Brad Penner / USA Today Sports

We look back at our magazine feature article on Yankees reliever Adam Warren from October of 2009.

We take a look back at one of our magazine feature articles on current Yankees reliever Adam Warren from back in October of 2009 when he had just completed his professional debut season in Staten Island to get a sense of where he was in his development at the time and how he eventually worked his way up to where he is nearly seven years later.

It's nearly impossible for college seniors to get chosen in the first few rounds of the MLB Draft simply because they have zero leverage when negotiating, and, as a result, they are normally picked much later. But in the case of Staten Island pitcher Adam Warren, he can thank his changing mindset before his senior year with his rather high selection and enhanced pitchability.

Undrafted out of high school, Warren attended the University of North Carolina, and he helped build that program into a national powerhouse over his four years by going 31-4 with a 3.49 ERA over his final three years of school.

"It was a great four years," the North Carolina native said. "Obviously, we made the World Series all four years, and that was a great experience for me. I had the opportunity to pitch on a national stage more than once, which was exciting.

"I felt like I got better each year, and I just learned how to pitch. Coming in as a freshman, it was all about throwing as hard as you can for strikes down the middle. You learn you have to spot up these other pitches to get hitters out.

"It was fun to be a part of program that was on the rise. The [University of North] Carolina program is now considered a powerhouse. Coming in as a freshman, I don't think you could say that about them. It was pretty cool to see that transformation, and we won so it was a great experience for me."

After getting his feet wet as a freshman, Warren started getting some notoriety after his 12-0, 2.17 ERA sophomore campaign. Seemingly poised to raise his draft stock entering his junior year, however, his ERA ballooned to 4.23 and he walked nearly five batters per nine innings.

"My sophomore year, I was mainly the weekday starter where I faced non-conference opponents as opposed to ACC," he admitted. "My junior year, I faced just conference opponents mainly, so the competition got tougher. I started that season off on a bad note.

"Confidence is a big deal with me, and it was a struggle to get back on track. You have bad seasons sometimes, and that was a bad one for me. That was part of my motivation to come back, I didn't want to end my college career on such a bad note. I wanted to try and improve my numbers and prove myself."

Seeking some sort of redemption was part of his motivation for going to back to college for his senior year. So was getting selected in the 36th-round after his sub-par junior year.

"Obviously 36 is not a glamorous number, and I pretty much wanted to go back to school," he said. "I took a lot of pride in my academics, and I really wanted to graduate. I kind of had the mindset that I was going back.

"I talked to the Indians a little bit but it came down to I wanted somebody to make an investment in me and not just throw me away after a year.

"I felt like I went back to college and improved my status. I feel like I've improved. I decided to go back and get my degree and have one more year to prove that I was better than the 36th-round."

Obviously, he proved he was better than a 36th-round pick his senior year, going 10-2 with a 3.31 ERA against the stiff competition of the ACC, and he did it while bring his walk ratios back down to the one he posted in his terrific sophomore campaign.

Aside from the competitive differences between facing non-conference opponents in his sophomore year and rigorously getting tested by ACC opponents in his junior year, Warren says he noticed a difference in approach to hitters between the two seasons.

"I wasn't all down on myself or anything, but I was tentative," he said. "If I threw a 2-0 fastball on the outer-half, it may get hit. Going into my senior year, I just trusted my stuff more. I had the mindset, 'if it gets hit, it gets hit. I don't want to walk this person. I want him to earn his way on.’ Just taking that mindset really helped me to attack hitters, and I felt cutting down the walks was the biggest reason for improving."

An average velocity pitcher most of his college career, one who routinely sat 89-91 mph on the radar gun, aiding his confidence to challenge hitters more his senior year was a sudden and somewhat unexpected power surge.

"It was kind of funny, my whole college career and then the first half of my senior year I was 89-91, touching 92 mph," Warren said. "And from my second-half of my senior year through my year in Staten Island, I was anywhere from 91-94 mph, touching 95 and hitting 96 mph once.

"It's been kind of a good year as far as my arm. My velocity jumped, and it's been exciting. People have asked me where that's come from, and I wish I could tell you so I could increase it more, but I think it's just one of those things where mechanics come together, your arms feels good, and the velocity just jumps."

For years hundreds of scouts had seen Warren more than a few times since the Tarheels were expected to produce two first-round picks this past season in the form of center fielder Dustin Ackley [drafted second overall by the Seattle Mariners] and pitcher Alex White [selected 15th overall by the Cleveland Indians].

And, it stands to reason that, by the first half of his senior year, a majority of those scouts who had seen him several times over probably had begun to write him off.

"It was funny to get different scouts' takes on where they would see me going," he smirked. "Some would see me going anywhere from the fourth-round to the sixth, and others from the eighth to the tenth. I think it depended on who saw me in what part of the year.

"Really, in the [college] postseason is when I started to use that velocity, and I had a good number of strikeouts in my last three or four starts.

"I believe the Yankees were there in those last three or four starts, and they saw me at my best. That's why they maybe had me ranked higher on their draft board than most people."

Just like it was back in 2005 when the Yankees tabbed another senior in the third-round [Brett Gardner], New York didn't let the fact that Warren was a senior dissuade them from taking a chance on him.

"He's a young senior," Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees scouting director, told "I think some people are going to look and see he's a senior, but he's a young senior.

"You're talking about a 21-year-old senior. The stuff kept getting better as the season went on this year, the velocity kept getting better, he has always won, he has always thrown quality strikes, he's got a good now curveball, and by the end of the year in his last three starts we saw quite a few 94's [on the gun].

"I think sometimes when guys get older or have been at a place for a long time, they get a label that 'he's this kind of guy', a pitchability kind of guy. I think what we've got a chance at here is a guy who can pitch and whose stuff keeps riding up the charts."

It didn't take Warren long to make Oppenheimer appear the prognosticator of prognosticators. He went 4-2 with a tiny 1.43 ERA and posted a better than 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio for the Staten Island Yankees, and he did it by topping out at 96 mph during the season.

"I felt like it was a good year for me," Warren said after he helped lead Staten Island to the NY-Penn League championship. "Obviously, I had some success on the field, but, more importantly, I felt like I got better each start. That's big for me.

"I came in to work on my offspeed pitches and get more consistent with my curveball. I really felt like I did that and improved my mechanics.I just learned how to pitch at a professional level and got my feet wet. I felt like I had a good season and that's what I was looking for to start off my pro career."

Too often, college seniors are permanently stereotyped as fully developed players with little projection left, possessing an unyielding stubbornness to try something new and obsessed with their own statistics over development.

If true, however, it clearly isn't the case with Warren.

"I obviously wanted to go in and have a good year and prove myself a little bit," he admitted. "I wasn't really worried about results this year as much as just getting better and improving as a pitcher. It's awesome when success comes along with that.

"I just wanted to improve all four of my pitches and get ready for next year. I worked some things out with [Staten Island] pitching coach Pat Daneker and kind of met my expectations.'

Warren was primarily a fastball pitcher in college, but, as he astutely realized prior to his senior year that he needed to attack batters more, he also quickly learned that to pitch at the professional level and succeed meant improving his breaking pitch arsenal.

"I think it got better as the season went on," he said of his curveball. "Coming from college, I didn't really throw it much. It was always there but maybe only one two or three times a game.

"I really took it as a challenge to where I could throw it for strikes and throw it 20 times a game, or however many. And usually it was one of my bigger pitches. I felt like as the season went on it got better. The break was more consistent, and I spun it for strikes.

"Near the end of the season, I started getting some strikeouts with it. As the season went on, I felt that curveball had more consistent break, and I could locate it better."

And even though the former 36th-round pick has found some immediate success with his curveball, he knows there's no such thing as being content in the development game.

"My curveball and my slider, being able to locate those for strikes and getting ahead or putting hitters away with them, if I can get more consistent with those to the point where in any count that I can throw any pitch, I think I'd become a more effective pitcher," he said.

"That's been my goal the last year, improve those pitches and maintain my fastball command, and be able to throw any pitch at any time."

Excited about the prospects of throwing harder and developing his secondary pitches further, Warren can't help but credit his changing mindset for the amazing transformation in his game over the last year.

"I felt like my offspeed pitches, my curveball and changeup, improved, and I was able to throw those for strikes," he said. "That really helped me to keep hitters off-balance, but the biggest thing I worked on this year was getting ahead of hitters.

"I feel like I'm a much better pitcher when I get ahead. That was my mindset going into each start, get ahead of hitters and not get behind and walk batters. I wanted to make them earn their way on, take control of the count and not get behind."

Seeing his stuff come together and having some immediate success, all while realizing there's still plenty of room to get better, has given Warren a plethora of confidence.

"I've got to say it's a high level," he said. "Obviously, I felt like I had a good season, but I'm still looking to build off of that. I'm not to the point where I'm satisfied. I feel like there's many areas where I can still get better.

"I'm looking forward to getting into next season because I feel good about my repertoire. I just want to keep myself mentally ready for next season, because coming off of a good year, you always want to get back out there. I'd say my confidence level is pretty high right now."

As exciting as it is to get the experience of a college senior, the promise of even more potential down the road is what makes Warren a unique case.

"Adam is a polished pitcher," Yankees minor league pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras said. "He’s got both the four-seam and two-seam fastballs. He can command it. He has a slider, he showed me a real quality curveball, and he showed me a decent changeup, and that’s what we’re working on right now."

It's funny how different a year makes, getting an obligatory draft selection in the 36th-round by the Indians before moving up 32 rounds the following year and winning a minor league championship in the first year.

"I'm attacking hitters more," he noted as the biggest difference in his game over the past year. "Obviously, my velocity is better now and my offspeed has improved. My changeup is now not just a show-me-pitch, it's a swing-and-miss pitch. My curveball is getting there.

"My slider was my go-to pitch in college, and I didn't really have it for most of the year in [Staten Island]. I got it back in my last two outings so I think those pitches are coming along. My changeup is probably the best it's been so that and attacking hitters have been the biggest difference."

While it's easy to point to much better stuff as the biggest reason for his rise to prominence, Warren keeps harping on the fact that it all started when he changed his mindset.

"Just changing your mindset - I've become a lot more aggressive," he insisted. "The increase in velocity has also helped too. That helps me when I'm thinking, 'what pitch I'm going to throw here.’ [Now] I could throw it pretty hard. Throwing it 89-90 mph down the middle there's a better chance of it getting hit. I think that has helped my confidence a bit, but I think it's more being aggressive early in the count to get ahead and then [have batters] swing at balls in the dirt or keep them off-balance."


Pinstripes Plus Top Stories