Wieland ready for new challenge

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – After dominating the Carolina League to the tune of a 2.10 ERA in 85.2 innings, right-hander Joe Wieland earned the promotion to Double-A Frisco. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 21-year-old prospect after his first start with the 'Riders.

Right-hander Joe Wieland recently earned a well-deserved promotion to Double-A Frisco. The prospect posted video game-like numbers at High-A Myrtle Beach, showing he was certainly ready for a new challenge.

In 14 games (13 starts) with the Pelicans, Wieland held a 2.10 earned-run average. He logged 85.2 innings, giving up 78 hits, walking four, and striking out 96. That's correct––he walked only four and fanned 96. At one point, Wieland faced 227 consecutive hitters without issuing a walk. His final 11 starts in High-A produced a 79:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

While Wieland will likely have a learning curve at the Double-A level, it's something he faced just last season. After posting a 3.14 ERA in 15 starts at Single-A Hickory last year, he earned a promotion to High-A Bakersfield.

In Wieland's first five starts with the Blaze, he posted the following line––26 ip, 42 h, 27 r, 5 bb, 29 k. Following the struggles, the Reno native began working lower in the zone with his fastball and began mixing in his curveball more often.

Wieland says that's when he really began learning how to pitch, and that is also when his curveball began to take off as a future plus pitch.

"That experience was huge," Wieland said earlier in the season. "That's when I learned to pitch. In Hickory, I felt like I knew something. I knew a little bit. But I was still learning quite a bit. And the second I got to Bakersfield, I was like, ‘Okay, there's a lot to learn.'

"That's when I started becoming an actual pitcher––not just a thrower. A lot of the guys in our system have said––(Rangers minor league pitching coordinator) Danny Clark said in spring training, ‘In Bakersfield, I felt like you learned how to pitch.' And I said, ‘That's exactly what I thought."

Because Wieland now better understands the value of within-the-zone fastball command at the upper levels, his adjustment period in the Texas League might not be quite as extreme. But he looks forward to the challenge of figuring out how to attack the more advanced Double-A hitters.

"Definitely," said Wieland when asked if he's looking forward to a new challenge. "That's going to help me develop even better out pitches. I have to get more consistent with that."

During the second half last season, the 6-foot-3, 175-pound hurler laid the groundwork for this year's statistical breakout. For the most part, Wieland's stuff is the same as last season. His ceiling isn't particularly higher. He has just developed as a pitcher, learning how to use his stuff.

The newly developed slider is one difference from last season. As Wieland explains in the following interview, he worked with Danny Clark and Mike Maddux on introducing a cut-slider into his repertoire during spring training. The pitch has developed into more of a true low-80s slider, and it has been a reliable offering all season.

The slider was a pitch Wieland used eight times in Monday's Double-A debut, and he even got a strikeout with it.

In that game––against the Corpus Christi Hooks––Wieland worked five innings, throwing 50 of his 72 pitches for strikes. He yielded one run while scattering six singles, striking out five without issuing a walk.

His velocity was perhaps a tick higher than normal in the debut, but either way it wasn't a large difference. Wieland generally throws his fastball anywhere between 87-93 mph, often sitting right in the middle. On Monday, he sat at 90-92 mph and reached 93 a handful of times.

His secondary stuff––the curveball and slider in particular––improved as the game progressed. Although Wieland commanded his fastball well through the outing, he had trouble putting hitters away in the early innings, as his curveball wasn't at its sharpest. But as the breaking balls improved, the strikeouts rolled in. He fanned four batters––all swinging––in his final two innings.

Wieland got his five strikeouts on the following pitches––92 mph fastball (looking; at knees and on outside corner), 78 mph curveball (swinging; buried in dirt), 92 mph fastball (swinging; climbed ladder), 83 mph sider (swinging; in dirt), 78 mph curveball (swinging; in dirt).

The prospect threw his curveball between 75-80 mph. Wieland's above-average curveball command––his ability to locate it both in and out of the strike zone when necessary––is certainly one of the primary factors behind his success this season.

He threw his slider for strikes seven of eight times at 81-83 mph and showed the confidence to use it in any count. Wieland also mixed in three 83-84 mph changeups. While the change had some fading action, he struggled to command it. His change shows average potential but is currently inconsistent, and he appears to be using it with a little less frequency since adding the slider.

As previously mentioned, Wieland figures to have an adjustment period in Double-A. Myrtle Beach's BB&T Coastal Field––and the Carolina League in general––especially awards strike-throwers because of its pitcher-friendly nature, but now Wieland moves into a more hitter-friendly environment.

While he will learn how to attack more mature hitters in Double-A, he should be able to make the adjustment. Wieland is a good athlete who repeats his delivery and throws strikes––he has all the ingredients for good command.

Wieland projects to have plus command and control of solid-average stuff at the end of the day. The stuff includes an upper-80s, low-90s fastball, a plus curveball, a solid-average slider, and a potentially average changeup.

He's still developing on the mound, but the stuff is close to being a finished product. For Wieland now, it's about continuing to learn about utilizing his four-pitch repertoire and attacking mature hitters.

Lone Star Dugout caught up with the hurler after his Double-A debut in Corpus Christi.

Jason Cole: First off, tell me about getting the promotion to Double-A. How did they tell you and what was going through your mind?

Joe Wieland: I was very excited, especially with having a good first half. I was ready for the challenge. Jason Wood called me in and he said, ‘I just got off the phone with (Jake) Krug. We've got to push your start back on Tuesday.' And then he was like, ‘Nah, I'm just kidding, you're going to Double-A. Congrats.'

So I was very excited and looking forward to it. That was my goal the whole offseason and in spring training––I wanted to get to Double-A. I was hoping to start there. But when I went to High-A, I was like, ‘Everything I'm going to do––my goal is to get to Double-A as quickly as I can.'

Cole: Did not getting there out of spring training add some motivation? Did you feel like you had something extra to prove?

Wieland: Definitely, it sure did. They explained why I didn't, and there was a good reason. But, at the same time, I felt like I deserved one of those spots. But looking back, it helped me out a lot more. They know best. Obviously what they did was right.

It got my confidence up. It allowed me to develop a new pitch––the slider. And, just overall, I felt like I learned to pitch a lot more. Last year, in Bakersfield, that's where I started to learn a lot. And going back with Brad (Holman) and working another half year with him was awesome. It just helped me out big time.

Cole: Tell me about the development of that slider. When did you add it and whose idea was it?

Wieland: It was D.C. (Danny Clark) and Mike Maddux. At the end of spring, they said, ‘Let's fool around with a cutter.' I threw it a little bit in bullpens––didn't throw it in games. And then in my first outing in Myrtle Beach, I threw it. And I was very surprised with how much of a feel I had with it at the beginning. I felt like I could command it––throw it for a strike, throw it for a ball. It's just a good pitch for me to throw against lefties––put it down in the zone and back foot.

Cole: How do you feel having a slider to put in the batter's mind has helped your fastball? The slider seems to play off the fastball very well.

Wieland: Huge. Because I get guys guessing on that pitch. That was the biggest thing––I didn't have anything that would go in on a lefty. That was why DC and them wanted me to throw it. Now I have something that I can run in on a lefty. It's big. Real big.

Cole: You said you started throwing the slider in your first start of the regular season. How long was it before you had the complete confidence to use it as a put-away pitch?

Wieland: To be honest with you, right away. I was very surprised. My first two or three outings with it, I didn't get a single guy to make contact with it. That's how surprised I was. I struggled in one outing, where I just had no feel for it. And Brad (Holman) said that was a good thing. It allowed me to find different ways to get guys out. I'm just real happy with it right now.

Cole: The ballpark here in Corpus Christi is probably a lot more hitter-friendly than anywhere in the Carolina League. From watching your first couple games here, what were your thoughts? Were you going to alter anything about the way you attack hitters?

Wieland: It was just not to leave anything up and over the middle of the plate. Because anything hit to left is probably going to go here. But, like you said, especially coming from Myrtle Beach where nothing leaves the park––it's a different challenge.

But I didn't change my game plan at all. To be honest, I might have stayed away from righties a little bit more. But I still attacked them the same way. I still used my offspeed pitches. Overall, it didn't really affect me.

Cole: Even though you're new here, did you guys talk about things like that as a pitching staff? Balls to right field seem to rarely leave the park in Corpus while it really flies in left.

Wieland: Yeah, we do. Especially with how the ball doesn't really go out to right here. That allows us to get in on lefties more. And we can stay away from righties. It's not like we're going to completely go away from our game plan. Because when you start doing that, that's when you get into trouble. To be honest, I'm a pitcher that likes to go in, and I'll still go in on righties––even if the wind is blowing out to left. As long as you make a good, quality pitch––execute your pitches––you shouldn't get hurt.

Cole: As you look back on your first Double-A start, what were your thoughts?

Wieland: It was a good outing. I felt like I located all my pitches. I got ahead. Overall, it was just a good outing and I was very happy with it.

Cole: After five innings and 72 pitches––which is probably a little bit below what you were throwing in Myrtle Beach––did you try to lobby for a little more time?

Wieland: No, they said they needed two of the bullpen guys to get innings in.

Cole: Because of the All-Star break?

Wieland: For the All-Star break, yeah. Or else they said they would have thrown me out there for a few more innings. I had no problem with that. At least I got five solid innings under my belt for my first start. So going into my next start, I'll have a good confidence builder here. Hopefully I can do the same thing then.

Cole: It seemed like your secondary stuff––particularly the slider and curveball––got a little sharper with each inning. Did you feel that was the case?

Wieland: Yeah, it did. To be honest, my first two curveballs I threw, I lost the grip. Right out of the hand, I knew it. They came up out of the hand rather than down. And, like I said, I knew right out of my hand that they were going to be hit. And they were both hit up the middle for base hits. But I kind of tightened my grip later on in the game, and that's why it was a little sharper and down in the zone.

Cole: You started throwing that slider early this season in Myrtle Beach. How far has the pitch come since you picked it up?

Wieland: It has come a long way. I can throw it in any count now. One of my last starts in Myrtle Beach––at Kinston––I was throwing it 3-1, 3-2, behind in the count, and any time. It was no different today. I might have thrown one for a ball today. But I was able to get ahead of guys.

Cole: You threw a handful of first-pitch sliders today, didn't you?

Wieland: Yeah, I threw it to Martinez a couple times on the first pitch. I think I got Altuve to ground out in the first. But today it was down in the zone. And when it's down in the zone, I get a lot of swings and misses or ground ball outs, and that's what happened today.

Cole: Is it gaining consistency with each outing? When I spoke to you in Wilmington, you said it was good that day but it had been a little hit-or-miss early on.

Wieland: Yeah, definitely. I'm just getting more and more comfortable with it. With pitching, that's basically everything––especially with your secondary pitches. The more comfortable and more consistent you get, the better you're going to feel. And that's how I've been feeling lately with that pitch. I'm confidence and I've been throwing it consistently for strikes.

Cole: At one point this season, you faced 227 consecutive batters without issuing a walk. That streak ended with a seventh-inning walk back on June 7. I'm sure you were thinking about the streak at times. Was it somewhat of a relief to get that out of the way?

Wieland: To be honest, I was upset at myself. The game that it happened, and in the game before, I had gotten into a lot of three-ball counts. A lot more than I am used to and would like to. I eventually walked a guy, and I was definitely frustrated. Even though it ended the streak, I still don't like to walk guys. Honestly, I'd prefer to have that streak in-tact. I didn't really think about it that much, but it eventually had to end.

Cole: Earlier you said that you felt you'd really learned how to pitch this year. What exactly goes into that?

Wieland: Certain counts––throwing pitches in certain counts. Last year, when I got moved up to Bakersfield, I tried continually throwing fastballs in 0-2 and 1-2 counts. And hitters were just fouling them off until I made a mistake, and I was getting beat.

It doesn't sound like a lot, but I walked 20-something guys last year. And the difference is that when you put a guy on base, that base hit or double scores a run. Whereas when nobody is on base, it's just a base hit or a double. Learning from Bill Haselman and Brad Holman last year helped me out a lot.

Getting ahead of guys and staying down in the zone has been the biggest thing. I'm two different pitchers––when I'm up in the zone, I get hit. My misses start getting side-to-side. But when I'm down in the zone, I have sink and I get ground balls and swings and misses. Overall, it has just been the consistency. It has been developing the confidence and what-not. It has just helped me out quite a bit.

Cole: Have you had to work through anything mechanically this year?

Wieland: If it's mechanical, it's when I'm out of the stretch. I tend to get a little quick. Because I always slide-step––I've always been a guy that slide-steps. At times, I'll rush the slide-step to where I'm already going and my arm is behind. That causes the ball to stay up in the zone.

If there's anything mechanical, that's the one thing. Brad was really harping on me about that earlier this year. At times, there would be an inning or two in a game when I'd suddenly get too quick and the ball started getting up in the zone. That was definitely a big focus when I was in Myrtle.

Cole: While you're here in Double-A, what aspect of your game would you like to really focus on improving?

Wieland: I'm looking forward to working with Jeff (Andrews). I can't wait to work with him. He has got a lot to offer. But, tonight, I noticed there were a lot of times that guys either took a good curveball that in Myrtle, it would have been swung at––or they're taking fastballs that are an inch or two off the plate for balls.

I just need to work on that out pitch––developing a pitch that is going to work here. That was another thing that Brad told me. He said that it might be working there, but that doesn't mean it's going to work at the Double-A level. I've just got to develop and get more consistent with out pitches. And, as you said earlier, my curveball tonight became more of an out pitch later on in the game as I developed it.

Cole: When Erlin came up to Double-A about a month ago, he commented that there were lots of guys laying off close pitches and staying in the box with two-strike foul balls. Did you talk to him or any others that came up from Myrtle Beach about attacking hitters in Double-A?

Wieland: Yeah, I talked to him and I talked to Tufts. They honestly said that when you get to two strikes, a lot of times the hitters are sitting offspeed––especially certain teams. You can attack them 0-2 or 1-2 with the fastball, and you're going to catch them looking offspeed.

I noticed tonight that I probably had four or five 0-2 or 1-2 counts, and I felt like I threw a very quality pitch that––in Myrtle––would have gotten the strikeout. But tonight it was a groundout or a flyout. I'm fine with that––that's what I want––but now I come from striking out a whole bunch of people to all the sudden those guys putting that pitch in play.

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