Name: Eric Hurley
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: September 17, 1985
Acquired: 2004 Amateur Draft, 1st round
When Eric Hurley toed the rubber in the Arizona Fall League on October 15, it was the fist time he'd pitched in a game in over two years. Hurley's previous outing was on July 27, 2008, when he surrendered six runs in two innings against the Oakland Athletics.
The right-hander was shut down for the remainder of the '08 season with discomfort in his shoulder. After attempting to rehab the injury for over half a year, he underwent surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and a frayed labrum.
Hurley began throwing light bullpens in January 2010 and was initially slated for a return to game action in May. However, he broke a bone in his left wrist during spring training last March. He needed three total surgeries––with the most recent coming in late-June––to repair the wrist.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Hurley's first two outings in the Arizona Fall League were a bit shaky. He showed plenty of rust, struggling with command and yielding five runs on six hits and five walks over 4.2 innings.
Surprise Rafters (and High-A Myrtle Beach) pitching coach Brad Holman noticed a few issues in Hurley's delivery early on.
"The first couple starts, he was okay," Holman said. "You could tell that he wasn't at his best or feeling at his best. In watching him after a couple starts, we realized that his lead arm was low. His glove was underneath his front elbow and he was scooping it sideways. It was leaving his front side moving toward first base. As a result, his arm was dragging and he was getting some soreness in his elbow."
After making the adjustments, Hurley began to see immediate progress in terms of stuff, command, and results. The 25-year-old didn't surrender a single run over his final four starts with the Rafters. In 20 innings, he yielded 10 hits while walking four and fanning 12.
"We went to the bullpen and changed his front side," Holman said during the Fall League season. "We got his lead arm working up and over his delivery. As a result, he is able to work behind the baseball better and pitch down in the zone.
"It has helped his deception, command, and stuff as well. So lately, he has been 92-94 mph with his fastball. The last three outings have all been five-inning shutouts, so his last 15 innings, he hasn't given up a run. It's a credit to him. He was able to make an adjustment and take it right out to the mound."
Some mechanical issues are to be expected when a pitcher doesn't take the mound in a competitive situation for over two years. But Holman believes Hurley was running into some of the same problems in 2008, and he says that may have been what ultimately caused the shoulder problems.
"Not pitching for two years is obviously significant time off," he said. "But my understanding is that the same issue he was having with his front side is something he did in advance to his injuries. It actually may have had something to do with contributing to those injuries."
By the end of Hurley's six-start stint with the Rafters, he was showing above-average fastball velocity to go with a slider that improved with each outing.
The 6-foot-4, 195-pound hurler may be a long shot to reach the big leagues directly out of spring training, but Holman thinks he could see Arlington again at some point in 2011.
"Only time will tell, but I think as he logs some innings––that will be the first course of action with the amount of time he has had off," Holman said of Hurley's big league chances this season. "I think it's very realistic, especially with the way he is throwing the ball right now."
Also See: Rangers sending eight to Arizona Fall League (September 7, 2010)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Brad Holman (November 12, 2010)
Rangers Fall League Wrapup (December 2, 2010)
Mark Anderson's Top 20 Rangers Prospects (February 14, 2011)
Repertoire: Fastball, Slider, Splitter, Changeup.
Fastball: Prior to his shoulder surgery, Hurley had earned a reputation as a pitcher that picked up steam as the game progressed, and he generally ended up working in the low-to-mid 90s. He sat in the upper-80s during his first two Fall League starts earlier this offseason but showed improved velocity with each outing. Overall, Hurley ended up living between 90-93 mph and bumping 94 a few times per start.
His fastball has some heavy late movement when thrown down in the zone, although Hurley became home run-prone in '07 and '08 by leaving his fastball up too often. He surrendered 46 round-trippers between Double-A and the majors in those two seasons. He appeared to do a better job of keeping the ball down in his last four AFL starts––after the aforementioned mechanical adjustments were made.
Other Pitches: Hurley's slider has always been the more advanced of his secondary pitches, and it had gradually developed into a plus offering before his surgery. In one of his early AFL starts, ESPN.com's Jason Grey reported that the pitcher's slider was breaking out of his hand and lacked sharpness. But like his fastball, the 81-86 mph slider got a bit sharper with each outing. Not only did he begin throwing it for strikes with consistency, but it also started missing some bats. While only time will tell if the slider can become a plus pitch again, the early reports were positive. He had a little more trouble throwing his low-80s changeup for strikes, though it flashed average at times. The pitch f/x tracker indicates that Hurley began experimenting with an upper-80s splitter late in the campaign.
Projection: There are a few question marks surrounding Hurley, including durability and how his stuff will hold up over a full season. But he has shown––albeit in a small sample size––that the velocity and solid breaking ball are still in the tank. If he can remain healthy, he could at least land an eventual spot in the big league bullpen due to his plus fastball-slider combination. Hurley may still have a chance to stick as a back-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. At this point, not much is certain and the 2011 campaign will answer many of the questions.
2011 Outlook: Early reports out of spring training indicate that the 25-year-old is among the competitors for the Rangers' fifth starter spot. However, after missing over two years due to injuries, he is most likely to get his feet wet by opening the season at Triple-A Round Rock. While his future role is uncertain, he should at least begin 2011 in the Express' rotation. And if he continues to show 90-94 mph velocity with a promising slider, he could make an impact in Arlington this season.
|2004||AZL Rangers (RK)||0-1||15.1||20||4||15||2.35|
|2009||DNP – Injury||---||---||---||---||---||---|
|2010||DNP – Injury||---||---||---||---||---||---|
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