Click here to ensure you don't miss another issue of PinstripesPlus Magazine AND save money at the same time! Time is also running out to get your copy of the Scout.com Prospects Guide so don't delay.
Brett Marshall became a pitcher, not a thrower, in 2010
It may sound simplistic in nature, but one of the hardest lessons a pitching prospect has to learn while developing in the minor leagues is becoming more of a pitcher and less of a raw thrower. For 20-year old Brett Marshall, he used his time wisely rehabbing his way back from Tommy John surgery this year to do exactly that and completely reinvent himself on the mound.
The Yankees' sixth round pick from 2008 out of Sterling High School in Texas, who by all accounts garnered first round consideration that year, entered the professional ranks with a reputation as a workout junkie, possessing a big-time power arm and an ultra-aggressive approach to boot.
After getting into just three games with the Gulf Coast League Yankees that same year, he really began his professional career the following season in the South Atlantic League. And despite all of his upside and success as an amateur, he struggled mightily with the Charleston RiverDogs, going just 3-6 with a 5.56 ERA before succumbing to Tommy John surgery in late July of 2009.
While it is widely known that it takes most pitchers a minimum of one year to get back on the mound after that kind of surgery, Marshall made his return on June 21st this past season. But as remarkable as his speedy recovery was, it was the degree of success in his comeback bid that has amazed many.
He finished the 2010 season posting a combined 4-2 record and 2.57 ERA over three minor league levels, and held opposing hitters to a paltry .204 batting average after serving up a .290 average a year ago.
"The season as a whole, I could not ask for any better, especially coming off of Tommy John [surgery]," Marshall said. "I pretty much did everything that I wanted to do which was get back into the season at least by the All Star break, which I did. I got back to Charleston a week after the All Star break and that was exciting.
"To tell you the truth, I wasn't looking to have a dominating season. I just wanted to come back, get a feel for it because everyone I talked to told me that it may take a year or two coming back from Tommy John [surgery] to get everything back like your command."
It sure didn't take him long to get his command back, however. In fact, Marshall, who walked nearly four batters per nine innings in 2009, showed much better command and control in 2010, issuing less than three walks per nine innings.
"Honestly, I got even better command," he continued. "I came back a whole different pitcher, different mechanics, everything going right for me, especially getting my two pitches back with my slider and my two-seam sinker.
"It made me a whole different pitcher from last year because I got all of my confidence back that I kind of lost last year. The year went great as a whole. I couldn't ask for anything better."
His success this year actually started during his rehab. Unable to throw a baseball for several months, Marshall used his time wisely to work with rehab pitching coach Danny Borrell on smoothing out his mechanics and getting a more consistent release point.
"Definitely, that's what we worked on a lot – just mechanics," he said. "We did mirror work. I'd show up early even before we went out on the field and we'd sit there to do mirror work and just work on the mechanics: balance point, separation, and getting my arm up, things I wasn't doing last year when my arm got hurt.
"That was the biggest thing because I was a power pitcher and I had the tendency of leaving my arm behind [in my delivery] and that's what put a lot of stress on the elbow and caused me to blow it out.
"That's the biggest thing we said, ‘hey, let's get this arm up, we've got it going catching up with the body' and that's exactly what I did. It impressed a lot of people that I was able to change my mechanics and get my arm moving with my body."
With his reputation as an extremely hard worker preceding him, it wasn't too surprising that he came back with better mechanics though. While it was a necessary step in his recovery foundation, the prerequisite was changing his mindset and approach to pitching first.
He would routinely try and overpower batters in his 2009 season, always seeking the strikeout in the name of compiling stats.
"I think the biggest thing for him – as a matter of fact it was the first day he got to Charleston [this year] and we started talking about last year and what he needed to do to better himself from last year – the first thing out of his mouth was ‘I need to be a pitcher, I'm going to be a pitcher this year. Last year I was a thrower and this year I'm going to be a pitcher'," Charleston pitching coach Jeff Ware recounted the conversation.
"I thought right then and there that with his mindset that he was going to be a completely different pitcher, that he's going to have better success. What he meant by that was, last year he was just trying to throw the ball hard and throw the ball by everybody.
"He has a mid-90's fastball but he wasn't locating it. This past year he came in with basically the same fastball but located it down in the zone. I think that was the biggest difference I saw in him this year."
Marshall credits Borrell for his changed approach on the mound. Once a max-effort hurler who craved high radar gun readings, Marshall learned during his rehab that intensity doesn't always equal plus velocity.
"Danny taught me that you don't have to go out there and throw the ball as hard as you can," Marshall said. "He was like ‘I promise you, if you go out there and throw the ball with 80 percent effort that you'll still have the velocity you want'. I did that and I was still throwing the ball from 92-95 mph.
"He was like ‘I told you. You don't look like you're a max effort guy. You look like you're barely throwing the ball and it's still jumping out of your hands'. It kind of proved it to me. I got through the season and I didn't even try to throw the ball hard."
He still managed to throw the ball hard, however. But instead of maxing out on four-seamers each and every game, he introduced his sinking two-seamer. Now he not only had plus velocity but he had plus movement as well.
"You see a guy who has that power arm – I remember having numerous conversations with him where I told him ‘listen, there are time for strikeouts," Borrell said. "There are times where you can reach back and grab your 96 [mph fastball] and blow it by guys, but once you get to the big leagues those guys can catch up to 96 [mph]. You have to be able to get a ground ball when you need one; conserve your pitches'."
"I think he really bought into that and it's obvious because his pitch counts were real low this year. He was going five or six innings with real low pitch counts."
Marshall says in hindsight that the introduction of the sinker was the first big step in reconstructing his pitching repertoire.
"I had my sinker and I had a lot of movement on my ball now, which really helped me out. I was able to get really good command of it also. I'd say in most games I was mainly 90-94 mph. I just sat there and I wasn't even trying to throw hard.
"My approach was ‘I want this guy to hit it'. I wasn't trying to strike anybody out. I was like ‘here, I'll throw you a fastball and just hit it on the ground for me, get yourself out'. I allowed my defense to work and that was my big mentality [change] this year and much different than last year."
Better mechanics and bringing in the sinker were huge for him in 2010, but so was scrapping his lackluster curveball, a pitch that was wildly inconsistent for him in 2009, in favor of a slider.
"I think the biggest part was just his mental state and he also didn't throw a curveball this year, he went to the slider," Ware said. "I think that really helped him because he was able to throw it for strikes whereas last year he couldn't throw his curveball for a strike. I think adding that slider to his repertoire helped him immensely because it gave him a third pitch that he was able to throw for strikes."
"I think a big key for him was the introduction of the slider," Borrell concurred. "I think more than anything it was a good confidence boost for him. He now knew that he had three quality weapons that he could go at hitters with."
Struggling with fastball command and unable to throw his curveball for strikes, more often than not Marshall would only have one reliable pitch, his changeup, in his arsenal in 2009. And by all accounts his changeup has gotten even better lately, becoming another plus pitch for him.
There are many of those in charge of his development that also believe that, in time, his slider has the potential to become a third plus pitch for him.
"It came in as a cutter type pitch, real hard, but what we want to do is turn that more into a slider," Ware added. "He did that. He started turning that into a slider with some serious slider tilt to it and some late action.
"It became a more swing-and-miss type pitch. It definitely has some room to get better, but for a kid to come out and start throwing it, I think it is going to help him out tremendously."
There were a litany of changes to his game in 2010; better mechanics, a more consistent release point, more sinkers than four-seam fastballs, an improved changeup, a reliable slider in favor of a developing curveball, and improved command overall.
It's no wonder he had so much better success, but to a man, everyone, including Marshall himself, believes everything began with his changing mindset.
"Becoming a pitcher, not a thrower," Marshall listed as the biggest change to his game. "It goes back to me not trying to throw the ball through a brick wall, trying to hit my spots and not trying to throw as hard as I can to blow it by a batter. Letting them hit the ball and knowing I had a [good] defense behind me is what changed my game a lot.
"In high school you don't have a very good defense so you kind of want to strike everybody out. Playing professional baseball, it's all a job for us and so I know I have a good infield now. I know I have people who can make plays. A big thing for me is letting my defense work."
"Absolutely, that's it," Yankees senior vice president of scouting and player development Mark Newman said. "He's starting to learn that – he's a good stuff guy, a hyper-aggressive guy out of high school and it was his objective to throw 98 mph – now he's comfortable 93, 94, 95, and he'll throw a quality changeup.
"He's really working on his breaking pitch and his fastball and changeup are fine. His breaking ball needs some work and he's working on it.
"He's been in the game for a little while now," Newman continued. "He sees what succeeds and he sees what doesn't succeed. He's been around players who know how to pitch and he's heard coaches say it over and over again. All of those messages have been hitting him and it's been a good deal for him. He's learning about his profession."
With the degree of success he's had over the last calendar year, Marshall can't help but believe that having Tommy John surgery has been the turning point in his career.
"My whole family and I talk about it all the time, having Tommy John surgery helped me out because I don't know if I would have changed as much of my mechanics if I didn't have Tommy John," Marshall claimed.
"I knew why I had to have the surgery, I knew my mechanics were bad, so I knew I had to change them. So if I didn't have the surgery I probably would have been the same guy as last year."
In the truest example of the proverbial snowball effect, Marshall's surgery led to a changing mindset, which in turn led to reconstructing his mechanics and repertoire, and now all of his success as a result has culminated in brimming confidence.
"I'm a lot more mature," Marshall said. "To tell you the truth it's confidence. I have a lot more confidence than I did last year. I think that's the one big word for this year, how much confidence I got back because I didn't have it last year at all."
That's a scary proposition too for a player who entered the professional ranks as naturally confident as anyone.
"I think the best thing I can say about Brett is his confidence, otherwise known as cockiness," said Torre Tyson, his manager in Charleston in 2009 and manager in Tampa this past year. "I think for guys to succeed at the New York Yankee level there has to be some sort of swagger and he's definitely got that.
"I think last year was a wakeup call for him, finally getting hit around a little bit. He realized he can't just throw it hard, harder, and hardest, and get guys out. He had to learn how to pitch and in the two starts he had with us [in Tampa] I saw that he had a better idea of reading swings, pitch-ability, and learning how to be a pitcher and not a thrower."
And there's the constant mantra when it comes to Brett Marshall these days as he has completely reinvented himself on the mound.
"I've actually had a few scouts come up to me and ask me ‘how did you do it?' They would tell me that they watched video of me last year and they couldn't understand how I was able to change my mechanics that much to make them so much better," Marhall said.
"They'd tell me they know how hard it is for anyone, let alone a 20-year old guy. I just told them that I knew what I was doing wrong. I knew even before I got hurt what I was doing wrong.
"After I got hurt I knew what I had to work on and I knew it wasn't going to be easy. That's where all the mirror work came in, the dry sides, and I realized it started even with long-tossing and playing catch. That's where a lot of bad habits come from, from playing catch.
"So now even when I'm long-tossing or playing catch I'm acting like I'm out on the mound and working on my mechanics. I basically reinvented myself."
His rehab pitching coach, however, has a cautionary tale for anyone who might think he has gotten away from his roots.
"He may have reinvented himself in terms of mechanics and this and that, but he's still a power pitcher," Borrell said. "Even though he throws a lot of sinkers now, he's still low-to-mid-90's.
"When you can do that with the extra movement he has on his two-seamer now, he's going to roll a lot of ground balls on the way up to the big leagues. He'll succeed."