There are much more highly-touted pitching prospects that came out of last year's draft, but Jacob Faria is an intriguing young arm. Although I was unable to see him pitch during spring training, I talked to one scout who said that he was touching 94 mph in one outing. This is very good news for the Rays, who surely drafted him for his projectability.
In a very small sample-size (15.2 innings) in the Gulf Coast League last year, Faria showed excellent command by walking a lone batter while striking out 14. The 18-year-old also seems to have a pretty good idea of how to pitch and both times I have talked to him (the first time being this past off-season for DraysBay), he has discussed and re-iterated that his approach to getting hitters out is to throw strikes and pitch to contact.
A young pitcher with that mindset who also possesses good command and has already shown an increase in velocity from when he was drafted is a player to keep an eye on. While he is still terribly young and inexperienced, the early signs point towards Faria being a pitching prospect who could have a very high ceiling. The Rays have been extremely successful in developing high school pitchers and Faria gives the organization a lot of talent and projectability to work with.
The following is an interview I did with Faria via phone a few weeks ago.
Rays Digest: This is obviously your first spring training, what's been your impression of it so far?
Jacob Faria: So far it's lived up to everything everyone told me it was going to be. They told me it was going to be special since it was my first one and it has been. Just meeting guys I knew from last year and meeting new guys has made it a great experience so far.
Rays Digest: What kinds of things have you been focusing on that you learned last year in the GCL? Is there anything specific that you've been doing in spring training?
Jacob Faria: I used to be a really big throw-across-my-body guy, so my sides have been focusing on throwing on a nice straight stride to home plate. Just being able to hold my balance over the rubber, that was probably one of my biggest issues last year in the GCL. So that's what the pitching coaches have been focusing on so far.
Rays Digest: Last time I talked to you, you mentioned that you threw a lot across your body in high school. Is that kind of what you're talking about?
Jacob Faria: I used to throw like Jered Weaver is now - a lot like that. But obviously he is a much older and more developed player and I am a lot younger and more susceptible to arm injuries. That was the biggest thing that they wanted me to change, straightening my line to home plate.
Rays Digest: Talking about your mechanics, are you still able to get the same downward plane on your fastball with your re-worked delivery?
Jacob Faria: Actually, I've gotten better downward plane now because I'm able to get over the front side a lot easier. I'm not working as hard to get back in the direction of home plate. So now it's easier to focus on getting over the front side and get more downward plane. There's less that I have to work through to get where I want to be. So it's actually been a lot easier to get downhill.
Rays Digest: So it sounds like this change in mechanics is not only helping you avoid injury, but it's actually improving the quality of your pitching too.
Jacob Faria: Yeah exactly.
Rays Digest: You only pitched in 15 innings last year in the GCL and obviously you're going to pitch a lot more than that this year. I saw you last week and you're a really tall guy and very lanky, which works well because you have a lot of room to grow and strengthen as you get older. Is there anything in your off-season program that you do to gain weight or anything like that?
Jacob Faria: I've been trying to gain weight just through my workout routine and by lifting weights and stuff. Since you don't want to get too bulky, I've been drinking a lot of whey-protein and just trying to get as much of that in my system as possible to try and gain as much healthy weight as I can.
Rays Digest: Last time we talked, you were talking a little bit about your approach on the mound. You're not a flame-thrower. You like to pitch to contact and let your fielders do the work. As you begin to grow more physically and fill out, do you still plan on keeping the same approach? Because it's entirely possible that you could gain a couple of miles-per-hour on your fastball.
Jacob Faria: Oh yeah. Every pitcher knows that you have to hit the glove and that that's the only way that you're going to have a long career. You have to hit the glove and get people out. The easiest way to do that is by pitching to contact and limiting your pitch count, which is always going to be my thing. I mean I could maybe, hopefully, be throwing mid-to-upper 90's one day, but I'm still going to be throwing to the glove and trying to get guys to get themselves out. But if they do want to swing and miss, so be it.
Rays Digest: I've talked to a few pitchers about this and they're all kind of in the same position as you - they're not flame-throwers yet. So in addition to trying to gain weight and fill out, what kinds of exercises can you do to gain arm strength and gain some velocity on your fastball? Is there anything specific?
Jacob Faria: What I did during the off-season was use an arm-strengthening - it's a Cybex machine - which focuses on strengthening the shoulder, strengthening the forearm and being able to gain arm speed. As you know, the main key to throwing harder is arm speed and good mechanics - which is what I've been working on. So I do that. I also do the Jaeger bands, which I've been doing a long time. Then Athletic Republic as a new arm band which I've been using the last year-and-a-half, which has really been beneficial. All those things tied-in together is what has been able to keep my arm healthy and actually get stronger in the process.
Rays Digest: I believe that you mentioned that last year you missed a few starts because you had dead-arm syndrome. Is there anything you're planning on doing this year to try and avoid that or is that just one of those inevitable things that happens to pitchers?
Rays Digest: I just think that it's one of those things that happens to guys. They move from high school - or even college - to pro ball and aren't used it. The amount of throwing that I did last year, my body wasn't used to it. All the work that I did during the off-season and all of the weight-lifting, conditioning and shoulder-strengthening, I think that that is going to do the work in keeping my shoulder healthy all season long.
Rays Digest: Obviously you have no control over where you are assigned besides your performance on the mound, but do you have any specific goals for the season? Is there any stuff you want to work on in addition to your mechanics?
Jacob Faria: My knowledge of the game. Everybody in camp has natural, God-given talent. But as you know, it's how you apply that talent. That's one of the other things that I've really been working on - the mental side of the game. How to apply what I've been given to the game. That's one of the major things I've been working on so far.
Rays Digest: Your 18 years old and this is your first spring training. Are there any older players - maybe college guys - that you've been talking to or getting pointers from?
Jacob Faria: There are a couple of guys that I met during the off-season, here and in the GCL. Guys like Joe Cruz, Shane Dyer - upper-level guys. Albert Suarez, who I met last year when he was rehabbing and I was at Instructs. I've just been getting pointers on what the season entails and what I need to prepare for. Those specific guys, I've been picking their brains a little bit.
Rays Digest: This will be your first really long period of time away from home, and I know that at Princeton they have families that you guys can live with to help you with the transition, but can you tell me a little bit about your support network? Who is going to help you get through your first season full season of pro ball?
Jacob Faria: For right now I have my parents and I do have a girlfriend back home. She's always there for me. If I need cheering up, she's always there to talk to. If I do need help financially - because as you know, minor league guys don't get paid that much and I'm not looking to dip into the money that I got from the Rays to sign - my Dad, my Mom, they're always there to help. That's who I've got behind me.
John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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