Stanford learning as he goes

After growing up in Australia, right-hander Tim Stanford is a bit behind the traditional learning curve for a 19-year-old pitcher, but the Rangers saw enough potential to make him the organization's first Australian-born signing. Lone Star Dugout features the pitcher, who recently finished up his debut season with the AZL Rangers.

Before he was named the Rangers' bullpen coach in August, Jim Colborn was hired by the Rangers as their director of Pacific Rim operations.

Though Colborn did not hold that position for long [he will return to his scouting post after this season], he was able to sign a couple of players, including Australian right-hander Tim Stanford.

The Rangers inked Stanford in December 2007, just a few months after he showcased his talent at the MLB Academy in Australia.

"Every year we'll have the Australian Academy, where they select about 50 guys to come away to Queensland," said Stanford. "We'll do two months of just training and experiencing what it's like to play pro ball. A lot of scouts will go there and watch the talent in Australia."

The experience is important for Australia's aspiring young baseball players, mostly because there is not much organized baseball in the country.

"There isn't really high school ball," he said. "It's more just club baseball on the weekends, just having some fun."

In a country that is dominated by cricket and rugby, most young Australian athletes are steered towards those sports from an early age. But Stanford has been playing baseball for nearly his entire life.

"My dad's a graphic designer," Stanford said. "He was doing some signs for a baseball club and I was looking for a sport to play when I was about six. He said, ‘I'll do your signs for free if my son plays a year of baseball.' That's how I got into it."

Even though Stanford has played baseball for awhile, he didn't play the same level of amateur competition that most American-born professional players do. Because of that, he finds the U.S. game to be a bit different from what he had experienced in Australia.

"I find it a lot different [from Australia]," he said. "I'm still trying to figure out the hitters here. They're a lot more free-swinging and you get punished for your bad pitches a lot more."

Stanford made his professional debut, and his first visit to the United States, when he reported for spring training this past March.

"I kind of got thrown into the deep end," the pitcher explained. "It was tough at first. I just had to find my feet and now I'm starting to settle in a bit more."

Stanford throws his changeup in a spring training outing.
The 19-year-old was able to settle in with the help of some fellow Australians that had recently signed with other clubs.

"There are two [Australian-born players] with the [AZL] Padres," said Stanford. "One of them is one of my really good friends. There is also one on the Cubs.

"I know a lot of them my age because we play nationals once a year. All the states in Australia will select a team and we'll go away somewhere and play each other. That is how we got to know each other. You hear about signings."

Because Stanford has relatively little baseball experience, he has quite a bit of developing to do on the mound. The hurler recently finished up his first professional season, playing with the rookie-level AZL Rangers.

Stanford appeared in 15 games out of the bullpen for the little Rangers, posting a 2-0 record with a 7.52 ERA. In 20.1 innings, he surrendered 31 hits while walking eight and fanning 21. The youngster finished his debut campaign on a positive note, recording seven strikeouts in four scoreless innings over his final three appearances.

The pitcher spent much of the season working to develop his four-pitch repertoire.

"I have a changeup that moves a little bit like a knuckleball," said Stanford of his pitches. "I throw that. I have a curveball and a slider. And then my fastball is low-to-mid 80s. I've touched 88."

Stanford, who says his best pitch is currently his curveball, has been focusing on his changeup since signing with the Rangers.

"It kind of comes out of the back of my hand instead of coming through the fingertips," he said of the pitch. "I kind of release it in the middle of my fingers instead of coming off like a normal changeup would."

Like most talented young pitchers, Stanford was a starting pitcher as an amateur. Although he relieved for the AZL Rangers in 2008, the righty believes the Rangers may have him return to a starting role.

"I was told that they might start me later on," he said, "so they are looking more into the future with me. We'll see how it goes."

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