Wilkins wants to trust changeup

SURPRISE, AZ - Former sixth round pick Bobby Wilkins posted a 2-0 record with a 4.63 ERA in 14 appearances for the AZL Rangers this season. Lone Star Dugout recently caught up with the 18-year-old for a Q&A feature.

The Texas Rangers drafted big right-hander Bobby Wilkins in the sixth round of the 2007 MLB Draft.

The San Diego native played with the rookie level AZL Rangers last summer and was 0-4 with a 5.25 ERA in 10 appearances while battling with arm fatigue.

Wilkins, who is still just 18-years-old, was sent back to the Arizona League this season. After surrendering 11 earned runs in 14.1 innings [6.91 ERA] in the short season's first two months, Wilkins righted the ship in August.

The hurler pitched nine innings in six August games, yielding just one run on five hits.

Although Wilkins generally worked in the upper-80s and low-90s as a high schooler, his velocity dropped this summer. During our recent trip to Arizona, we were able to see two of Wilkins' outings. His fastball sat between 80-86 mph in the first appearance before jumping up to 84-87 in the second.

During the second outing in particular, Wilkins showed off a big-breaking 64-66 mph curveball that had the AZL Padres hitters diving out of the batter's box multiple times.

Wilkins ended up showing improvement in his second season with the AZL Rangers, but he still must develop his changeup. Even though he was impressive against right-handed hitters this season -- holding them to a .145 batting average -- lefties hit him at a .467 clip.

Lone Star Dugout caught up with Wilkins during our recent trip to Arizona.

Jason Cole: How do you feel about your season here in Arizona?

Bobby Wilkins: To be honest with you, I'm a little disappointed in it. I started off pretty strong and then got to a point where I went down a little bit. I had an injury, but that happens in baseball. And then the way I finished off, it's a little disappointing.

Cole: What was the injury you had?

Wilkins: It was just a right knee injury. It was some type of cartilage – the cartilage in my knee, it's all gone. It's just bone rubbing against each other. No surgery was needed or anything. I'm just going to rehab and go for it.

Cole: When did you come down with that?

Wilkins: In the beginning of extended. Right after spring training. I came right into extended and just hurt it running.

Cole: How does it feel right now?

Wilkins: Oh, it's great.

Cole: How long was it before your knee started feeling better?

Wilkins: It probably took a month or a month and a half. That's when I started getting into these games and sure enough, just with the help of the trainer, he did wonders for me and helped me get stronger.

Cole: I know your velocity was down most of the year, but it was up a bit at the very end of the year. Is your arm starting to feel better?

Wilkins: Yeah. It's good. I'm not trying to blow it by these guys. I'm trying to pitch and drop a little bit of velocity – trying to get a little bit of movement. I'm trying to hit the corners in and out and go with the curveball. Just mess with the guy's head a little bit.

Cole: Your curveball looked pretty good in the outing that I saw. How did you feel about it?

Wilkins: Pretty good. It has been a work-in-progress. It has had its ups and downs, but every pitcher has that with every pitch they have. It was pretty good.

Cole: How do you feel that pitch has progressed since you signed with the Rangers last summer?

Wilkins: Oh, it has progressed a lot. It really has. I'm real happy with the development of it. The guys down here – [Juan] Pulido and [Jose] Jaimes – have been helping me out a lot with the curveball.

Cole: How about your changeup? Have you been throwing that in games?

Wilkins: A little bit. It is a pitch that I am not very confident in. It is just something that I'm going to work on a lot in the offseason. There's nothing much to say. I just don't have any confidence to throw it.

Cole: Have you changed your changeup grip since high school?

Wilkins: I have down here. I did experiment with it a little bit in high school. I've tried four or five of them. When Rick [Adair] gets down here, I'm going to work with him a little bit on it. I hear he worked with my buddy Josh Lueke and sure enough Josh has got a great changeup.

Cole: What is the main thing you've been working on with your pitching coaches out here this year?

Wilkins: Mostly just the curveball. That and location of the fastball. They have been talking to me a lot about getting it in and out and throwing first pitch strikes. It's one of those things where most of the game I go out there trying to throw the fastball and come in with the curve – try to hammer it down.

Cole: You were a starter all through high school, but you've been doing mostly relieving out here. How different is that?

Wilkins: It's not really different, it's just the mentality. You have got to be just mentally ready. As a starter, you kind of try to go out there and figure it out as you go. You look at the hitters, read the hitters. As a reliever, you've just got to follow the game. You have to be mentally ready, especially a late reliever. That is what I've been going into lately. You've got a close situation and you can't make too many mistakes.

Cole: What are you looking forward to doing in the offseason in order to improve as a pitcher?

Wilkins: That changeup. I've got to get that changeup. I can't just go out there and have two pitches. Because if one pitch is off, they're just going to sit on the other one. If I've got a changeup, I feel like I would be more of a dominant pitcher.

Cole: With your velocity being down this year, have you felt that it has forced you to learn more about how to pitch to hitters?

Wilkins: Oh yeah, you can't just sit there and go, ‘I can throw 90 by this guy.' Most of these guys are getting paid to hit the ball. If they didn't hit the fastball, then they wouldn't be here. Velocity, you look at Greg Maddux and [Tom] Glavine. They're throwing 84, 85, 86, but they still get movement. They can spot. They can command that fastball.

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