Hurley looking to build on breakout season

SURPRISE, Ariz. – Right-hander Trevor Hurley recently finished off a breakout season in which he posted a 1.77 ERA between Single-A Hickory and High-A Bakersfield. Lone Star Dugout sat down with the 23-year-old to discuss his progress.

Right-hander Trevor Hurley is currently attending the Texas Rangers' Advanced Instructional League on the heels of a breakout season at Low-A Hickory and High-A Bakersfield.

The former 22nd round pick out of Kansas State University has shown intriguing stuff since high school, but he fell off the prospect map after posting a 5.99 earned-run average over three collegiate seasons.

Hurley worked as a starting pitcher with Spokane last summer, going 7-2 with a 3.36 ERA in 80.1 innings. He showed improved control (33 walks) and missed his share of bats (77 strikeouts).

This year, he returned to the bullpen and broke Spring Training in a late-inning relief role with the Hickory Crawdads. With a 1.43 ERA and 11 saves in 37.2 innings, Hurley was arguably the Sally League's most dominant reliever. He surrendered only 18 hits while walking 10 and striking out 50.

In fact, the South Atlantic League's managers––via Baseball America––named Hurley the circuit's best relief pitcher this season.

The 23-year-old earned a much-deserved promotion to High-A Bakersfield in July. He continued to log strong results, posting a 2.22 ERA in 28.1 innings. Hurley yielded 17 hits, walked 16, and struck out 34.

Between the two levels, Hurley combined to strike out 84 hitters in 66 frames while limiting the opposition to a paltry .151 batting average.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound prospect doesn't have overpowering velocity as a late-inning bullpen arm, but his fastball has some late action and he commands it well. He also throws a low-80s slider as a strikeout pitch.

Hurley worked a perfect inning in Tuesday's Advanced Instructional League game, showing a fastball between 88-91 mph, a slider at 81-83 mph, and a 78-79 mph changeup.

Lone Star Dugout caught up with Hurley to discuss his breakout season and his time at instructional league.

Jason Cole: You split your season between Hickory and Bakersfield and had excellent results overall. How did you feel about your 2010 campaign?

Trevor Hurley: I thought my season went extremely well, I guess, from a statistical standpoint. And even more so from the same stuff we talked about in the first interview––with mechanics and stuff. That really set in. I think the success you could see on paper came from that. It came from being so much more mechanically tuned and having a better idea.

The whole time I was in Hickory, I sat there and picked Brad (Holman)'s brain. I think probably three times a week I would sit in the dugout for the first five innings and just listen to him and Bill (Richardson). Just listen to what they talked about. I guess, for the first time, I really attempted to make myself a very competitive pitcher.

By the time I got to Bakersfield, all that was in tune. Dave Chavarria was good with helping me out when I asked him a simple question or whatever. Like I said, I think it went really well. I couldn't have asked for a better one.

Cole: You mentioned the mechanical thing––it was basically trying to give you a higher front side in your delivery. Did you make any adjustments further from what we talked about in that first interview?

Hurley: I just threw a bullpen three or four days ago, and Danny Clark came over and told me that my front side wasn't up. So it's the same thing. Any time I get to missing out of the zone or maybe not having the same stuff on the ball, it's usually relative to my front side.

When I can remember to keep that up––it's all set together. When my front side stays up, I stay closed longer and I stride further. To get my front side down, I pull hard and my back side follows hard. Everything works better.

Cole: When you are getting the front side up, does that help you get more of a downward angle on the ball and work down in the strike zone?

Hurley: Yeah, it's all about downward angle. My biggest thing coming out of K-State was my armside miss with the fastball. If, for instance, a lefty is in the box and the catcher calls a fastball away, that ball could end up across the other batter's box with no problem.

And I think Brad picked up on that early. That's what his whole meaning for me doing this was. He wanted to eliminate the armside––the big run. And by doing that, it created a downward angle and I will now very seldom miss with the ball just running away to no man's land. Yeah, I think the ultimate goal and what you see is a downward angle, better stuff on the ball, and just overall more consistency.

Cole: When you got to Bakersfield, you had a few more walks than you probably wanted. And it seemed like the more you pitched there, the better it got. What was the issue there and how were you able to correct it?

Hurley: That was very evident to me. I thought about it hard and I talked to Chavy in Bakersfield about it. I don't know. I thought about it and I can't really put my finger on why I would walk more people.

However, I do think that once I left Hickory, I think the front side thing left a little bit. It was a new surrounding and new teammates. That's all mental stuff and feeling stuff––but I think, for a little while, maybe I was trying to settle in. Just like anybody else would. At the end, I think when I became the closer after Fabio left, it helped me to get back to attacking and commanding the strike zone.

Whether it was a mental thing of, ‘This is what I need to do,' or whatever it was––toward the end I started to figure out the zone again and that was good. But I don't know why that became an issue. I minimized it. It could have been bad a couple times, but I figured it out toward the end there.

Cole: Even though the ball doesn't carry particularly well in Bakersfield, when you show up there and see the 354-foot sign in dead center, does that do anything to you mentally?

Hurley: Not me. I actually never really struggle with that at all. I don't really have that issue. More of a place for that would be a Lancaster or a High Desert. These places have deep fences, but the wind just howls.

Cole: Did you have to play at either one of those?

Hurley: I did. I pitched at both places. But the thing that worked for me is that I pitched at Kansas State, where that place is a jet stream. If you get the ball up to left field, it's gone. I actually gave up a solo home run in Lancaster, which was nothing to me. That's fine. A solo home run––I'll give that up all day there.

Bakersfield was not threatening at all by the appearance of the field or how short it was. I think, as a pitcher, that should be your last worry. My thought process was that means it's a smaller outfield for outfielders to run and catch balls. It worked out well, though.

Cole: When the 2011 season starts, you'll likely be either in High-A or Double-A. If you end up returning to High-A, is it nice to be in Myrtle Beach and away from the launching pads of Lancaster and High Desert?

Hurley: Yes. Really regardless of where you play, you take it upon yourself to approach it to be the best you can be. That's what people do. In the back of all our minds, it is absolutely nice that our High-A is now Myrtle Beach. Bakersfield and the Cal League is tough to pitch in. Like you said, Lancaster and High Desert––these places don't hold balls too well.

This is my second full year and I got to Bakersfield, which was good. I had heard a lot about it, and my number one goal going in there was to not so much get caught up in, ‘I'm supposed to have a 5.00 ERA here and I'm supposed to give up home runs and get losses.' But instead, I wanted to use it as an advantage to prove that I could throw well there and people could appreciate that.

It was good for me to go in there and essentially win the mental battle, because that's a mental battle up there. It's very tough. Like we've already talked about, you're walking into these places where you can tell it's just not pitcher-conducive. You know it. You look at stats and know it's not a pitcher league. So in that aspect, yes, it is nice to be in Myrtle Beach. I haven't seen the place, but I have heard great things.

Cole: You mentioned that you had started throwing a curveball when I last interviewed you. Are you still doing that?

Hurley: No. No curveball. The new thing is that I'm trying to do a little split, maybe. I'm not really sure. We're just kind of trying it out, so we'll see how it goes.

Cole: How long did you throw the curveball for before you scratched it?

Hurley: I had actually never even told anybody else of authority that I was throwing it. I just told my catchers that I would throw a different-looking breaking ball. But I don't know. I'm not really sure why I quit throwing it or why I even started to throw it.

It has just once again became fastball-slider, but I still am working in the changeup, which is good. I think that is starting to become part of the repertoire. It will be nice to have that.

Cole: You've been toying with the splitter in bullpen sessions out here. So you haven't thrown it in games yet?

Hurley: No, not yet.

Cole: Have you ever worked with one before or even really thought about it?

Hurley: Josh Lueke was my throwing partner in Hickory, and he throws a splitty. I have some of the biggest hands you'll find around––probably anywhere. He told me I should start throwing a vulcan, where you make the alien sign and split the ball.

I played catch with the vulcan probably the entire year this year. I threw it in a game twice and got two strikes on it, but it's very hard to control. It has good action but it's very hard to control.

Some of the pitching coaches knew I threw it and they wanted to see it. They saw it and decided that it's hard to control, but they liked the idea because I have big hands. They said I could use that to my advantage and split the ball. Now I'm just starting to work with that a little bit.

Cole: This would seem like the perfect place to work on it, since stats aren't kept and the focus is more on improving yourself over immediate results.

Hurley: Right. We have certain things we're trying to meet, like throwing your third pitch a certain amount of times in an outing––whether that's a changeup, split-finger, or whatever you throw.

But for me, it'll be a challenge because I'm going to try and get outs. That's what I'm going to do. That's just how I pitch. I'll need to really concentrate on that, and I'll have to do that to incorporate those pitches, otherwise they'll never be incorporated. This is a time that you do that. But, like I said, at the same time I still compete. I still want to win and get outs and all that stuff.

Cole: You've already mentioned a couple things, but overall, what would you like to improve upon and accomplish out here at instructs?

Hurley: I think the biggest thing for me––my most self-evaluated statistic since I've gotten to college has always been my walks. I've always been concerned about walks. I talked with you about it earlier that I came into this year––when I broke from Spring Training to Hickory, I told myself that I was going to change that. I was taking the approach that I'm a strike-thrower. That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to get outs by attacking the zone. And I did that.

I want to keep doing that in instructs, obviously. But I really want to incorporate the third pitch to be a go-to pitch. Say I'm facing a big three-hole lefty with two strikes. Instead of burying a back-foot slider, I want to be able to throw a changeup or a split-finger instead of always throwing slider. Has that worked for me? Yeah. I've gotten by with mainly throwing fastball-slider. So to myself, if I can incorporate a third pitch, I know that should only make me better. And that's what I want to do.

Cole: This is your first instructs. Tell me your thoughts on it so far, and how much different is the advanced league from what the regular instructs guys do?

Hurley: Instructs in general, I'd say right now, is a lot like Spring Training. We get up early and do all of our workouts in the morning. Then we have lunch and get more workouts after. The slight difference is that we get a lot more time with the coaches because you don't have 90 pitchers that you're trying to distinguish yourself from, so that's nice.

The advanced league, so far, hasn't been different. We've been with all the instructs guys––we do all the stuff with them. We have team competitions for conditioning, which is fun. I think the only difference is going to be the games. We just throw on our advanced side. And I think the level of competition should be a little different. It should be a little bit more mature players in the advanced league.

Cole: You bounced between starting and relieving both in college and pro ball, but you seem to have settled in to a late-inning relief role. How long was it before you settled in to becoming a full-time reliever? Was there an adjustment period at all?

Hurley: No. My personality in general is a go-with-the-flow type thing. I don't really ever get worked up or overthink or overanalyze. It's the same way being a pitcher. Last year they sent me to Spokane to be a starter and I said, ‘Great.' I took the ball. My first year, I was middle relief and I took the ball. I've been long relief, and right now I'm back-end relief.

Do I think that's my permanent role? I don't know. But I'll take the ball. It doesn't really matter to me. I could relieve for three weeks straight and then start one night and go five innings. That's just the way I am. I can kind of craft to whatever they need. I'm very easy to work with and I like to just go with the flow.

Cole: Being a guy that wasn't a high-round pick, was there ever a time where you felt like you were pitching for your job? You're obviously secure now, but did you ever feel a little extra pressure?

Hurley: I don't know if I would say pitching for my job. I was naive when I first got drafted. I will say that. My first Spring Training, I kind of got an eye-opener when I saw guys getting released. You see a guy get called in and he's leaving that day––he's done. After Spring Training that year and then being put in extended, I said, ‘Whoa.'

At times, you could say maybe I walked on egg shells a little nervous. Like I said, I was naive and I didn't understand the way it worked. And then I realized, ‘Wait a second, I'm a 22nd rounder here. There were 21 other guys picked before me. Prior to showing them anything, I'm not one of the guys.'

Am I motivated still by that? Yeah. I work extremely hard and I do what I can to try and separate myself, because that's what I have to do. That's the bitter truth of it. And that's perfectly fine. I would do that anyway, even if I was a first rounder. It doesn't matter. I kind of look at it kind of as a motivating challenge.

In high school, I was a very good Houston pitcher. I was very highly touted and all that good stuff––all of us here were. But for whatever reason at K-State––I think in my three years, I posted nothing under a 5.00 ERA. Now people would be like, ‘What the heck happened there?' So being a 22nd rounder and being overlooked, if you want to call it that, because that is a late pick. That has just motivated me. Every day I get to show them that they got a great pick as a 22nd rounder.

Cole: Even though you aren't quite done here, are you looking forward to next year at all?

Hurley: I have goals for next year. Some of them start right now. This is a great opportunity. I'm very blessed and happy that I got the invite to be here in advanced, because I know it's a good thing. So yeah––my goal is to make their decision easy for next year, and that's starting right now. That's throwing against better competition and doing what I did all year. That starts right now.

For more information on the 2010 Fall Instructional League, check out this thread on our subscriber-only message board.

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