Stephens Mastering the Mental Art of Pitching

Many amateur pitchers come into professional baseball thinking that their old routine will work just the same in the minors. But someway or another, they find out that it takes a lot more than that to be successful at the pro level. What really matters is when they come to this realization. Unfortunately for Jason Stephens it took him three full seasons to reach this important step. But on the flip side, as it always does, it has led to a better performance on the field.

This year for the Yankee's Low-A affiliate, the Charleston RiverDogs, Jason Stephens has compiled a 2-1 record with an era of 1.66 while striking out 22 against just 4 walks, batters are hitting a mere .195 against him.

He was placed on the DL due to tightness in his forearm and shoulder about 10 days ago. He started throwing last Saturday and should return next Tuesday or Wednesday.

After struggling to break Spring Training camp with a full-season ball club his past two springs, Stephens made sure that there wasn't a third disappointment.

"I took a little initiative to make sure I did break camp with a full-season ball club," the 6 foot 4 inch right-hander explained. "So I came down on January 29th, five weeks early, so I could get a little extra work and be ready for Spring Training. I didn't want to have to try and get healthy during Spring Training. I wanted to come in ready to go. I think that helped a lot."

Stephens pitched well last year for short-season A Staten Island (2.82 are over 67 innings), and he sees his improvement as due to his mental preparation.

"I've really tried to step up my mental game. I'm keeping a book on hitters. I try to really focus so far as to what I am doing with each pitch," the Tallmadge, Ohio product said. "My first year and early on, I would kind of get lost in the game."

"I wasn't really paying attention and knowing what pitches to throw," Stephens continued. "I would just throw what ever the catcher put down. The past two seasons I've been working more on what pitches to throw in order to expose hitters' weaknesses."

Stephens has always been known as a control pitcher that feeds off ground balls. He works with a fastball, breaking ball, and changeup. Nothing special, but it has seemed to work so far this season. His velocity on his fastball has been down 2-3 mph than what he is used to working at, which is about 88-90 mph. But he thinks it is due to starting the season with a team earlier, so he isn't concerned and expects the velocity to return by mid-season.

He is working on sharpening up his breaking-ball, creating a tighter spin and adding velocity to the pitch. He worked on his changeup this spring and has improved it so much that he considers it better than his breaking ball.

Stephens stands at 6 foot 4 inches but needs to add some weight to his 190 pound frame. He lifted intensely this off-season and gained 10 pounds, working mainly on his lower body. When he eventually fills out, he could raise his velocity into the lower 90s.

Charleston's manager Bill Mosiello sees how the improvement in Stephens' mental game has really helped him on the mound.

"He's locating three pitches, throwing strikes, and working his butt off," Mosiello says of Stephens. "He's well prepared and does his homework on the hitters. He's a real student of the game. He's earned everything and done a great job. You couldn't ask for more, he's been a true professional."

Stephens doesn't mind being referred to as a "poor-man's Greg Maddux" and accepts that he will have to make the Major Leagues as a control pitcher.

"I've always been a ground ball, control type pitcher," Stephens said. "I've never been a strikeout pitcher even though this year my strikeouts are up, but that's just a coincidence and I'm sure it'll even out. I try to attack to the strike zone and avoid walks. L eave the ball down in the zone and try to get ground balls early in the count so I can pitch late into games."

Characterized as mature for his age, Stephens surprisingly does not buy into that label and sees it more as a common correlation to his pitching and personality.

"I've always been a control guy, and a lot of times people factor that to maturity," Stephens explained. "So I guess it looks like I'm real mature. As far as I'm concerned, I am not as mature as anyone here. I try to stay out of trouble which is a big part. I think I've got a long way to go baseball wise, when it comes to maturity."

Fellow pitcher Eric Wordekemper sees a lot of virtues in Stephens that can be said about a lot of solid Major League pitchers.

"He's a real hard worker. He's got the right mind-set now. Combine that with his intelligence and he has a real bright future," Wordekemper told PinstripesPlus.com. "He's really starting to pay attention to details and he has a good ability to locate."

"[Stephens'] a great kid, doesn't say a whole lot, but he is prepared and a good competitor," Mosiello said of Stephens. "I give my hat to him, he has been real consistent. What he's shown is that if you change speeds and throw strikes with three different pitches you can win, and that is what has happened."

"I'm a pretty boring guy," Stephens commented on his personality. "I don't go out after games. I get done with the games, go home, go to bed, get up, and come to the field."

So what if he isn't David Wells? Greg Maddux is a pretty boring guy as well and he has about 100 more wins than Wells.

Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n\r\n\r\nThis year for the Yankee's Low-A affiliate, the Charleston RiverDogs, Jason Stephens has compiled a 2-1 record with an era of 1.66 while striking out 22 against just 4 walks, batters are hitting a mere .195 against him.
\r\n
\r\nHe was placed on the DL due to tightness in his forearm and shoulder about 10 days ago. He started throwing last Saturday and should return next Tuesday or Wednesday.
\r\n
\r\nAfter struggling to break Spring Training camp with a full-season ball club his past two springs, Stephens made sure that there wasn't a third disappointment.
\r\n
\r\n\"I took a little initiative to make sure I did break camp with a full-season ball club,\" the 6 foot 4 inch right-hander explained. \"So I came down on January 29th, five weeks early, so I could get a little extra work and be ready for Spring Training. I didn't want to have to try and get healthy during Spring Training. I wanted to come in ready to go. I think that helped a lot.\"
\r\n
\r\nStephens pitched well last year for short-season A Staten Island (2.82 are over 67 innings), and he sees his improvement as due to his mental preparation.
\r\n
\r\n\"I've really tried to step up my mental game. I'm keeping a book on hitters. I try to really focus so far as to what I am doing with each pitch,\" the Tallmadge, Ohio product said. \"My first year and early on, I would kind of get lost in the game.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"I wasn't really paying attention and knowing what pitches to throw,\" Stephens continued. \"I would just throw what ever the catcher put down. The past two seasons I've been working more on what pitches to throw in order to expose hitters' weaknesses.\"
\r\n
\r\nStephens has always been known as a control pitcher that feeds off ground balls. He works with a fastball, breaking ball, and changeup. Nothing special, but it has seemed to work so far this season. His velocity on his fastball has been down 2-3 mph than what he is used to working at, which is about 88-90 mph. But he thinks it is due to starting the season with a team earlier, so he isn't concerned and expects the velocity to return by mid-season.
\r\n
\r\nHe is working on sharpening up his breaking-ball, creating a tighter spin and adding velocity to the pitch. He worked on his changeup this spring and has improved it so much that he considers it better than his breaking ball.
\r\n
\r\nStephens stands at 6 foot 4 inches but needs to add some weight to his 190 pound frame. He lifted intensely this off-season and gained 10 pounds, working mainly on his lower body. When he eventually fills out, he could raise his velocity into the lower 90s.
\r\n
\r\nCharleston's manager Bill Mosiello sees how the improvement in Stephens' mental game has really helped him on the mound.
\r\n
\r\n\"He's locating three pitches, throwing strikes, and working his butt off,\" Mosiello says of Stephens. \"He's well prepared and does his homework on the hitters. He's a real student of the game. He's earned everything and done a great job. You couldn't ask for more, he's been a true professional.\"
\r\n
\r\nStephens doesn't mind being referred to as a \"poor-man's Greg Maddux\" and accepts that he will have to make the Major Leagues as a control pitcher.
\r\n
\r\n\"I've always been a ground ball, control type pitcher,\" Stephens said. \"I've never been a strikeout pitcher even though this year my strikeouts are up, but that's just a coincidence and I'm sure it'll even out. I try to attack to the strike zone and avoid walks. L eave the ball down in the zone and try to get ground balls early in the count so I can pitch late into games.\"
\r\n
\r\nCharacterized as mature for his age, Stephens surprisingly does not buy into that label and sees it more as a common correlation to his pitching and personality.
\r\n
\r\n\"I've always been a control guy, and a lot of times people factor that to maturity,\" Stephens explained. \"So I guess it looks like I'm real mature. As far as I'm concerned, I am not as mature as anyone here. I try to stay out of trouble which is a big part. I think I've got a long way to go baseball wise, when it comes to maturity.\"
\r\n
\r\nFellow pitcher Eric Wordekemper sees a lot of virtues in Stephens that can be said about a lot of solid Major League pitchers.
\r\n
\r\n\"He's a real hard worker. He's got the right mind-set now. Combine that with his intelligence and he has a real bright future,\" Wordekemper told PinstripesPlus.com. \"He's really starting to pay attention to details and he has a good ability to locate.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"[Stephens'] a great kid, doesn't say a whole lot, but he is prepared and a good competitor,\" Mosiello said of Stephens. \"I give my hat to him, he has been real consistent. What he's shown is that if you change speeds and throw strikes with three different pitches you can win, and that is what has happened.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"I'm a pretty boring guy,\" Stephens commented on his personality. \"I don't go out after games. I get done with the games, go home, go to bed, get up, and come to the field.\"
\r\n
\r\nSo what if he isn't David Wells? 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