Laughter on the fast track

CORPUS CHRISTI - Reliever Andrew Laughter accumulated just 47.1 innings pitched before reaching Double-A Frisco. Lone Star Dugout spoke with last year's 10th round pick a day after his first Texas League outing.

At the time of the 2007 MLB Draft, few would have guessed that Andrew Laughter – a 10th round pick from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette – would be the first player from the Rangers' impressive draft class to reach the Double-A level.

Laughter made his pro debut with short-season Spokane last summer, posting 11 saves with a 2.03 ERA in 31 innings. Laughter walked just four batters while fanning 32 over that span.

Despite his dominance of the Northwest League in 2007, Laughter says he was just happy to make a full-season club out of spring training.

"In spring training," said Laughter, "you go in there and try to earn a spot. I was just happy to break with a team. After that, you just go out there and try to win ballgames and pitch the best you can."

The 6-foot-4, 227-pound hurler pitched well enough in spring training to skip the low Single-A level. The Rangers had Laughter open the season as High-A Bakersfield's closer, where he immediately shined. In 16.1 innings with the club, Laughter did not allow an earned run.

"Everything was working for me," said Laughter of his performance with Bakersfield. "I was throwing a lot of strikes. I felt great. My velocity was real good and everything was working real well."

Laughter's ability to throw strikes when needed enabled him to focus on throwing his offspeed stuff in any count.

"[In Bakersfield] I had pretty good command of my fastball," he said, "so we started to work a little more on throwing my offspeed pitches behind in the count, like a 1-0 slider or something like that."

The California League is notorious for its hitter-friendly ballparks and jet streams. Some pitchers can be affected by the centerfield fence at Bakersfield's Sam Lynn Park, which sits just 354 feet away from home plate. Fortunately, Laughter was not one of those pitchers.

"The first thing they tell you when you get to Bakersfield is that it plays a lot bigger than it really is," said the 23-year-old. "And it does. The ball doesn't really get out there that well.

"As far as the Cal League, the way I felt was that they still had to hit the ball out of the park. As long as I'm throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters, then they were going to have a tough time getting to me."

Laughter's excellent control and tough demeanor on the mound led the Rangers to challenge him by promoting him to the Double-A Texas League just over one month into his first full season. Even though he appeared to be too advanced for High-A ball, Laughter was surprised to be sent up so quickly.

"Going into this year, it was my first full season," Laughter said. "I was going well in Bakersfield, but I thought they were going to want me to pay my time there, keep going, and spend the entire year there. I was definitely surprised [to be promoted]."

The reliever was able to make his Double-A debut during the ninth inning of what was a 12-6 Frisco lead over the Corpus Christi Hooks. His first pitch with the ‘Riders was a 92 mph fastball that Astros prospect Eli Iorg bounced towards third base, but Emerson Frostad booted the ball.

Laughter then coaxed a flyout on a 93 mph fastball before walking leadoff hitter Drew Sutton on five pitches. After getting a groundout on a 90 mph sinker, the Florida native gave up a two-RBI double to centerfielder Mitch Einertson.

With cleanup hitter Ole Sheldon at the plate, Laughter threw six consecutive fastballs – ranging between 91-93 mph – and walked him on a 3-2 pitch. Because a couple of the balls could be considered borderline pitches, pitching coach Terry Clark went out help reassure his reliever.

"He told me to go right after the guy because I had been making good pitches that inning but I wasn't getting much help from the umpires," replied Laugher when asked what Clark told him on the mound. "He said to go right after this guy and get him out."

Laughter did just that, eventually retiring Ray Sadler on a flyout to right field. The right-hander mixed in a pair of 85 mph sliders to the veteran, but ultimately got him on a 92 mph fastball.

Although it wasn't a picture perfect outing, Laughter had escaped his first Double-A appearance without allowing an earned run. The prospect had some trouble with command, an issue that was likely a product of some first-outing jitters.

"I was a little nervous out there," admitted Laughter afterwards. "I was calm and confident, but at the same time it's a different league, different team, and a different kind of atmosphere. I hadn't thrown in front of that many people in awhile.

"It's going to take a little bit to get accustomed to but I think I'll be alright."

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