Edwards getting second life in pro ball

SURPRISE, Ariz. – After playing parts of five seasons as an outfielder in the St. Louis Cardinals' organization, right-hander Jon Edwards is getting an opportunity with the Rangers as a relief pitcher. Lone Star Dugout features the 24-year-old Metroplex native, who is flashing plus velocity.

When the Texas Rangers signed right-handed pitcher Jon Edwards to a minor league contract this offseason, the Metroplex native got a second life in professional baseball.

A product of Keller High School, Edwards was initially selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 14th round of the 2006 MLB Draft––as an outfielder. He played parts of five minor league seasons with the Cards between rookie-level Johnson City and Single-A Quad Cities.

While the 6-foot-5, 230-pound outfielder flashed plenty of raw power––he posted a .289/.390/.517 slash line with 10 homers in 53 games between short-season Batavia and Quad Cities in '08––he struggled to make contact and hit just .239 with a 31 percent strikeout rate for his minor league career.

After being released by the Cardinals, Edwards caught on with the independent San Angelo Colts of the North American League. Appearing in 23 games, he went 17-for-75 (.227) with three doubles and five home runs.

Following his up-and-down stint with the Colts, the strong-armed outfielder decided to give pitching a shot. As Edwards explains in the following interview, he always had a plus arm from the outfield and knew that pitching could be in his future if hitting didn't work out. He finished the season on the mound for Alpine of the independent Pecos League, tossing two hitless, scoreless innings while walking two and striking out three.

Edwards' abbreviated first stint as a pitcher was cut short due to a groin injury, he says. The right-hander then returned home and began working out at the baseball facility owned by Rangers' roving minor league hitting coach Luis Ortiz.

Flashing a fastball that touched 96 mph out of his big 6-foot-5 frame, Edwards attracted the attention of Ortiz, who called in some Rangers personnel to watch the hurler throw on the side. Among the scouts present was Bobby Crook, the club's manager of amateur scouting.

The Rangers liked what they saw out of Edwards enough to give him a minor league deal the next day.

The 24-year-old is currently at Rangers' camp in Surprise, and he's beginning to pitch in minor league games this spring. In Edwards' first spring training appearance, he worked a quick 1-2-3 inning in a High-A game, throwing seven of his 11 pitches for strikes while working between 92-94 mph with a sharp 77-78 mph curveball. He has a strong, fast arm and works from a high over-the-top arm slot.

The following is his chart from the appearance. B (ball), C (called strike), S (swinging strike), F (foul ball), FB (fastball), CB (curveball):

–93 FBC, 93 FB – groundout to second base
–94 FBB, 93 FBF, 78 CBC, 94 FBB, 92 FBC – strikeout looking
–77 CBB, 92 FBS, 92 FBB, 92 FB – flyout to center

Edwards bumped 95-96 mph both with Alpine last year and while working out in the offseason. His upper-70s curveball is a true 12-to-6 breaker with tight spin and good depth. Though it's difficult to judge because he only threw two in the short inning, the first breaker was a sharp swing-and-miss pitch––it appears to be a mature offering despite his lack of experience on the mound.

As is the case with just about any conversion project, Edwards may be a long shot to reach the major leagues, but he appears to have an arm capable of doing it with a mid-90s fastball and potential plus breaker.

In his second spring outing, he didn't have quite the same velocity and worked at 88-90 mph, though his fastball has some life and weight that should help him miss barrels.

Only time will tell what the Rangers choose to do with Edwards when camp breaks just over a week from now. He could begin the season by getting more experience in extended spring training, but he appears to be at least somewhat polished with mature stuff, and the Rangers may want to push him due to his age.

Lone Star Dugout caught up with Edwards following his first appearance of the spring.

Prospect Video:

Jon Edwards warms up (best viewed in full screen and HD).

Jason Cole: Tell me about your first spring outing. I know you got a quick scoreless inning.

Jon Edwards: Yeah, it was good. I was excited. I was just trying to not do too much––just go out and throw the ball like any other day. I was just trying to make it easy on myself and know that I've got a defense out there and that sort of thing.

Cole: Coming into this season, how much have you pitched in the past?

Edwards: I pitched a little bit last year at the end of the year. I threw three innings. And then I pitched when I was maybe 14 or so.

Cole: So you didn't pitch in high school?

Edwards: No, I didn't. Not really. I mean, I may have pitched an inning here or there, but I didn't––not really.

Cole: You're from the Dallas area, right?

Edwards: Yeah, I went to Keller High School.

Cole: I assume you grew up following the Rangers, then.

Edwards: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. We played a high school game there every year.

Cole: You were playing in independent ball last season, but you started as a hitter.

Edwards: Yeah. I went out and threw a bullpen early on, as well as hitting. But the manager there really wanted to see me play the outfield and let me hit. So I did it for awhile. Then I came back and threw another bullpen later in the season and just let a few go. I was throwing pretty good, so I ended up just going with the pitching route and trying that out. I'm having a lot of fun with it.

Cole: You were with two different independent clubs last year, right?

Edwards: Yeah. Right after I started pitching, they sent me to Alpine. And I went there to get some innings. Then I was going to come back, but I ended up having a little bit of a setback with an injury to my groin, so I ended up coming home after three outings.

Cole: Talk to me about that transition. How exactly did it come about? Was it your idea or did somebody approach you with it?

Edwards: It really was just something that––I always threw well from the outfield, so it was kind of something that I had in the back of my mind. I felt good about it. I got on the mound and just kind of played around with it a little bit and things felt good. I just went for it.

Everything has been really smooth. I haven't had any trouble other than just having that little groin issue. That was it. But I mean that's taken care of, and that's good. Everything else has been good.

Cole: I want to talk about your curveball. You threw two in your first outing, and the first one was particularly sharp. Was that something you'd always kind of toyed around with even as a position player?

Edwards: I learned that when I was a kid, and I've just always been able to throw it. I learned it––I had a pitching coach when I was younger named Mike Bacsik. He was a big league guy. And he taught that to me when I was a kid, and I just kind of had a good feel for it and it just stuck. So I came out, started pitching, and still had it.

Cole: As a fastball-curveball reliever, do you ever mix in any changeups at all?

Edwards: Yeah, well I just started playing with one. I threw one the other day in a live BP for the first time, and it went really well. I was learning some two-seam stuff this offseason––kind of working on some stuff and trying to get some sink, too. Some stuff like that.

Cole: You went from those three innings in Alpine to getting signed by the Rangers as a pitcher and getting a second shot in pro ball. Tell me about the process that led to you getting picked up by your hometown team.

Edwards: Wow. I went home and I had to rest for awhile. I rested for awhile, and then I started throwing with a buddy of mine. And honestly it was really just a God thing––the whole thing and the way it came together.

A good friend of mine is Luis Ortiz, the hitting coach. And he saw me throw a little bit one day. He said some stuff. I guess he'd seen some guys and said, ‘Hey, you've got to come watch this guy throw.' Sure enough, these guys came and watched me throw and things went well. I ended up signing the next day. I couldn't even tell you. That's just kind of the way it went together. Like I said, it was a God thing.

Cole: Before you got noticed by Luis and the Rangers, did you have plans of contacting teams and trying to throw some bullpens for different clubs?

Edwards: Oh yeah, absolutely. I was really wanting to play. That's another reason why. I really wanted to play baseball still after I got released from the Cardinals, and so pitching was––whatever I could do to open up opportunity, I wanted to do that.

But I really liked pitching. I never really went for it early on because I wanted to try and stick it out with hitting and see how far that would take me. But I really like pitching. I have a lot of fun doing it.

Cole: Did you always know that, if the hitting didn't work out, you would ultimately move to the mound?

Edwards: Yeah, sure. I kind of had that idea. I mean, I knew I threw well enough to do it. I just had to get on the mound and see how it went. Things really transitioned well for me. It felt good.

Cole: When you're working with your pitching coaches out here, what are some of the things you're focusing on most as a guy who has just about three game innings of pitching experience?

Edwards: I keep it really simple. For the most part, I'm just keeping my weight balanced. One of the things we worked on was timing––just making sure my front foot was landing before I was trying to throw.

Other than that, everything has been pretty good. They've just been letting me throw and watching me. They might throw a few little things at me, but everything has been pretty consistent. Just stay back and get your hand on top of the ball.

Cole: As you look forward to the remainder of your spring and the regular season, is there anything that you look at and really want to improve?

Edwards: I wouldn't say anything specific because I'm always looking to improve every part of my game. Whatever I can do to help the team win. When I get out there, it's about helping my team win, so I want to be the best I can at everything I do out there on the field so I can give us the best opportunity to win.

Cole: With such little experience on the mound, do you have any idea––once spring training breaks––where you're going to go?

Edwards: I really don't. I'm just believing for God's best. Then I'll just go do my thing.

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