Ocampo finds comfort in bullpen

SURPRISE, Ariz. - Kyle Ocampo finished on an extremely strong note with short-season Spokane last summer, become perhaps the team's most dominant reliever by season's end. Lone Star Dugout chatted with the prospect earlier in the week.

Right-hander Kyle Ocampo finished his season 2009 season at short-season Spokane with an unspectacular 5.02 earned-run average in 37.2 innings, but a closer look reveals some very promising results.

Because Ocampo has excellent raw stuff, he rarely gets hit hard. The 21-year-old generally throws his fastball between 89-93 mph with good life. He also mixes in a sharp slider with plus potential, a curveball, and a changeup.

Since he entered the organization as an 13th-round pick in 2007 [$250,000 bonus], Ocampo has shown spotty command. He can be a bit wild at times, running into problems with walks, and he sometimes misses up in the zone too often. On his good days, Ocampo can be dominant. But on his bad days, he can have some major struggles.

The Riverside, Calif., native opened the short season in the starting rotation, but he surrendered 13 runs on 13 hits in just 8.2 innings.

The Rangers moved Ocampo to the bullpen, and that's where he began to excel. In 29 innings out of the ‘pen, Ocampo posted a 2.48 ERA, allowing just 20 hits, walking 11 and striking out 27.

Ocampo got better as the season progressed. In his final nine outings, he pitched 16 innings, yielding only one run on seven hits while walking four and fanning 16.

The prospect's fastball-slider combination made him very tough on righties, as they batted just .195 against him last season. The late movement on his fastball has helped induce strong ground ball rates, as well. He is working to develop the changeup as a weapon to left-handers, who batted .298 off him last season.

As Ocampo explains below, he was able to let loose with all of his pitches out of the bullpen last summer, and he seemed to be more comfortable doing that.

Whether or not the Rangers view Ocampo as a reliever long-term remains a mystery, but regardless of the role, he certainly has the ability to pitch in the Major Leagues someday.

Jason Cole: You started in extended and then went out to Spokane last season. What were your thoughts on your 2009 campaign as a whole?

Kyle Ocampo: I ended up in Spokane. I was starting–I started two games. It wasn't a permanent thing–they were kind of just trying me out. I had two rough starts. They moved me to the ‘pen, and I kind of got comfortable there. I was pretty successful, and I liked it. That's where I ended. I liked it.

Cole: At the end of the day, did you feel you pitched well in Spokane?

Ocampo: Yeah, once I got to the bullpen, I was a little bit more comfortable for how I was pitching. Just come in there and go after people–not having to pace myself like a starter does. As a reliever, I felt I was pretty successful. As a starter, I obviously wasn't. I had two really bad innings.

Cole: I know you were a starter out here in the AZL, and I'm assuming you also started during your high school career. Had you ever done the relief thing before?

Ocampo: No, I was always a starter. I kind of take myself back to almost the showcase days, where you just go in there with everything for one inning and try to get them out as quick as you can. That was basically the mindset I had–just get ‘em in, get ‘em out as quick as you can. I felt like that was more suitable to me.

Cole: Especially when you first moved to the bullpen, how difficult was it to warm up quicker and get your arm hot faster to go into the game?

Ocampo: The hardest thing was to learn a routine as a reliever. But I talked to a couple of the other guys, and basically I just started to anticipate. A couple innings before, you start seeing the starter getting into a little bit of trouble. You just assume you're going to be the guy that is coming in, so start getting loose and get your arm hot. It only takes me a couple pitches to get in there and be ready during the game when they need you.

Cole: Have the Rangers said anything about whether they view you as a starter or a reliever for the future?

Ocampo: They honestly haven't told me anything. I'm just going out there. They haven't said anything for sure.

Cole: Do you even know at this point whether you'll be prepared as a starter or a reliever in Spring Training this year?

Ocampo: No, I don't.

Cole: You mentioned coming out there with all your stuff as a reliever. You were a four-pitch guy in the Arizona League two summers ago. Were you still throwing your curveball out of the bullpen last year?

Ocampo: Yeah, I was. I really worked on my curveball this offseason, too. I want to bring it in as an out pitch this year.

Cole: So you're still fastball-curve-slider-changeup?

Ocampo: Yeah, it took me a little while–I kind of lost my curveball a little bit, because it's a little change from the big seams in high school coming to the pro seams. But I changed my grip up a little bit, and I'm getting a better result than I used to.

Cole: When you were in high school, were you generally going to the slider as an out pitch? Or was it the curveball?

Ocampo: In high school, it was either-or. I threw both of them. Lefties–I would like to get them with the curveball. I would get righties with the slider. They were both pretty much there for me.

Cole: Are you also a guy that uses a two-seam fastball?

Ocampo: Yeah, I throw a two-seam. Not a lot, because I like to throw my four-seam, but I do throw a two-seam.

Cole: Neil Ramirez told me you have been out here with him for quite awhile. How long have you been out here?

Ocampo: Yeah, I've been out here for close to three months now.

Cole: I'm sure there were only a few guys out here, so what kind of stuff were you doing? Tell me about your daily routine.

Ocampo: I was staying at Tanner Scheppers' house, and we were just waking up early and getting a good breakfast and coming to the field around 9:00. We played long toss, worked out with Nappy [strength coach Napoleon Pichardo], and we were just getting things done. We did some drills and basically tried to eat and gain some weight.

Cole: Neil Ramirez said you guys were doing Crossfit, right?

Ocampo: Yeah, we were doing the Crossfit. I was throwing up for the first two weeks I was out here.

Cole: It's a pretty intense workout?

Ocampo: Yeah, it sure is. It definitely breaks down some walls. It was tough. But I started to really buy into it, and I'm big into it now. That's how these guys are coming in. This is my third Spring Training, and it's totally different. All the guys are coming in in better shape than they used to. The bar has been raised.

Cole: Had you been out here this early before?

Ocampo: No, this is the first time I've come out months early. I've come out weeks early before, but this is the first time I have spent most of my offseason out here.

Cole: What was the thought process behind deciding to come out much earlier than you had in the past?

Ocampo: It was after Christmas. I was kind of sitting around, getting my stuff done at home. I was thinking, ‘I could be getting a lot better out there in Arizona.' I was talking to Neil and he was telling me what he was doing–flipping tires, hitting tires with sledgehammers, going on runs in the mountains. I was like, ‘You know what? Why am I not doing that? I need to go do that.' So I just packed all my stuff and left.

Cole: You've thrown a couple bullpens out here. What have you been focusing on as your pitching coaches watch over you?

Ocampo: I've been working on finishing out front and developing more of my power. I'm trying to get my hand closer to the catcher instead of in the past, being more fast out of the glove and kind of jerky. Now it's more trying to be long instead of fast. More legs.

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