As a former 22nd round selection in a Texas Rangers system that is loaded with early-round, high-bonus pitching talent, it's not easy to get noticed and stand out among the pack. But Trevor Hurley is beginning to do so.
Hurley was selected by the Rangers in the 2008 draft, following a three-year career at Kansas State that produced a 5.99 earned-run average over three seasons, including a 6.90 ERA during his junior year.
Despite the less-than-spectacular results, the club liked Hurley's raw stuff, his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame, and the fact that he was just 20-years-old as a college junior.
The Tomball, Tex., native reported to short-season Spokane shortly after signing in '08, and he was solid, posting a 3-1 record and a 3.29 ERA in 38.1 innings. He was tough to hit [28 hits] and missed some bats [40 strikeouts], but Hurley was still running into problems with control, as he issued 28 free passes.
After beginning the 2009 season in Extended Spring Training, Hurley moved on to Single-A Hickory, where he worked nine total innings in relief, allowing three runs. In an effort to get more innings and work on some things [which Hurley explains below], the pitcher was sent to short-season Spokane in mid-June, where he worked as a starting pitcher.
Hurley began to turn some heads in the Indians' rotation, as he went 7-2 with a 3.36 ERA in 15 starts. While working on a changeup for the first time in his career, he practically cut his walk rate in half, giving out just 33 free bases in 80.1 frames.
This season, the Rangers moved Hurley back to the bullpen and gave him the assignment to Single-A Hickory straight out of Spring Training. The 22-year-old has been outstanding thus far, logging a 1.23 ERA in 22 innings. He has surrendered just 11 hits while walking four and striking out 28––showing marked improvement in all facets.
The right-hander's changeup appears to be working, as well. So far this season, lefties are batting just .091 against Hurley, with three hits in 10 total innings.
Overall, Hurley is almost certain to remain a bullpen arm in the Rangers' system, but he has good stuff. His fastball ranges between 88-91 mph––topping out at 92––with some heavy late movement. He also has a good slider, a curveball, and the aforementioned changeup.
Obviously only time will tell, but because Hurley already has a full professional season under his belt, he should see High-A Bakersfield before the end of the first half.
Jason Cole: What are your thoughts on the way your season in Hickory has started?
Trevor Hurley: It has been great. I got to spend a little bit of time on last year's Hickory team, which had a large talent pool but for some reason just couldn't win. This year, we're sitting in first. I think we only have a one-game lead right now, but we have been winning a lot. Any time you win, it's a lot of fun. We have got a great group of guys and, like I said, we're winning, so that makes things a lot better.
Cole: You did mostly relieving in college, your first year in Spokane was as a reliever, and then you started in Spokane last season. What was the reasoning behind making you a starter last year?
Hurley: Last year, I didn't break out of Spring Training. I was in Extended Spring Training. I don't think that was necessarily attached to a physical reason––I just didn't break. I threw really well in Extended and I think they sent me to Hickory just to get me out of Arizona. And when I got there, I threw three or four games, going off and on the phantom DL.
Basically, after my last outing in Hickory, Brad Holman pulled me into the office and told me that Danny Clark had told him that he wanted me to go to Spokane because I wasn't going to get enough innings in Hickory. He said they wanted me to go start. And one of the main reasons I went was to throw a changeup––to get a third pitch. All through my high school and college career, I had just been a fastball-slider guy.
And so they sent me to Spokane and made it very clear that they wanted me to learn a changeup and get more consistent in the strike zone. They sent me there and they let me throw. I think I got 80 innings, which was huge for me. That's probably the biggest year development-wise I've had in my life, including college ball.
It was just huge for me to go out there and get a lot of innings. And I was forced to throw the changeup––they would call it and I couldn't shake it. I had to learn how to pitch. Like I said, it was huge, because now I can go out and throw three pitches, where last year I couldn't do that.
Cole: How difficult was that at first to force yourself to throw the changeup in situations that you probably weren't comfortable using it in?
Hurley: Honestly, it was horrible. Like I said, any time I got in trouble throughout my entire career––high school and up––it was sliders. Because I did that, however, I can throw sliders for a strike pretty much any time I need to, which is very nice. But as you go up in pro ball, that won't fly as much.
Justin Thompson, who was the pitching coach in Spokane, told me, ‘I'm going to call changeups throughout your outing, and when you see a changeup from the catcher, that's a no-shake pitch. So you have to throw it.' But that made it better, because it didn't give me the option. If I had the option, I would've kept shaking and going to Spokane would have done nothing for me.
So JT put that as a no-shake pitch and honestly I probably threw it no less than five times per game. At first, it was pretty bad, but throughout the course of throwing it every day in flat ground and then taking it to the mound for a full summer, I eventually got pretty comfortable with it. It has come a long way, that's for sure.
Cole: Were you doing much tinkering with grips when you were trying to find a changeup that suited you last year?
Hurley: I never really had a grip. I kind of just grabbed a circle change my entire life because I threw it so sparingly. Last year when Andrew Doyle got to Spokane, he overheard me talking to JT about why I was there––about how I needed to learn a changeup. This was like the first week. And he came up to me and said, ‘I'll show you my grip. I was the same way. I couldn't throw my changeup to save my life. Now I use this one. I played with it for awhile and it got really good.' I still use the same grip now––so me and Doyle have the same grip on our changeup.
Cole: Another reason you were sent to Spokane was to work on controlling the strike zone, as you said. From college through your first three professional seasons, your walk numbers have pretty much decreased each year, and you've only walked three in your first 21.1 innings this season. What has been the key behind that?
Hurley: Even going back to K-State, to be honest, I had a pretty bad walk ratio. If you want to look at the innings to strikeouts––it didn't matter. It was too many walks. Honestly, that has always kind of been my nemesis.
I went out this offseason and just told myself that it was time to throw strikes. I just got the general approach that I'm just going to attack hitters and not give them too much credit. It's kind of funny that whenever you limit free bases, you limit runs at the same time. So by dropping walks, you take runners off the basepaths and force them to beat you by lining up a couple hits in a row. Like I said, I just took a mental approach.
I have Brad out here working with me on a delivery that has so far been huge for me as well. He has got me on track with where I want the ball to go, and I don't have very many bad miss pitches anymore. In college and two years ago, I would run a fastball to a lefty all the way to the other batter's box, which is just a bad miss. Those are pretty much eliminated.
So through the course of re-vamping some mechanics and having a different mental approach, I now expect strikes to come out of me, which has never been the case. That has been really nice.
Cole: How big of a confidence builder is it that you're not just throwing strikes, but also having plenty of success while doing so?
Hurley: It's huge. By throwing strikes, I've gained confidence because if I'm not helping these hitters out, I increase my chances for success. Out here, we have a great team. Leury Garcia, at shortstop, has made multiple great plays behind me. You've got great outfielders––people robbing home runs. We've had two already this year.
So it has been fun to throw on this team, and I have just been the benefactor of a successful team right now. But by throwing in the strike zone, they're putting it in play and I'm letting the defense take care of it. It can be pretty simple whenever you don't put people on base.
Cole: You mentioned that you're working on mechanics right now. Can you tell me about some of those things you're focusing on?
Hurley: In the past, I never really had much mechanical work. When you get to pro ball, in your first year, they don't really touch you. So that first year in Spokane, I just did my usual thing and thought nothing was wrong.
Then last year, I got to Hickory and after my first outing, Brad essentially broke me down and I found out that I kind of fall to the plate with my old mechanics. I'd pick my front leg up and just have a falling effort to the plate. It was no backside, no power from my legs. And we're still working on it today.
From last year, Brad got me with getting my front side up high––not really like Lincecum, but that's the idea. The front side gets up and you let everything stay back until the front foot hits the ground, then you fire all at once and just come barreling over the back side.
By doing that, it's taking away those bad outside misses because I'm not twisting anymore. Everything is working over the top of each other. It's a firmer, more consistent ball and it is lower in the strike zone. Like I said, I'm still working on it and trying to fine-tune it, but it has been huge for me. It has been really big.
Cole: It's still a relatively small sample size, but your ground ball rate to lefties is quite a bit higher than it is to right-handers. Do you feel that is a product of hitters rolling over your changeup?
Hurley: I'm a firm believer that now––even if you don't have a good changeup––and as far as the action goes, if you just watch the pitch, I would not call that a great changeup. But by showing them a pitch that looks like a fastball with less velocity, it plants a seed in their head. It tells them, ‘This guy has got a changeup.' So you show that to one lefty, and then he goes and tells them he saw a changeup, so now they can't just sit back on fastball-breaking ball. I think by inserting that changeup, it has definitely helped me against lefties.
However, another thing is that from the new way I'm throwing, I am able to throw what is more of a curveball now with my slider. To righties, I might show them a slider. Then when a lefty gets in the box, if I can get out to two strikes, I'll bury a curveball, which is a total different look than anyone has seen in the game. So having that curveball with the new mechanics and a better, more consistent changeup that I can throw around the zone––I think all that plays into helping out.
Cole: Had you ever thrown a curveball in the past?
Hurley: I haven't. It's actually very odd but the very first time I took those mechanics into a game––for some reason it just felt right with the way I was getting on top. Just grab a different grip. I did it in Spokane all summer and now back here, I'm able to get more on top.
The curve and slider are similar––it's not a 12-to-6 curveball, but it's definitely a different break than the slider. Like I said, I never have thrown one before, but by having the new delivery, it just seems right to do that.
Hurley improving in all areas
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