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

FRISCO, Texas – While in Frisco for a recent game against Arkansas, Lone Star Dugout's Jason Cole sat down with Texas Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark to discuss some of the organization's prospects. In part one of this two-part series, Clark talks about Justin Grimm, Cody Buckel, and three young Single-A Hickory hurlers.

Jason Cole: Justin Grimm spent almost all of spring training on the big-league side, so you didn't work with him much during camp. He started out rough but began to get back on the right track in his last couple outings. Did you see him at all?

Danny Clark: I did see him towards the end of spring training, because obviously he was on the major league side. But I did hear some good things about Justin––that he was starting to develop there at the very end.

Obviously the one start in Round Rock––it sounded like he was starting to define his delivery a little bit. And then I saw on TV a couple innings the other night, and he was more jumping at the zone again. It wasn't––you didn't see his front foot get down before he was ready to go to the plate.

It's going to take some time. I think that's one of the things that we've discussed internally with Justin. He really escalated himself to Double-A last year, and then he made kind of a spot start. He really still needs some seasoning before it's quite ready. But I was okay with it. I thought it was an efficient job. It wasn't an outstanding outing, but at least he kept us in the game.

Cole: Grimm is a guy who can run into issues when he leaves his four-seam fastball over the plate because, despite the velocity, it doesn't have a lot of life. He'll show a two-seam fastball with very good run and sink on occasion. Do you think that two-seamer will be a bigger part of his repertoire in the future?

Clark: I think the two-seamer is a very important pitch for him, and I think the slider is a very important pitch for him. I think he's going to have the potential to be a four-pitch mix pitcher. But I think the two-seam, for me, is going to induce a lot of ground balls. And that's part of what I think Justin is going to develop into. So in return, it's something that has to really come along.

Cole: And I guess that's something that, when the Rangers' rotation is at full strength, Grimm can work on in Triple-A.

Clark: Yeah, that's what we hope in due time. Hopefully he's ready––my ideal is for him to be ready in June or July as an option. But obviously things happen, and we have to make adjustments as we go.

Cole: Cody Buckel struggled with the strike zone in big league camp, and he's had some pretty serious control issues in his first two regular-season starts. What do you see that's leading to those problems?

Clark: Cody––we had a bullpen today. It was actually on the game mound with hitters. He did his side on that. We really––one of the things is his balance in his delivery. He's really pulling really early. We're trying to get him to understand getting him back to where he feels his delivery.

He has a very good idea of who he is mechanically, and this is really the first time in his professional career that he's had any struggles. So I'm not alarmed by it. I think, in some ways, it could be a blessing in disguise. Because it's going to allow him to take a step back and reevaluate some things––define some of the things that makes his delivery synch up. And one of those things is his hands. As long as we can continue to have his hands staying back in his delivery, then it allows his front foot to get down, and he doesn't really pull too prematurely.

Cole: Buckel started doing that a little bit on the major league side this spring. When he initially went back to minor league camp, was he struggling with that at all?

Clark: The first time back, he had a really good outing there against Kansas City at home for three or four innings. Then you could see it start to unravel a little bit towards the end. Cody obviously is a perfectionist, so we really have to monitor how he evolves his mindset.

So we did see signs of it, but we didn't know yet––going out of spring training, you never know what happens when you get to an affiliate. So it's going to take some time. But I'm encouraged by what I saw today. We had a really good conversation yesterday––a couple hour conversation. He really opened up. I think it's going in the right direction.

Cole: You jumped right-handers Kelvin Vasquez and Jose Leclerc basically straight from the Dominican Summer League to Single-A Hickory. Can you talk about the decision to aggressively promote those two?

Clark: I think with Kelvin Vasquez, one of the things I saw in the Dominican last summer––obviously he's an older pitcher, or at least older for the DSL. I saw him be able to have two pitches that had some consistency in the zone––his fastball and his slider. His arm path is a repeatable arm path.

And so he had an opportunity to succeed, and I thought he had a good spring training. I thought he earned that job. Obviously we will have to monitor his innings as he develops this year. But I just felt like he earned the right. That's the good thing about this organization––if you earn it, you go.

With Leclerc, he's obviously a high velocity guy. We had to go back and forth. Do we keep him in Arizona as a starter? Do we send him to Hickory maybe as a reliever, where we monitor the innings early and then maybe flip him to a starter? I just think that Leclerc––one of the things with Jose––is that he has got a lightning fastball. It's going to take some time. You're going to see the tendencies of most A-ball guys, where it's good game, bad game––the inconsistencies that happen. We're okay to weather that storm.

Cole: Jose Valdespina is a guy who can flash some electric stuff at times. Did you guys lower his arm slot just a little bit?

Clark: No, I think it's naturally what happened. Jose––his first outing in Hickory, I was there. He has the mindset of, ‘I want to throw strikes.' Well, I want Jose to throw hard. The strikes will evolve one day. But I want him to be aggressive on the mound.

And so in his last two outings, he has had two two-inning stints, and I have really been pleased. The velocity has jumped back up to 95-96 mph. The arm slot––unfortunately he's a very long-armed guy. And if his delivery is not exactly in-synch, then it gets really long in a lot of areas.

Cole: Valdespina is a guy who, when he showed up in pro ball, he couldn't spin a breaking ball at all. It has gradually gotten better. What are your feelings on where the breaker stands right now?

Clark: First of all, when he first came in, we continued to try and develop a curveball. We eventually made a decision to just go straight slider, because his hand speed really is more conducive for a slider. If you see his hands, he has very large hands.

He just really never got a feel for a curveball. The slider has progressively gotten better. It still needs improvement, but we are seeing the right spin––it's just not having the right tilt to it right now. So I'm very pleased with what Jose has done. I still see him as somewhat of a starter. Sometime in Hickory this year, you'll probably see him starting.

Cole: With the overall profile and what you just said, do you think Valdespina will be a candidate to add a splitter down the line?

Clark: Yeah, obviously with the hand size and the slot of where he throws from––I think it is very conducive to being able to go with the split. Yes, I do see that at some point in time.

Cole: The splitter has a reputation as a pitcher that can put extra stress on a pitcher's shoulder. Is that why you often hold off on giving it to a pitcher until they reach the upper levels?

Clark: More importantly, with that, is that I want him to be able to command his fastball first. I don't want to put three items in there, because he's already trying to command his fastball, and he is also trying to develop a slider. We don't need to put another toy in his hand, and now he has got three things to work on. And so we try to simplify it until he shows he is able to conquer certain things.

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