Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Danny Clark (Part 1)

FRISCO, Texas – Right-hander Cody Buckel made his Double-A debut on Sunday evening, and Neil Ramirez will come down from Triple-A to start for the RoughRiders on Monday. Lone Star Dugout talked about both prospects with Texas Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark in part one of this two-part interview.

Jason Cole: What were your general thoughts on Cody Buckel's first Double-A start?

Danny Clark: I thought he had good composure, first of all. The biggest disappointment, I think, was just that he never worked ahead of hitters. He never got strike one. He was, I think, six for 19 in first-pitch strikes. So it put him behind the eight ball, trying to be too fine with his pitches in early counts. I think that got him in trouble.

Obviously his fourth inning was his best inning. He never seemed to have command of his curveball––it was a really deep release. It was encouraging, more than anything, that he competed and he didn't give in during the first couple innings when he easily could have.

Cole: Buckel was obviously fantastic in Myrtle Beach, allowing fewer runs than games started. In what areas has he developed most this season?

Clark: I think Cody has always been a mature kid for his age. Baseball maturity-wise, he has shown a lot of progression over the last year and a half. Cody is a pitching coach's dream from the standpoint that he always has a lot of preparation before he starts.

He's always doing the little things to help him become better. So from a pitching coach's standpoint, we just get out of his way. We try to talk about pitch sequences, and we try to talk about things––more of the fine-tuning of the game. But delivery-wise, he is who he is.

Cole: I don't want to compare these two because their games on the mound are quite different, but is Buckel a little bit like Robbie Erlin when it comes to the mature mental approach for a younger guy?

Clark: Yeah, very cerebral-type mindsets. Both of them have that type of mindset. They're both thinkers out there. They do have the same type of qualities. Obviously they're different pitchers with different styles, but I do see some similarities there.

Cole: Buckel has started throwing the pitch he calls a reverse slider, and he mixed in a few of those tonight. What exactly is it in your eyes? What are your thoughts on it?

Clark: I see it more as a changeup. I do see a little more fade action than more of a screwball action––basically a backup slider. I see more of a changeup action.

Cole: Having just turned 20 years of age, Buckel already works with a five or six-pitch repertoire. Tell me about the challenges that presents for a young guy when it comes to maintaining and improving all of them at once. And to do that at such a young age, do you need to have more of a cerebral approach?

Clark: I think so. First of all, as we get into the higher levels and obviously getting to Double-A––I think, in due time, we'll find out. That's what I told him tonight. I said, ‘We've got to make sure that we command our fastball.' It's okay to have three, four, or five different pitches. But if we don't command our fastball––especially to the glove side––and we don't get strike one, then really the other pitches don't come into play.

Cole: Earlier this season, Buckel split his cutter and slider into two separate pitches. What are your thoughts on that?

Clark: Yeah. The cutter, to me, I thought was his most effective secondary pitch tonight. But the slider, to me, is a pitch that I see blend in with the cutter. I don't see a really defined difference at this point right now. You'll see it a lot of times in the bullpens, but I haven't seen it obviously play out in the games––which I'm not with him every day, either.

Cole: Neil Ramirez is starting for Frisco on Monday. He's been through the well-documented struggles in Round Rock. What are you looking to see out of him tomorrow?

Clark: I'm seeing, number one, to get deeper into the game. The last three days, when he got here to Frisco, Neil has worked on changing a couple of things mechanically. He's worked on getting his lower half more into it and getting his load into his lower half. And then, obviously, taking his front side––he feels like he's pulling really quick. We feel like that maybe has contributed to some of his velocity decrease. And then there's the overall angle of his fastball.

I think Neil is ready. I know he has accepted the challenge of coming back. Basically, kind of the selling point in his mindset is that it's taking two steps back to take one step forward. And we really think that, in the long term, this is what's best for his development. It's a chance for him to be able to––the Triple-A level and being in Round Rock, obviously a lot more eyes are on him. It's just basically time to take a step back. But I think he's up for the challenge. He's excited, and he's working just as hard as he always has worked.

Cole: Is it difficult to develop when you're struggling as consistently as he was? And does it start to weigh on your mind a little bit?

Clark: I think, more importantly, the development comes when you're able to pitch innings. You've got to be pitching innings. And he was getting 3.1 or 4 innings. He was getting such a high pitch count that the development process was stagnant. It basically did not allow it to continue on.

If we could've gotten him into the sixth or seventh inning in some starts, I think we would've been more apt to maybe leave him there and see if it'll play out. But I think Neil has got a bright future, and Neil knows that. He understands where he's at. He has accepted the challenge.

Cole: The curveball hasn't really been there for Ramirez lately, but he's picked up the slider and has been using it as his primary breaking ball. What are your thoughts on the slider and where it's at developmentally?

Clark: I think his slider, developmentally––I think obviously he has taken it into the games, and we're seeing it. Terry Clark, the pitching coach in Round Rock––he and I were talking about how much progress he's made with it over the last three or four starts.

I talked to Neil today and said that I still want the curveball. Because his curveball was showing a lot of times as a plus pitch. And I don't want him to just basically disregard it because the slider is coming along. I feel like both of them are just as important, and I don't want one to outweigh the other.

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