Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Danny Clark (Part 2)

A 48th-round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, right-hander C.J. Edwards has broken out this season, flashing a fastball that touches 96 mph and posting a 1.48 ERA at the short-season levels. Lone Star Dugout spoke with Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark about Edwards and a handful of other prospects in part two of this two-part interview.

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

Jason Cole: Matt West had Tommy John surgery earlier this week. Can you go through the process there in terms of what ultimately led to the decision for him to go under the knife?

Danny Clark: Matt obviously came out of spring training, where he had basically strained it. The doctors and our medical staff didn't feel like it was, at the time, where we felt like he needed the surgery. When he came back to Myrtle Beach, he said he kept feeling something in his elbow.

We went and got a second––basically got a new MRI with Dr. Meister. And then obviously when Dr. Meister went in and looked at his elbow, he felt we needed to––and I would reckon he talked with Matt––he and Matt decided that they wanted to go ahead with it.

Cole: After getting on the mound late in spring training last season, West was a fast riser who earned a spot on the 40-man roster. This entire season has obviously been rough for him from all aspects. In facing both this year of setbacks and the rehab process through this offseason and next year, how much of a challenge will that be for him?

Clark: I think it's going to be an advantage for Matt. When we flipped him to a pitcher last year, he was basically just picking the ball up and throwing it as a third baseman. To be able to get him to understand his body, to get to understand the throwing program––basically being able to take it at a slower pace and being able to learn things as he goes to being a complete pitcher.

I think it's going to help him in the long run. Obviously I know Matt is frustrated right now, and rightfully so. But in the same regard, I think if he takes the rehab the way we hope he takes it, then I think it's actually going to bring him back as a better, complete pitcher.

Cole: David Perez is another pitcher who recently underwent Tommy John surgery. Going back to last season, he was fantastic in extended spring training before hitting sort of a wall with Spokane. When that happened, was it due to an injury or was it more mental?

Clark: I think last year was more mental. I didn't really see the physical side coming. He was starting to make slow progress. He had a rough extended. We tried to back him down from his velocity and really concentrate on commanding the baseball. I thought he bought into that. I thought we were on the right track, and then obviously it's unfortunate for David and the organization because I did think he was making some small steps going in the right direction.

Cole: C.J. Edwards has busted out in a big way between the two short-season levels. Talk about him as a prospect and what he brings to the table. Has he been a bit of a surprise for you?

Clark: Well, obviously with the round he got drafted in––Chris Kemp, our scout in that area, has done a really good job locating him.

C.J. has got two ingredients that everybody looks for in pitchers. Number one, he can really spin a curveball. He has a natural rotation to it. It's a very tight spin. And for a guy of his size, to be able to show the velocity––it has increased over the last year.

It has been very encouraging to watch him. He's eager to learn. The biggest thing for C.J. in this offseason coming up is just trying to gain weight so he can handle the full season next year. I think the sky is the limit for this young man.

Cole: During spring training, Edwards could start innings by working at 92 mph but would lose significant velocity before the end of one inning. It seems that, as the year has progressed, he's done a better job of not only topping higher than 92, but also holding velocity with more consistency. How much stronger has he gotten during the course of this season?

Clark: Starting off, he was a guy that was in the discussion to maybe send out early and then go on to Spokane. But we held him back in Arizona to make sure that we protected him. Obviously he doesn't have a lot of innings on him coming out of high school. He wasn't a guy that was at a lot of showcases and that sort of stuff. He didn't have a lot of innings, so we felt like we protected him. I think it has helped him––especially here at the end––as far as finishing up a good year in Spokane.

Cole: Because Edwards didn't have lots of experience out of high school, as you mentioned, was letting him gain confidence part of holding him back in Arizona through extended spring?

Clark: I think the confidence factor is good with C.J. I think it was more just learning how to do sides in between outings, what conditioning requires, what long toss––he had never really done a lot of long toss. It was a lot of the things that goes into it––lifting weights as well. He had never really lifted weights. And it was just making sure that we had a good foundation before we went into the full season.

Cole: Keone Kela has shown some good stuff in Arizona thus far. What are your thoughts on his first taste of pro ball?

Clark: Just the initial reaction––basically I saw him one time about four weeks ago. He shows a really good arm action. He really has a fairly clean delivery for a guy that has not pitched a whole lot. And then obviously he has got really good arm strength. I think that's the encouraging part.

I'm really excited to get him into instructional league, get our arms around him, and get really digging into more about who he is and what he's about as far as pitching goes. But I really like everything about him. He has got a very good head on his shoulders, and he is really eager to learn. So I think we're going to see a lot of good things out of this guy.

Cole: You may not know the answer to this yet, having only been in Arizona briefly and seeing him just once. But given Kela's arm strength, is he the type of guy who has a chance to work in a starting role in the lower minors?

Clark: I think that decision will be made at instructs. That's one of the things I want him––we're going to experiment as far as starting in instructs. It's just to allow him to give us a feel of what it is and give him a feel of what it is. Because he was basically an outfielder in junior college and basically he would come in and pitch.

Cole: I saw Neil Ramirez in San Antonio a couple days ago. While there were still some inconsistencies there, it seemed like his stuff was better. He also looked healthy. How do you rate his progress since returning to Double-A?

We were hoping for a little bit more progress out of Neil by this time of the year. But the biggest thing right now is that he's healthy. In his last start, he was up to 97 mph, and we haven't seen that in awhile. So we're hoping that maybe he has turned a corner. Every pitcher is on a different clock. Just because he had two or three months that weren't to his liking, that doesn't mean that we've lost trust or we've lost faith in Neil.

Cole: Ramirez's curveball was a plus pitch for much of last season, but he has struggled with it this year. He's also introduced a slider into his arsenal this season. While he was in Triple-A, was it difficult for him to keep from throwing the slider in place of his scuffling curveball?

Clark: I think at the time Neil physically, when he was in Round Rock, he would say that he didn't feel comfortable with a certain pitch as far as his arm goes. It would kind of come and go. It's hard to say because one day his curveball would be good, and then his slider would. It would kind of go back and forth for awhile.

I think when we come back into spring training, it'll be what he feels more comfortable with––when we get into spring training. I've encouraged him to continue to throw both and not just shelf one because we've all seen his curveball as a plus curveball a couple years ago––and even in Triple-A last year he would show signs of it. The puzzle has just not quite been completed, but I really feel that it's getting close.

Cole: The last guy I want to ask you about is Joe Ortiz, who has quietly worked his way up to Triple-A over the last few seasons. As a 5-foot-7 lefty reliever, he has pitched well and showed pretty good stuff at every level. Has his stuff even improved a little bit this year for you?

Clark: I think his slider has tightened up. Terry Clark, the pitching coach there, has really done a good job with his slider. He got a little bit of a minor grip adjustment, and it has really seemed to help Joey.

The good thing with Joey is that, number one, he's durable––at least this year he has been durable. And number two, he can throw his slider in any count to right-handed hitters or left-handed hitters. And he gets good results out of it. With that being the case, I would like to see them keep pushing Joey because he proves at every level that he can get guys out.

Cole: Despite being young, he's a guy who has played winterball in Venezuela as a lefty specialist for the last four or five years. How much of a factor is that experience in his willingness to attack and overall toughness that he pitches with?

Clark: And his background––he comes from a tough background, and he has overcome a lot of obstacles. And then obviously being the size that he is, he's always up against a lot of people who are a lot bigger than him.

I think Joey takes the right attitude against it. He fears no one. And I think playing winterball and being exposed against some higher quality hitters has really helped his maturity level and his growth as a pitcher.

Cole: This is another question that you may not know the answer to, but do you think Ortiz might be in the mix for a potential September call-up?

Clark: I think he would be in the mix just being a lefty guy out of the bullpen. With Robbie and Kirkman there, I would think Joey would be in the conversation. I would also think Neal Cotts would be in the conversation.

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