Name: James Needy
DOB: March 30, 1991
The San Diego Padres selected James Needy in the sixth-round of the 2009 MLB Draft and came to terms in late July on a deal that paid him nearly $150K over MLB's recommended slot.
The right-hander went 9-4 with a 1.14 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 79 innings during his senior season at Santee High School in Santee, California and spurned a scholarship offer with USD to sign with the Padres.
The local product was sent to the Arizona Rookie League where he made five appearances, including three starts. He went 1-1 with a 2.65 ERA across 17 innings, allowing 14 hits, walking five and striking out 13. He allowed just two hits in 17 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Needy was sent to the Padres fall Instructional League where he worked eight innings and recorded a 9.00 ERA, allowing 14 hits and six walks. He threw just 52.4 percent first-pitch strikes while throwing nearly 18 pitches per inning.
A former power forward in basketball and quarterback in football, Needy is armed with a low-90s sinking fastball that saw an increase after his sophomore season in high school thanks to some mechanical changes. That pushed his passion towards baseball even further.
His fastball has room for projection, topping out at 93 mph. He gets significant movement on his heater and is very successful when he keeps the ball down. It has natural tailing action.
"He has good movement," AZL Padres pitching coach Jimmy Jones said. "His ball, especially when he keeps it down, has good life to it. He throws a lot of two-seamers and that thing bottoms out quickly."
He has a slider that shows plus tendencies but needs to find consistency. It was a better pitch in high school, but surgery caused him to be tentative in its usage. That fear has made the pitch a bigger question mark. At one time, it was his primary strikeout weapon that he would throw to lefties to get them swinging over top. The location and late break has been replaced by a more slurvy offering that he can't effectively place on the lower half of the plate or use to expand the zone.
"He reminds me of a really young (Mat) Latos – the body," former AZL Padres and current Fort Wayne manager Jose Flores said. "He does not have the electric arm of Latos but the mannerisms remind me of him. He has a real good breaking ball, has an idea, throws low-90s, attacks the strike zone."
Needy is also working on his changeup to bring it up to par. It has become his second best pitch, but he will sometimes throw it too hard, limiting the drop it gets. He likes breaking it back over the plate to right-handed hitters to induce weak contact or a strikeout.
Crediting Kevin Brown for getting him into pitching, Needy has lengthened his stride to allow him the use of his lower half. He does fall back into the tendency to use more arm than necessary by cutting himself off on his line to the plate, but he is also driving off his back foot more to use his weight to his advantage.
By using his lower half, he has upped his stamina and projects more as workhorse. Instead of working with a tired arm, he is able to throw quality pitches and stay in the game longer.
Repeating his motion is a concern for Needy. He is a bit of a tinkerer and has to find a balance within his motion that feels comfortable. The Padres have worked on giving him a more direct line to home to release some of the strain that he puts on his arm with a cross-body motion. That will also improve his location. Muscle memory will be critical for his success. Location will improve as his lower body becomes accustomed to the same routine. As a result, he won't be working from behind and can use better pitch sequencing to get the desired results.
"He had some things with his mechanics," Jones said. "He was a guy that opened up a lot when he threw. If you were to draw a straight line from his toe to the plate, he would be a good foot on the left side of the line. That puts a lot of pressure on your elbow and can really affect your off-speed pitches.
"In the Instructional League, he really worked hard on cleaning up that line and it will make a huge difference next year. He will have more consistent velocity on his fastball, a more consistent break on his secondary pitches."
Working from a three-quarters arm angle, Needy is able to stay on top of the pitch to get a downward plane towards home. He likens his delivery to that of Chris Young, although he does not come over the top like Young does.
Room to grow gives Needy plenty of projection. He has a frame that can support 10 to 20 pounds. That could add a few ticks to his fastball.
"He has a breaking ball that needs to tighten up a little, has a good change and throws very well on a downhill plane," former Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "Has big velocity, remember he is 6-foot-6, and the second time I saw him, he was a little more aggressive with a much better finish on his pitches."
He has a rare confidence for his age that believes no one will hit him. His mental makeup is off the charts. He is a natural leader that watches baseball games with the intent to learn. He watches film to help him propel forward. His knowledge of counts, hitter's strengths, weaknesses and overall growing acumen put him in an isolated group that is continually seeking new ways to improve.
He is a quality athlete that fields his position well. He must, however, work on keeping runners close. With the focus on his delivery, he has ignored the running game and will need to bring that in line as he matures.
"He is going to get bigger and stronger as he gets older," Flores said. "I like the kid. From what I saw, he did well. He threw strikes, worked ahead, mixed in the changeup. Smart kid. I think he has a future in the game."
Conclusion: Needy is a focused individual that wants to be successful. If he can improve his mechanics, the rest will begin to fall into place. Location improves, the velocity may creep up, and his baseball savvy can take over. Trusting his slider will also be important. Once he overcomes the fear of its usage, he can reach a considerable ceiling.
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