TigsTown Q&A: Caldwell Part Two

As one of the most respected coaches in the organization, Erie pitching coach Mike Caldwell has an opinion that carries some weight. What's more is the fact that Caldwell had the opportunity to tutor a number of the Tigers' top pitching prospects in 2005. We finish up the interview today with part two.

TT: Does the goal to get to the majors pertain to coaches the same way it does for the players?

MC: I really haven't had the opportunity to get to the big leagues yet. I have a personal belief. I think organizations need to have some of their very best coaches at the lower levels because I think that's where we really have the opportunity to teach these young men that come into professional ball what the life of a professional ball player is and should be all about and if you don't get them early, then sometimes you lose them as they move along.

TT: What kind of perks come along with your job?

MC: Well, I get one of the best seats in the house. I don't have to deal with daily traffic because it's not a 9-5 job. I don't have to wear a coat and a tie and I enjoy being around the younger kids. I have a 25-year-old son so I understand where he's coming from and what kind of music he likes. It's just a lot of fun being around a baseball field in a baseball game.

TT: Do you go out with the players much?

MC: Occasionally I'll go out and have something to eat – talk to them a little bit. I think sometimes you can find out more about a player by socializing with them a little bit as much as you can at the ballpark.

TT: How much of a difference can a pitching coach make on a player?

MC: At some times you can make a lot of difference. I'll go back to a quote from one of my pitching coaches I had when I was in the big leagues. "As a general rule of thumb, if you've got 12 pitchers on a ball club, you're probably going to help four. If you over-coach, you could hurt four and the other four probably wouldn't know you were there, whether you were coaching or not." So that goes back to the individualism of each kid. We try to give each kid the same amount of time and energy. Some of them respond better than others and some are intelligent enough to take in the information they get – filter out what doesn't work for them and use what does and move on about their business.

TT: What made your pitching coaches memorable?

MC: To me, they were people people. They made the game very simple. I was given a tip one to day to throw my curve ball by my ear. My coach didn't want me to throw it by my ear – but he gave me a simple message to get my arm up. Keep it simple stupid – that's an old baseball expression we call KISS – keep it simple stupid.

TT: When do you decide to take a pitcher out if he's not pitching well?

MC: That goes back to work load – how many pitches he's thrown in one particular inning, how many pitches he has to throw in the ballgame, how hot it is, whether he's laboring, are the outs that he's getting hit very hard. I think that's just where the experience of having been a player and having been a coach for a long time come into – well, when do we make this move. The general rule of thumb is simple – always take him out one hitter too soon rather than one hitter too late.

TT: What can you do for a pitcher who is struggling?

MC: Sympathize with him or maybe kick him in the butt – which ever personality you need to have at the time.

TT: You seem to have to be a chameleon a bit.

MC: Well, I think you have to be a psychiatrist a little bit. I think you really need to read personalities and just need to deal with each situation as it comes up – rather than trying to have some set way of doing everything before the situation arises.

TT: Who do you see that has a shot at going up to Detroit?

MC: We sent a kid named Joel Zumaya up to AAA and certainly expect to see him in Detroit very soon. Certainly expect to see Justin Verlander in Detroit very soon. I believe that any of our starters obviously have a chance. You've seen a guy by the name of Nate Cornejo, who is recovering from some arm surgery, who certainly knows how to pitch and if his velocity comes back a little bit – I'm sure you guys will see him again. We've got a guy named Humberto Sanchez who has the makings of a major league pitcher and if he can stay healthy and stay on the mound and learn how to pitch at this level – I expect him to move forward. We have a young man named Jeremy Johnson – he has fairly average stuff across the boards, but he certainly knows how to pitch, how to compete and he has the pitches that if he throws them where he wants to, he will be there. Edwin Almonte certainly has an outside chance. He has one of the best change-ups of anybody that I've seen but he certainly has to spot his fast ball to specific spots. You just never know where Edwin may wind up.

TT: What's your take on these pitchers progression?

MC: It's very exciting. For some of them, it's a very fast process. For some of them it's a slower process. I just try to be their coach and think I'm their psychiatrist to help them through it.


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