This past March, Australian right-hander Tim Stanford was participating in his second Spring Training, looking to spend another season developing his game in the United States.
Unfortunately, the Rangers had different plans.
When Stanford received his flight information near the end of Spring Training, it said he would go to Santo Domingo. The Rangers were sending Stanford to the club's academy in the Dominican Republic.
Being from Sydney, Australia, Stanford had barely even spent time in the U.S., and now he was headed to the Dominican Republic–and seemingly headed for culture shock.
Luckily, the Rangers also sent Ben Henry [a South Carolina native] and Aaron Thompson [a Queensland, Australia native] to the Dominican with him. They were the only native English speaking players at the complex.
While Henry went back to the U.S. around mid-season and pitched for short-season Spokane, Stanford and Thompson spent the entire season down in the Dominican.
Playing for the DSL Rangers2 club, which finished with a Dominican Summer League-best 47-15 record, Stanford posted a 3-1 record with a 3.69 earned-run average. He logged 39 innings, giving up 46 hits, walking nine, and striking out 36.
"I thought I had a good season where I learned a lot and experienced a lot living in the Dominican Republic," Stanford said. "It was definitely a life-changing five months of baseball."
Because the 20-year-old grew up in Australia, he didn't have the same experience against elite competition growing up, making Stanford a bit more raw than most American youngsters.
Even though he moved back a level in 2009, he showed vast improvement in a number of areas [statistically, mentally, and stuff-wise] this past summer. Stanford improved on his AZL numbers from 2008, when he had a 7.52 ERA in 20.1 innings.
Stanford felt the mental improvement was his greatest asset this season.
"I guess this year I went with the approach of no matter what hitter or situation of the game, I will attack and pitch the best I could when needed," he said. "I learned how to pitch without my best stuff, or when I'm not feeling the greatest out there on the mound. But physically, I felt my control improved with all my pitches."
Stanford was originally signed by Jim Colborn, the Rangers' director of Pacific Rim operations. Colborn watched Stanford pitch at the MLB Academy in Australia during December 2007, where he ran his fastball up to 88 mph.
One of the reasons for Stanford's struggles last season was his velocity, which dipped into the low-to-mid-80s.
This season, the fastball showed signs of improvement.
"It was a lot better than last year," Stanford said of his velocity. "This year I mostly averaged 85 and 86 mph during most games, and I occasionally touched 87 and 88. I think I hit 89 once."
Stanford remains optimistic that he will continue to gain velocity.
"I feel like I'm learning how to pitch," he said. "And when the velo comes up, I will know how to pitch and throw hard."
In terms of stuff, the 6-foot-0, 191-pound hurler's biggest development this past season was his changeup. In 2008, Stanford said his changeup "moves a little bit like a knuckleball," and he held the ball in the back of his hand instead of the fingertips.
Looking for improved command of the offspeed pitch, the righty made a few adjustments to the changeup this season.
"I just placed the ball in a different part of the hand," he said. "I held the seams differently and found I could control it a lot better and my confidence grew with the pitch.
"I changed the grip from a two-seam to a four-seam, and I held the ball further up in my fingers rather than the palm."
Stanford, who says he became confident in his changeup, also added a bit of a slurve for times when his curveball wasn't quite working.
"I still throw fastball, changeup, curve," Stanford said. "And sometimes if I couldn't get the snap I was looking for with the curveball, I'd throw it more like a slurve."
Because he returns to Australia each offseason, Stanford literally lives in the summer 365 days per year. He's currently preparing for next season–and working as a lifeguard on the beach.
"I've been doing a 90-day program to focus on getting stronger," he said. "I'm also throwing with the state team here and surfing, going out with the mates, and working as a lifeguard."
The state team is the NSW Patriots [NSW stands for New South Wales, the state that Sydney is located in]. Each year, five teams compete for the Claxton Shield. Every team contains at least a handful of players with experience in U.S. affiliated ball.
For example, Stanford plays for the Patriots, and Queensland native Aaron Thompson is currently playing for the Queensland Rams.
"I'm working out with the team for now, but I will play when I'm ready," Stanford said. "It'll probably be during the end of December."
Stanford shows improvement in Dominican
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