Charleston RiverDogs

Taylor Widener had a great debut season but his game is really only now starting to develop.

Taylor Widener had a terrific professional debut season on many fronts. Not only did he end the season posting a combined 0.47 ERA between short-season Staten Island and low-Charleston but his entire game took dramatic steps forward, including a brand new changeup that was perfected at Instructs. He says he's excited to unleash his newest weapon in his first full season next year too.

He went a perfect 3-0 with just 17 hits allowed in 38.1 combined innings, striking out a ridiculous 59 batters along the way. 

"I wasn't expecting to have that good a start to my professional career but I guess I'll take it," he said tongue and cheek.  "The biggest thing that I got out of this year was the development of the stuff that I didn't really get to work on in college.

"They kept telling me 'it's not about the numbers here, it's more about development' and it really just put me at ease, and I just went up there, started throwing, working on my changeup, and it really helped me out.  I can already tell I'm getting better from when I was in school and that's a really good thing."

Widener had a solid last season with the University of South Carolina, posting a 4.20 ERA for the Gamecocks and striking out 68 batters in 55.2 innings splitting time between the bullpen and rotation.  However, despite the solid numbers and mid-90s fastball he didn't get drafted until the Yankees selected him in the 12th round this year.

"Yeah I thought I was going to go higher than that but I just use that as motivation, that I'm going to prove to people that they messed up not picking me up earlier," he said.  "I'm not going to let it make me mad or anything but I'll just use it as motivation."

Perhaps his split-time between the two roles allowed him to fly under the radar and help underrate him a bit and that role duality extended to the professional level this year too which may also have allowed him once again get overlooked by many. 

"I kind of liked being on a routine.  I think that definitely helps me.  I still like coming out of the bullpen -- it's fun for me -- but if I'm going to get a routine I think that helps me out too.  I can definitely do both though."

His versatility on the mound is a huge plus but what the Yankees found out rather quickly is that there is a sizable starting ceiling that has to be explored and that appears to be the immediate plan going forward.  The Yankees began stretching him out as a starting pitcher towards the end of the regular season and that plan was even more evident at Instructs.

"I'm definitely ready to be a starter," he strongly opined.  "I think that's going to give me time as I'm progressing to be able to work on my pitches and get more reps.

"I think it's going to nothing but make me a better pitcher and in the long-run if I end up back in the bullpen I'm going to have comfort with all of my pitches because I've been a starter, so I'm going to have all of those extra reps and I'll just be that much more comfortable throwing anything."

Already armed with a 94-97 mph fastball and a potentially plus breaking ball, moving him into the rotation full-time meant getting to work on his changeup, a pitch he didn't throw much of in college.  He had one he didn't use too much but he began working on it more and more, especially in Charleston, and that development plan followed him to Instructional League.

"They just really wanted me to get comfortable throwing it.  Whenever I first got up to Staten Island -- it had movement -- but it was like 88-89 mph.   It definitely needed to slow down some.

"I think my last few outings [at Instructs] I was 83-85 mph throwing my changeup and it's made a world of a difference.  I was messing around with some of my grips.  It's just all of these little small adjustments that makes me look like I've been throwing it a lot longer than I really have. 

"My last few outings in Charleston I think it was decent but I think my last few outings in Instructs it was better.  Whenever I was getting loose [before games and in practices], once I got past 70 feet I'd only throw changeups and just get a feel for it."

He didn't just slow it down either.  What he was able to do was develop the movement of his changeup even further and the finished product was quite staggering.

"I think the movement honestly has gotten even better," he emphasized.  "It's one of those things, it's all about feel.  Just from how much they're making me throw it I'm just getting that much more comfortable with it.  I'm starting to get a real good feel for it."

He got such a good feel for it by the end of Instructs that he simply can't wait to take his newest weapon with him and unleash it on opposing batters in his first full season next year.

"I'm really excited for it.  I'm definitely going to work hard on that pitch in the offseason and I'm going to try to come back with it the way I left it [at Instructs]."

Coming off of a dominating season like he just had and possessing what eventually could wind up being three plus pitches, the comparisons are already being made that he could very well be next year's version of Chance Adams, somebody who could move rather quickly in a starting role and find immediate success along the way, especially given how quickly the changeup is coming around.

"It definitely motivates me to work even harder in the offseason.  That there's a guy that they're moving up the system that they really like and they're comparing me to him, that's nothing but motivation to work even harder so I don't let them down," he concluded.

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