Right-hander Joe Wieland raised his stock and made significant strides after his promotion to High-A Bakersfield, though it didn't always show up in the statistics.
After posting a 3.34 ERA in 15 starts at Single-A Hickory, Wieland logged 59 innings with High-A Bakersfield and had a 5.19 ERA. He was a bit more hittable––yielding 67 hits in 59 innings––but still threw strikes (10 walks) and missed more bats (62 strikeouts).
During his time with the Blaze, Wieland's walk rate improved from 4.2% to 3.9%, and his strikeout rate rose from 19.9% to 24%.
The 20-year-old had more than his share of issues immediately after his promotion to the Cal League. In his first five starts with the club, he surrendered 27 runs on 42 hits in only 26 innings (9.35 ERA), despite walking just five and striking out 29.
As Wieland mentions below, the rough start caused him to make a few adjustments. He was admittedly relying too heavily on his fastball, so he began showing his curveball earlier in the game. Wieland learned from the mistakes and saw drastic improvement.
Over his final six outings, the Reno native yielded only seven earned runs in 33 frames (1.91 ERA), giving up 25 hits, walking five, and fanning 33. Included in that stretch were two absolute gems. Wieland fanned 14 batters over seven shutout innings on August 3, and he tossed seven innings of one-hit ball just three weeks later.
The former fourth-round pick doesn't have a dominant font-line arsenal, but he projects for solid-average stuff to go along with plus command and an advanced feel for pitching. The complete package could make Wieland a middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.
Wieland's fastball sat between 88-91 mph during many of his outings with Bakersfield, though he was 91-93 mph at times, even touching as high as 94. His curveball improved by leaps and bounds with the Blaze and took a step toward becoming a legitimate strikeout pitch.
The 6-foot-3, 175-pound hurler says he would like to focus on the changeup––a pitch that shows promise but remains inconsistent––as he looks forward to the 2011 campaign.
Wieland finished the 2010 season with a 4.07 ERA in 148.0 innings between the two levels. He allowed 151 hits, walked 25, and struck out 133. While currently flying under the radar, Wieland's late-season progression could make him a prime 2011 breakout candidate.
Lone Star Dugout recently spoke with the prospect to reflect on his late-season improvements at the High-A level.
Jason Cole: I last interviewed you after the 14-strikeout game you had in early August. Overall, looking back on your entire season, how did you feel about it?
Joe Wieland: I thought I did well. Overall, it was a good year. It was a good learning year for me. I was a little disappointed to start the year in Hickory, but I had a little chip on my shoulder. It gave me a little bit of a fire to get out of there.
I had a good start in Hickory and everything was going well. Then I had a couple starts where I lost my consistency. I regained it and that's when I got called up. I got introduced to High-A really quick. My first couple starts there were kind of rough. But once I settled down and learned how to pitch, I was much better off.
Cole: Like you said, your first couple starts were rough, but you were able to turn it around pretty quick and pitched well for the remainder of the year. What led to the success?
Wieland: I wasn't a guy that liked to go to my offspeed pitch early in a game or early in a count. There were times in Hickory where I didn't use my curveball until the fifth inning. When I got to Bakersfield, I tried to pitch the same way that I did in Hickory. And I got hit around in the first couple starts because I wasn't going to my offspeed.
Then I started to go to my offspeed early in counts and early in games. I started getting more consistent with it and my results started to show. The results were getting better.
Cole: We've talked in the past about you throwing your curveball more often in Bakersfield. Were you also using the changeup more often there?
Wieland: Yeah, definitely. There were some times where I was throwing the changeup and curveball to the first batter of the game. In Hickory––or in any year before that, honestly––I had never done that.
Getting bumped up, learning how to pitch, and throwing those pitches more often––I developed a lot more consistency with them. And I think that helped out quite a bit with my success.
Cole: How did you feel about the progression of your changeup this season?
Wieland: I still feel like I didn't get it to where I would have liked. Once I got to Bakersfield, it left me, you could say. I lost the feel because I was throwing my curveball much more.
However, it's too hard. I'm throwing it probably in the low-80s instead of the high-70s, where it should be. And guys were able to put a bat on it. They would be able to flick it somewhere for a bloop base hit or something like that instead of maybe a broken bat or just swinging over it because they were early.
That's going to be the one thing in Spring Training that I'm going to work on. I want to get the right grip to slow down the velocity.
Cole: You played in Hickory for over a season and a half, and it's a big league where you don't face teams multiple times all that often. But you did in the Cal League, giving up nine runs against Rancho Cucamonga before holding them to one hit in seven innings a few weeks later. What kind of adjustments, if any, were you having to make?
Wieland: It's funny you say that, because that outing in Rancho where I gave up nine––that honestly was my best outing to that date. I pitched very well that game, but I made two mistakes with the two home runs. I left a 3-2 curveball up and then another fastball up early in the count.
But outside of those, it was actually one of my better outings. I had good command of my curveball, I had good pop on my fastball, and I was hitting my spots. There were just a couple mistakes I made that hurt me. After that start, I built off that one. Each start got progressively better from there, and that's why I had so much success against them the second time.
Cole: Your strikeout rate in Bakersfield was quite a bit higher than it was in Hickory. I know a big part of that was throwing your curve more often, but did you feel it also improved while you were there?
Wieland: It improved greatly. That was the big thing that Brad Holman and I were talking about in Hickory. It was funny because my changeup in Hickory was good. But my curveball was inconsistent.
Then I got to Bakersfield, and I had to start throwing my curveball more. Well, the consistency and sharpness of the curveball got so much better. And the changeup kind of backed off. Being in the California League helped the curveball out significantly.
Cole: As you look forward to next season, is there anything in your mind right now that you'd like to get accomplished in 2011?
Wieland: Yeah, I would like to get the changeup consistency. That's probably going to be my main goal––my main focus pitch-wise coming into the spring. I have to keep my consistent command. I've been able to pound the strike zone and get ahead of guys, and I've got to keep working on that.
But, to be honest, the biggest goal for me and the biggest thing on my mind is working for that Double-A spot. I feel like I have a shot at making the Double-A team if I come into camp in shape and come in working hard. That's going to be my main goal and main focus.
Cole: You were able to attend the first two games of the World Series in San Francisco. Even though the outcomes weren't ideal, what was the experience like? What was it like to see your parent club performing on the world's biggest baseball stage?
Wieland: It was awesome. It's one of those situations where it sends chills down your spine. Just knowing that could be me in a couple years. It gives me something to think about in the offseason, and it really helps me with the drive.
But it was rough––it was tough to watch the team play like that, because that's not your typical Texas Rangers team that went out on the field. They typically throw strikes and they're swinging the bat. But for the first couple games, that wasn't the case.
Cole: A pretty large percentage of the big league team came through the minor league system in the last year or two. Watching guys that you've played and crossed paths with so often––does that make you feel a little closer to the big leagues?
Wieland: It does. Especially having friendships with a couple of them. It's just really cool, being able to go out there and watch these guys play. I know that maybe someday that could be me.
Wieland satisfied with late-season strides
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