Name: Will Inman
DOB: February 6, 1987
Drafted in the third-round of the 2005 draft by the Milwaukee Brewers, Inman passed up a scholarship with Auburn to begin his professional career. He was subsequently traded to the San Diego Padres, along with Steve Garrison and Joe Thatcher, for reliever Scott Linebrink in July of 2007.
After being acquired from the Brewers, Inman was assigned to Double-A San Antonio. He went 3-3 with a 4.12 ERA across seven starts, striking out 40 and walking 19 in 41 frames.
Returning to Double-A in 2008, Inman went 9-8 with a 3.52 ERA across 28 starts. He gave up two runs or less in 15 of his starts and threw shutout ball over at least five innings on six occasions. At the end of June, Inman had notched eight of his wins but didn't register another victory until his final start of the year on August 31.
Inman paced the circuit with 140 strikeouts but also led the league in walks with 71. While he fanned 9.31 batters per nine innings, he also walked 4.72 batters per nine. He also ranked fourth in the Texas League in ERA and his 3.80 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was fifth best. While he had eight games with seven or more strikeouts, Inman also had 13 games with at least three walks. A .234 average against – third best in the Texas League - with 119 hits in 135.1 innings was also met with a 1.40 WHIP thanks to the high walk tally.
Inman notched a perfect 1-2-3 inning during the Futures Game played at Yankee Stadium during the '08 season and was named a post-season All-Star.
Back in San Antonio for the third straight year, Inman came out firing bullets. He was 4-1 with a 3.05 ERA across eight starts and 44.1 innings, holding the opposition to a .202 average while walking just eight batters. That prompted a promotion to Triple-A Portland.
"Right before he left, he made some adjustments with his arm stroke and his stuff got better," former San Antonio and current Portland pitching coach Steve Webber said.
The right-hander was taken yard twice in his first game and things only got worse. He made 12 starts with the Beavers, going 1-4 with a 6.71 ERA. In 63 innings he allowed 83 hits and walked 25 for a 1.71 WHIP. He surrendered 15 homers – giving up at least two bombs in six of his games – and allowed 36 extra-base hits. After allowing six runs in a July 20 start, he was moved back down to Double-A.
"I think he just went through a little adjustment period like many guys do," roving pitching coordinator Mike Couchee said. "He thought he had to do more than what got him there. He had a couple outings that weren't as good as what we have come to expect from him. I think he's going to get back on track."
He posted a 3.77 ERA over his final seven starts to net a cumulative ERA of 3.40 with the Missions. While he held the opposition to a .218 average in Double-A, that number swelled to .329 in the Pacific Coast League. Armed with a fastball in the low-90s, Inman had to face a reality. His heater doesn't move a whole lot and that had hitters timing the pitch and crushing it. While he remains deceptive in his delivery, advanced hitters were able to take advantage of the flat pitch.
Inman went to the Padres fall Instructional League with a new challenge. Add a cutter to his repertoire. The idea behind the new pitch is to give him a ball with more advanced movement, allowing him to miss the sweet part of the bat.
He also throws a curveball that has regressed over the last year. It does not have the tight, crisp spin that was seen in 2008. The pitch has been loopier and easier to detect out of his hand. Because of some mechanical issues, he was not able to locate it well outside of the zone as a swing-and-miss pitch. He was trying to make the ball break hard and got caught up in trying so hard that it ended up much more slurvy. It is a plus pitch when he is on and can be used to finish hitters.
"When your fastball's fairly straight and you're in the middle of the plate you're going to give up some homers," former Portland and current San Antonio pitching coach Glenn Abbott said. "That is just the way it is going to be. It's one of these deals where he's got to make adjustments. He's got to be able to make those adjustments. And he's got to tighten that up, because I don't think it's a good enough breaking ball to be effective in the big league. It's a good enough breaking ball to throw early in the count but not to finish a hitter off. It's just not crisp enough. It's too big and not crisp."
"His curveball was still good," former San Antonio and current Portland manager Terry Kennedy said of when Inman returned to the Missions. "He needs to work on his fastball command. His fastballs are around the zone or in the zone, but it's not placed in the zone as well as he'd like, as well as we'd like. He needs to work on that."
His changeup lags behind the other two and is more of a show-me pitch, which is why the addition of the cutter will be so important. He doesn't trust the pitch enough and often shies away from throwing it. The cutter could turn him into more of a ground ball pitcher – something he has never really been as a professional.
The right-hander is a mechanical nightmare. He does things that are seldom seen in pitchers but had so much success that the Padres were very hesitant to change him. He has, however, undergone his own changes over the last two years. Changed arm angles and different motions have been brought aboard but no consistency in what appears to be a violent motion has been evident. As a result from all the change, his arm speed was lacking. Getting his front side down has been the challenge, and his arm drags behind.
"I was very happy with the difference in his arm speed when I left San Antonio," Couchee said. "We gave him just a few different drills to do and it was back closer to what it was a few years ago. His velocity picked up some and his breaking ball was sharper."
Inman can quickly settle into what he feels is a comfortable delivery. That can be an issue. He goes quickly into routine with his motion and doesn't feel the issue with it until it has spiraled. Having success with the awkward delivery may have hampered him.
Another drastic change occurred during instructs. He has shortened up his delivery on his backside where he used to get serious backward bend before delivering the pitch. He is more upright but still hides the ball well.
"The breaking ball was in the middle of the plate and he didn't have enough consistency with his fastball so he could get to his other pitches," former vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "There are a lot of things with his mechanics that are unique and that we need to clean up."
One of the positives in his motion has always been the deception it creates. The ball comes out of his shirt and surprises hitters. He has been able to get away with the straighter fastball much of the time, until he faced the advanced hitters in the Pacific Coast League. He improved his overall fastball command but also caught too much of the zone and wasn't spotting it on the corners as much as needed. The walks were way down but the homers were way up. He was pitching to contact more but the quality strikes and pitchers' pitch wasn't as crisp.
Inman also regressed in controlling the running game. It used to be much harder for runners to get a good read on him, but he was more predictable in 2009. Part of that was an effort to get his delivery in-line with the rest of his game, which was more important in the bigger scheme.
"The thing I noticed about Will this year compared to last year is he threw a lot more strikes this year, and he was able to locate his fastball better," Webber said. "Last year, he led the Texas League in strikeouts, but he also led the Texas League in walks. So there was a tremendous reduction in number of walks, which I think is a good indication he's on the right path."
Conclusion: Inman has been a bit of an enigma. He has shown plus stuff, at times, but tinkers so much that it is hard to gain consistency. The hope is the changes made in instructs will carry into the regular season. He has the tools to be successful but must make the pitches and find the elusive balance in his delivery and his stuff. The cutter could be instrumental in his ultimate landing spot.
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