Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Danny Clark

With Fall Instructional League over and the Arizona Fall League in full swing, Lone Star Dugout sat down with Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark for a question-and-answer session.

Jason Cole: Michael Main pitched in the Advanced Instructional League while coming back from his illness. Is it safe to say that he's back at 100 percent right now?

Danny Clark: I felt like his last couple outings in the advanced league, we saw his velocity get back to where it was last year. It was in that 94-95 range. I think it's going to take him some time from the conditioning side of it. The endurance part was the tough part for Michael. He could be at 94 or 95 velocity-wise, but it was just really tough to keep it for multiple innings.

Cole: When he did have his struggles during the year, I'm sure a large part of it was illness-related. But what were some of the other issues he was facing that he's got to work on for next year?

Clark: The biggest thing for Michael up until this year is that he has always been able to throw his fastball by people up in the zone. He figured out, at the higher level of High-A ball, that they didn't swing at it as much. It didn't allow his secondary pitches to come into play as much because he was always behind in the count.

I think that was the first time Michael had also ever been really truly hit around. I thought it was good for him. I think you're going to really see, in 2010, a Michael Main that is going to come back in a huge rebound for our organization.

Cole: Obviously you won't know this until it actually happens, but is he a guy who will have a chance to get to Frisco before the All-Star break next year?

Clark: I think so. Just from the standpoint of maturity level–he has a high maturity level, number one. And obviously it depends on what Michael does. Michael is going to tell us when he's ready to go. But I foresee that to be before the break. I think it's a realistic goal for him.

Font excelled in his first full season.
Cole: I want to move on and talk about Wilmer Font. He's a guy I have gotten to see the last few years, and he definitely came a long way this season. In your eyes, how far did he come and what areas of the game allowed him to have so much success with Hickory?

Clark: I think the first thing was that Wilmer matured as a person. Going into his first full year–just throwing four innings the previous year and being in more of an injury plagued season. This year he came out–I think Brad Holman was a huge asset, our pitching coach there in Hickory. They seemed to connect well.

We tried to get Wilmer early on to not necessarily worry about how hard he was throwing velocity-wise, but more of repeating his delivery. I think that was something that was huge for him. His changeup became a plus pitch for him going into the second half of the season. I thought that was something that really helped him offset–obviously everybody is geared up for his velocity, and with his changeup, it really gave him an offset. His curveball still struggles at times with being consistent. But I think Wilmer's biggest asset to me was just maturity off the field and just being mature as a person.

Cole: Another big-time arm is Tanner Scheppers. I know you got to work with him at instructs. What are your impressions on him so far?

Clark: Oh my. Tanner Scheppers–the ball comes out of his hand very easy, number one. Number two, he shows, to me, three quality pitches–all above-average. And obviously he has that fourth pitch because he does throw a slider sometimes. I just had a quick look at him for those two weeks there before I left.

I just talked to Ryan O'Malley this morning, the pitching coach there in Arizona. We were talking about how quick he has grasped the pro game. And the biggest thing for Tanner, to me, is making sure he stays healthy. He's got to really, in the offseason, work on his lower half and start to put some bulk on him because the ball comes out of his hand free and easy, and it's a clean delivery.

Cole: Have there been any concerns with his shoulder that have risen yet? Or has he been okay?

Clark: No, shoulder-wise he has been fine. He came into instructs there and in the second day, he pulled a hamstring. He nursed that and obviously hamstrings take a long time to recover from. But as of the word I heard this morning, still no shoulder issues. I know we've been really strict with his band work with his in-between outings. Just making sure he's doing his proper band work.

Clark is impressed with Gutierrez.
Cole: You got to work with some of the Fall League guys at instructs, and like you said, you've been getting updates from Ryan O'Malley. Overall, how would you rate the performance of the Rangers' pitchers with the Rafters?

Clark: It sounds like we're representing very well. Gutierrez has been–and I don't want to say a surprise, because we knew and we had seen him for a couple of years. I know our scouts had seen him. But Gutierrez has been able to command his fastball on both sides of the plate and he has been huge for us. He and Scheppers are basically one and two for me.

It sounds like Reed has kind of struggled a little bit with his command of his secondary pitches. Garr has been more of a hot-and-cold type scenario. He has showed some signs of 94 and 95 velocity-wise with some good angle. Harrison–it is what it is with him. Just from the standpoint of being a big leaguer and coming to the Fall League to get innings and work on all of his pitches. But Scheppers and Gutierrez have been really, really good.

Cole: How much of a focus with Gutierrez is his changeup right now, as he tries to get that third solid pitch?

Clark: I just talked to him today about making him throw his changeup more in the Fall League to obviously get him to get a feel for it. He's had such good command on both sides of the plate, his response is, ‘Well, I don't need it.' And I'm like, ‘You might not need it now, but you're going to need it later.' That's the big issue–making him throw his changeup at least five to six times per game to get him to get the feel for it.

Cole: A guy who was a draft pick in 2008 and obviously had a disappointing '09 was Tim Murphy. Is there still any hope for him to turn it around?

Clark: I think so. The thing with Tim Murphy, for me–we have a very good relationship behind the scenes. Murphy struggled with some things. The one thing he did in his last ten starts, for me, was that he competed very well. Murphy has still got three pitches. I think it was the first time in his career that he wasn't able to pitch up in the zone. He has always been a guy that kind of wanted to pitch up in the zone in college, and he got a lot of strikeouts.

He figured out, in the higher levels, that unless you've got something that is going to move, or unless you've got some extra velocity, you're not going to be able to pitch up in the zone. I think that was a huge learning experience for him. And it kind of snowballed on him early–for the first ten or twelve starts. He started trying to place the ball, and that's when his walk ratio went up.

Cole: You mentioned trying to work up in the zone with both Murphy and Main when they pitched in Bakersfield this year. In a way, is that kind of a good thing about Bakersfield and the Cal League in general? It seems to teach guys that they need to work down in the zone before they get to Double-A.

Clark: I think it is a great place for those guys. Especially when, at the lower levels, they've done well with strikeout ratio. They get there, and a 310-foot fly ball is a home run. If you don't pitch down in that league, and learn to pitch down consistently, your numbers are going to be high, especially on the ERA side. And your walks–you start trying to place the ball. From our standpoint, I think Bakersfield has been a good learning tool for a lot of our pitchers.

Thompson is developing rapidly.
Cole: After Matt Thompson struggled so much in the AZL last year, he came back and seemed to get better as the season went on in Spokane. Can you talk about his season?

Clark: Just basically what you said. We kind of moved him on the rubber to try and create some more angle for him. He's got a natural movement, and we kind of messed around a little bit with getting a two-seamer in there to kind of get them off the bat.

I think his confidence level, for me, got really high in the last six or seven weeks of the season. I think Matt figured out that what he had to do in between starts was so important for him that he did not realize early on in his professional career.

Cole: I know Martin Perez is listed on a winterball roster right now. Is he going to be pitching in winterball this year?

Clark: No, he's not. I know because of the innings he logged this year, we wanted to be protective over him. Obviously with the age that he is at, I think it was a concern for us. In the future, I think he will get that opportunity to pitch in winterball, because I think it is a valuable asset–getting to face the more experienced hitters.

Cole: Omar Poveda has been working out of the bullpen there lately. Do you have any idea how much work he'll be getting in winterball?

Clark: I think that's going to be more of the role he's going to take there. Not necessarily controlling his innings, but the way I understand it, they do have some higher-profile starters. I heard he's going to be doing some spot starting, and that type of stuff.

Cole: How much of a control do you guys have over the innings that your prospects throw in Caribbean winterball?

Clark: Sometimes it's tough. Obviously we have to rely on people–I know A.J. Preller does a really good job of matching them up with the pitching coaches there that we have some history with or somebody knows. I know Mike Maddux knows the pitching coach that has Moscoso under him. Our scouts that are over there give us some feedback back to us on how many innings they've thrown. But we kind of do put a cap on how many innings they can throw.

Cole: Are there any other young guys that you expect to see pitching in winterball before the season is over, or is this about it?

Clark: That's pretty much it. There might be a small percentage. Wilfredo Boscan–there was some talk back and forth about him. Whether to allow him or not, just because he had a little bit of an injury early on in Hickory. He could afford to go a few more innings, but we want to make sure that he's ready to go for a full season next year.

Cole: One final question for you. When I was out there at instructs, I noticed Emmanuel Solis was getting some work on the mound and throwing some bullpens. Was that just getting a look at him, or is he a pitcher now?

Clark: We're still getting a look at him. He is going into the Dominican for Instructional League as a pitcher right now. He's still swinging the bat there also. We're kind of seeing how it plays out. I think a decision is going to be made obviously before instructs of the Dominican. Whether he's going to come home to the pitching side–it sounds like it's favorable that he is going to be coming to the pitching side.

Cole: In American Instructs, what did you see about him that made you like him as a pitcher?

Clark: Obviously anybody that gets converted over, the first thing they have is velocity. We've seen the way he throws the ball across the diamond at third. We put him on the mound–we got him there at 90, 91, really with nothing mechanical. He was just getting up there and throwing it. He does have a feel to throw a breaking ball. He does have a good spin to it. Obviously it's going to be a project, but he is someone I feel like could be a back-end guy and could move quickly if he figures it out.

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