Rangers pitching prospect Tommy Hunter made his Double-A debut with the Frisco RoughRiders on Monday afternoon.
The former University of Alabama standout was in control from the game's first pitch, firing seven strong innings. The strike-throwing Hunter did not issue a walk and only had one three ball count.
Hunter's fastball sat in the 90-92 mph range, occasionally dipping down into the upper-80s and occasionally topping out at 93-94. He did a good job of working both corners of the plate while generally keeping the ball low in the zone.
But the 21-year-old also threw a lot of offspeed pitches. Hunter had excellent control of his plus curveball. Of the 32 times he threw it, 25 of them dropped in for strikes. He has a unique curveball in that he can add and subtract speed from it depending on the situation. Hunter's curveball was clocked anywhere between 76-81 mph. His slower curves have more of a 12-to-6 break while the harder ones are sharper, almost like a slider.
As Hunter points out below, he threw 12 changeups on the afternoon. The right-hander rarely – if ever – threw a changeup in college and he is still learning the pitch. His changeup was inconsistent, but certainly not bad for a relatively new third pitch.
In all, Hunter's first Double-A start was extremely successful. He seemed to trust his stuff and had no problems going right after hitters with his entire repertoire. The former supplemental first round pick is proving to be the most polished pitcher the Rangers picked up in the 2007 MLB Draft and it will be interesting to see where the rest of the season takes him.
Lone Star Dugout was able to speak with Hunter after his first Texas League victory.
Jason Cole: Give me your thoughts on your performance in Bakersfield.
Tommy Hunter: In the beginning it was rough. I guess there was a little transition time. As it went on and I started working on things that I used to do, I became more effective. I got to go deeper into games and it's a lot easier when you go deep.
Cole: You bounced back and forth between the bullpen and rotation at Alabama and you worked out of the bullpen with Spokane last season. Are you used to and comfortable with going as deep into games as you have been so far this year?
Hunter: Definitely. That's what you're supposed to do. It's the ideal thing. You get 100 pitches and try to complete the game. My mindset when I go out there is to outlast their starting pitcher. If you do that, more times than not you're going to win the game. That's what I try to go out there and do.
Cole: Being such a strike-thrower, even though you were throwing deep into games, were you able to keep a manageable pitch count?
Hunter: Everybody was really at 100 pitches. Nolan Ryan came in there and he pretty much laid down the law. You're going to get up to 100 pitches, or 110 pitches, sometimes. Harrison threw over 100 the other night. It's going to happen. It is not that big of a deal. It's just what you're supposed to do.
Cole: Do you expect to be at about 100 pitches all season long?
Hunter: Oh, definitely. As the season progresses, they're going to hopefully stretch you out to 115-120 pitches and see what you can do from that and see where it goes from there.
Cole: Whether you were throwing a bullpen session or working in a game, what was your primary focus in Bakersfield?
Hunter: Keeping the ball down. That was the big adjustment for me. In high school in college, you can get by throwing 92-93 sometimes and they'll just swing through it and miss it. Here, they don't miss it. If you leave it thigh-high, it's going to get hit out of the ballpark. We saw that tonight. The first pitch, the ball was up, and it was driven over the left-center field fence. But it happens. You work the ball low, get ground balls, and get out of the innings.
Cole: Because the Cal League is such a hitter's league, did you feel that you were kind of forced to keep the ball down in the zone a little more often than normal?
Hunter: Definitely, but you're going to have to keep the ball down anywhere you go. Balls are going to fly out just as far or just as easy the further you go up. In Cal League, the wind blows a little bit so it makes it a little more difficult. But I'm sure it's going to be just as difficult here.
Cole: When I talked to you during instructs, you talked about how far your changeup had come and how often you were throwing it. Are you still throwing quite a few and how is the pitch developing?
Hunter: I threw 12 of them tonight – roughly 12. It's just a show-me pitch right now. I used it tonight. There was a ground ball to Chris Davis at first base – twice actually. Then Macias swung through a changeup. It is something we have worked on, something that is a show-me pitch to get to my other pitches. My fastball and curveball are usually my out pitches and a changeup is just a pitch to keep them honest.
Cole: Let's talk about today's start for a bit. What was your thought process as you entered your first Double-A start?
Hunter: Throw strikes. That was it. I just wanted to try and throw strikes – no walks. Try and start everyone off with a strike and let them put it in play. It's an unbelievable defense behind you with Gentry in center, he can fly. The corners are just as good and with the middle infield, it doesn't get much better.
Cole: What are your thoughts on how you performed today?
Hunter: It was good. I would've liked to have thrown fastballs down. I threw a lot of offspeed today, but it's just an adjustment I guess getting up here. As soon as I get used to it, it'll be a different story.
Cole: Your curveball varied in velocity and break at different points in the game today. Is that something you intentionally do?
Hunter: I just throw it harder. If it gets 0-2, I'm going to throw it harder. If it's a first-pitch curve, it is going to be 76-78. If it gets later in the count, it's going to be 81-83. It just depends.
Cole: Have you set any goals for the rest of the season?
Hunter: Definitely. It's quality starts. Every time you go out there you try and get a quality start. From now on when I go out there, I'm going to try and do that. The big goal I have is to keep the walks down. I don't intend to walk too many people, but walks happen sometimes. I just want to keep them pretty low.
Cole: Two months into your first full professional season, you're already in Double-A ball. Have the Rangers indicated whether or not you'll get the opportunity to go past Frisco this year?
Hunter: I have no idea. I'm not going to worry about it too much. I'm going to go where they put me. I am going to try and dominate it here; I'll try to dominate it there. I'm just going to do what I can do to hopefully progress. If their thing is to keep me here, I'm not going to argue with it at all.
Hunter shows no fear
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