as far as velocity. He may pick up a little bit of juice on his fastball. He's got a plus changeup and at times his curveball is very good. He's just got to be more consistent, like what we're talking about with all these guys. He's there, he just has to do it more frequently.

Nick Schmidt was a year removed from surgery and came in and performed well for you. What did you take away from his time in Fort Wayne?

Tom Bradley: Well, Nick fits very well for us. He's able to throw his fastball in on right-handed hitters. He was able to throw his curveball over the plate consistently. He's able to throw three pitches over the plate for us. His fastball was probably anywhere from 85 to 88. His curveball he could throw in hitters counts; he did a good job with that, and I thought his changeup was pretty good too. It went away to right-handed hitters pretty good.

He's a tremendous competitor, and I was very surprised that he didn't fare better out in Elsinore. He pitched very well for us. I think he probably got a little tired, and like you said the surgery. He might have hit the wall when he got to 75 or 80. He went one and a half years, two years without pitching. I think he got hurt in June of '07. He got hurt here in Fort Wayne. He knows how to pitch, he's got a good idea of what he's doing. I just think that, hopefully, we'll see the real Nick Schmidt next spring.

It seems like a yearly occurrence for you in Fort Wayne. Last year, we saw Bryan Oland shine after beginning the year in extended. This season, Nick Schumacher did the same thing.

Tom Bradley: He's lights out – unbelievable! He set a record for lowest ERA and went 6-0! In fact, he got a save in that second Burlington game; first one, only one he had all year. That was a good time for it obviously.

He's got a little bit of a funky delivery. He throws a cutter, which gets in on left-handed hitters pretty good and good command of it. His fastball's anywhere from 88 to 90. His slider is a little bit like a curveball, but it's effective. He also throws a changeup that got good downward plane. He's got four pitches. He's in the zone. I saw some bad swings this year with him on the mound. He had a tremendous season and to go from not breaking with the club to the year he had was pretty phenomenal. Really phenomenal.

This was a learning season for Michael Watt. For much of the year, he seemed to struggle with confidence. Is that a fair assessment?

Tom Bradley: I think he got more confidence later on. He's a young kid playing in a Midwest league, only 21 years old and that's tough in itself.

I think he grew up a lot. I think he matured a lot. He calmed down a little bit. He pitched a very good game against Burlington. His fastball I think is going to get better as he gets older, anywhere from right now 85, 87 to 89, 90 in that range. He throws strikes. He's around the plate real good.

His curveball really improved the last month of the season. It improved tremendously. Where before, he would throw a curveball, if he threw it high in the zone it wasn't even close. Or if he spiked it, he wouldn't throw it again. At the end of the season, if that happened, he'd come right back and throw it two pitches later or the next pitch. He got a lot of confidence being able to throw his breaking ball over the plate. He's got a good one. So, that was a big plus for him. It really helped him against left-handed hitters.

He's got a good changeup. It's got a little bit of sink and fade to it at bottom. So, I think there's a lot there. He's left-handed. I think he's going to grow. He's going to fill out and he's going to get stronger. I think his upside is very good. He's left-handed. I think he learned a lot this year.

Gosh, he won the Championship Game and he pitched 5 and one-third. He could have gone longer probably. He finished up 8-4. That's pretty daggone good record for a 21-year-old playing in a league this advanced. I think he did very well. He jumped ;eagues. I was blessed. We had a very good staff. We promoted four of five guys and for the most part they did okay in Elsinore. It was a dream season.

Most of the glory goes to the pitching staff but talk about the efforts of Robert Lara and Adam Zornes in the catching department.

I think they did a great job. I gave an awful lot of credit to both of them. Obviously, pitcher and catcher, they've got to be a battery, they've got to be a team among a team. They worked together real well. They talk over the hitters between innings and they had a good idea of how to attack these guys. My hat's off to both of them. They got better at calling the game.

You've got to remember so many times at college, catchers don't get to call their games. I think Zornes did call a lot of his games when he was at Rice. But I'm not sure, I don't think Robert Lara did. That is a big adjustment being able to call a game. We don't call very many pitches, they do themselves so my hat's off to them.

We had like 18, 19 shutouts. We had 18 in the regular season and one in the playoffs, so it was just a truly remarkable season. I've been in the game a long time. I'm 62 and I played on a team in Hawaii in 1970 and our record I think was I don't know 97-48. We had a lot of ex-big league players on that club. Over 110 years of experience, Elroy Face, Ron Kline, Dennis Bennett, Jim Coates; guys that had been in the big leagues a long time. The Spokane team was managed by Tommy LaSorda and he had Bill Buckner and Ron Cey and Steve Garvey and those guys in the playoffs. I wasn't with them, I was in the big leagues. That was a magical season too. It would be almost 50 games over .500 is incredible. That's probably the best record I've ever been associated with as a player, and obviously as a coach for me 53 games over .500 – that's unbelievable.

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