Name: Braden Tullis
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: January 23, 1990
Acquired: 2009 Amateur Draft, 8th round
"When I came in, I didn't really know what to expect, being my first year," said Braden Tullis of his first summer in professional baseball. "But I enjoyed it."
Tullis had good reason to enjoy his debut season. In 68 innings with the short-season Spokane Indians, the hurler posted a 3.04 earned-run average. He yielded 68 hits while walking 20 and striking out 64.
The numbers were even more impressive given that Tullis hasn't been pitching for all that long, and he certainly hasn't spent much time as a full-time pitcher. The former linebacker is very athletic, and despite the inexperience, he shows a very strong feel for pitching on top of advanced stuff.
Even though Tullis was younger than most of his Northwest League competition, he never felt overwhelmed.
"Competition-wise, I didn't really feel like people were older," he said. "But when I looked around the locker room and my roommates, they were a lot older than me and everything. It was definitely a change."
The 20-year-old got an opportunity to work with former All-Star and current pitching coach Justin Thompson. Tullis says he was able to pick up quite a bit from the left-hander.
"Justin is a great guy," Tullis said. "He knows what he's talking about. A lot of things that he helped me out with was just kind of the mental part of it and refining some little things.
"Being able to pick his brain about all of his past experience and what he did on certain things was a tremendous help."
As Tullis moved on to Fall Instructional League, he was beginning to feel the effects of a full season of JUCO ball followed by a summer with Spokane.
"Mentally, I was fine, but I think my arm and my body in general was a little tired just from going through three different leagues."
Though the right-hander didn't spend much time on the mound at instructs, he was able to continue his progression in the mental aspect of the game.
"We had classroom meetings where all we do is sit down and talk about the mental part of the game," he said. "Anything like how to properly do an interview and everything. They teach you a lot of things, and a lot of it is more mental than anything.
"You might only get five innings at instructs in that entire month, but I think it's worth it because of so much you learn mentally."
One of the mental things Tullis was able to pick up involved learning how to attack hitters properly.
"Pitch sequences and learning how to read hitters," said Tullis when asked what he improved upon at instructs. "Being able to pick the brains of the pitching coaches and our pitching director and all that. I think that has improved in my game."
Now looking ahead to the 2010 season, Tullis says he'll report to Surprise on February 24. He doesn't know exactly where he'll be headed when Spring Training breaks, but he hopes to make the most of the opportunity given.
"It'll be my first Spring Training, and I don't really know to expect," said the Boise native. "But I'm just going to go down there and do whatever I can to make it to the highest level possible."
Also See: Sizing up the right-handed starters (December 16, 2009)
Seven teams, seven sleepers (November 13, 2009)
Rangers Minor League Mailbag (October 6, 2009)
Q&A with Rangers 8th Round Pick Braden Tullis (June 18, 2009)
Repertoire: Fastball, Slider, Changeup.
Fastball: Tullis' sinking fastball isn't likely to overpower hitters, but he works around 88-91 mph and lets the heavy sink and armside run take over. He also commands the pitch well and consistently attacks the bottom half of the strike zone. Those factors led to a 2.61 groundout-per-flyout ratio with Spokane last summer, and he yielded just one home run in 68 innings pitched.
At 6-foot-2, 200-pounds and 20-years-old, Tullis is already pretty mature physically, but he may still add another tick or two of velocity to his fastball. Because he is still somewhat inexperienced as a pitcher, his velocity may improve as he works out his mechanics. Tullis may also begin throwing a four-seam fastball in 2010, as the Rangers generally like their sinkerballers to have four-seamers in the arsenal as well.
Other Pitches: Tullis' bread and butter is currently his advanced changeup. One of the things that makes the prospect's future plus change so remarkable is that he isn't far removed from high school. Pitchers that are drafted with advanced changeups are very rare, and they likely spend at least three years in college before they develop one. Tullis' change has plenty of deception, coming in between 80-82 mph, and the pitch has excellent sink and fade––much like his fastball. He is comfortable throwing the pitch in any count to both left- and right-handed hitters. His slider is coming along as well, but it must be more consistent. Tullis commands the pitch more often than not, but it has a tendency to lose sharpness or flatten out at times. Given his relative lack of experience on the mound, it wouldn't be surprise to see him figure out the slider in the future.
Projection: The right-hander has a mid-rotation ceiling, but he might most likely become a back-of-the-rotation guy down the line. Still, he has a very good chance to fly through the system and become a solid big league pitcher. Tullis could be a number three-type starter, with a heavy sinker, a plus changeup, and a decent slider that can get swings and misses against right-handed hitters. But the development of the slider is the primary key––he'll need a better out pitch against fellow righties.
2010 Outlook: Tullis was only a freshman at Skagit Valley College last year, and as a result he enters his first full professional season at just 20-years-old. Despite the relative youth, Tullis handled himself just fine while showing strong stuff and pitchability last summer. He may be advanced enough to begin the season in the rotation at High-A Bakersfield, especially because he tends to keep the ball down in the zone and in the ballpark. It also wouldn't be a shock to see him break Spring Training with Single-A Hickory. Regardless, he should finish the season in the Cal League.