Henry refining fastball command

SURPRISE, AZ - Ben Henry enters the 2009 campaign looking to break camp with a full-season club for the first time. Lone Star Dugout recently caught up with the 19-year-old pitcher in Surprise.

The Rangers drafted right-hander Ben Henry in the 30th round of the 2007 MLB Draft. Henry, a product of Loris High School in South Carolina, decided to sign with the Rangers, passing up an opportunity to play at Coastal Carolina University.

The vast majority of 30th round picks either don't sign or don't make it very far in baseball -- but Henry isn't the vast majority. The 19-year-old has an 88-90 mph fastball [sometimes a tick higher, sometimes a tick lower] and a big-breaking curveball that has plus potential. He's also working on a changeup.

Henry is undoubtedly the Rangers' most talented 30th rounder since the club stole Scott Feldman in the 2003 draft.

The hurler pitched with the rookie-level AZL Rangers last season, posting a 4.15 ERA in 39 innings. He yielded 42 hits, walked 25 and struck out 45.

Lone Star Dugout recently chatted with Henry after a Spring Training game.

Jason Cole: How have you been pitching thus far in Spring Training?

Ben Henry: Pretty well. I had kind of an up-and-down year last year. I started out pretty good. I went up to Clinton and had a good experience up there, but towards the end of the year, I started to struggle mentally -- with runners on and all that stuff. That was one of my big keys this offseason -- working with holding runners, throwing to first base, and throwing to other bases as well. Kind of clearing that up almost clears up my whole game.

Cole: You walked the first guy in the game I saw and then had a clean inning. How did you feel out of the stretch?

Henry: Actually, I like the stretch a lot better. I don't know what it is. It's almost like getting up and getting the ball to the plate. It makes it quicker -- there's not a lot of thinking going on.

Cole: A big thing for you has been keeping your fastball down in the zone. How have you been doing that?

Henry: It was pretty good. That's another thing I worked on this offseason. Maybe last year I was kind of in the high school stage of blowing it by guys still. That's another key thing I worked on this offseason -- just not worrying about velocity and just working below the knees.

Cole: Is that more of a mechanical thing? What do you have to do to keep the ball down?

Henry: Just working at it -- finding your release point. I found it more helpful at keeping the ball where I wanted to go with it.

Cole: I noticed you threw a changeup when you were warming up the other day. Are you throwing changeups more often in games than you had in the past?

Henry: It's hard to say because I didn't throw any yesterday, but I'm trying to work more off that. When I went to Clinton I had a really good curveball, and I haven't pitched out of Arizona other than that. But the atmosphere is a lot different here. I know that will be there. I'm just finding my changeup to work off my fastball.

Cole: How long have you thrown the changeup for?

Henry: I never threw it in high school, so two years.

Cole: Have you changed the grip on it at all? Have you made any adjustments while playing with it out here?

Henry: Yeah, I started off throwing more of a four-seam changeup, but I didn't get much consistency out of it. The feeling coming out of the hand with a two-seam changeup works better with me. I'm trying to pitch off of a two-seamer to help complement that.

Cole: I remember last year, you told me that you had a better feel for your curveball than you did in your first AZL season. How do you feel with it right now?

Henry: It's kind of hard to say. I threw it one time yesterday for a ball. I'm sure as I start to throw it more next outing, I'll try to work in more offspeed pitches just to get work in.

Cole: Only throwing one offspeed pitch -- do you usually throw that high a percentage of fastballs?

Henry: Last year I think I worked more off my curveball actually. I was almost setting up hitters with my curveball for my fastball.

Cole: Do you plan on doing that again this year?

Henry: No. This year I'm going to try and put all my confidence in my fastball. I want to pitch to contact. When strikeout opportunities come, I'll go for the knockout.

Cole: Where do you think you'll be playing this year when camp breaks?

Henry: There's no telling. There are a lot of guys moving around and coming down from big league camp. Hopefully I break with Hickory.

Cole: Being from South Carolina, since Hickory is not far from home, are you excited about the prospect of possibly playing near your hometown?

Henry: Oh yeah, I'm extremely excited. I think it's about four hours away.

Cole: What are you looking for out of yourself this season?

Henry: Less walks. That has been one of my key downsides. I walk a lot of people. I just want to come out and throw strikes -- attack hitters.

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