Yankees May Have Something With Axford

The future appeared to be incredibly bright for right-handed pitcher John Axford. A 7th round pick of the Seatte Mariners out of high school, he chose to attend Notre Dame instead and became their #1 pitcher immediately in his freshman year. Five years later, he's looking to resurrect his once promising career with the New York Yankees.

Topping out at only 91 MPH in his senior year of high school, John Axford reported to fall-ball at the University of Notre Dame in his freshman year throwing a bit harder, maxing out at 93 MPH. But when spring rolled around and the 6-foot-6 hurler was zipping in fastballs that reached 98 MPH, he instantly anchored the staff for the Fighting Irish.

He went a combined 14-5 with a 4.14 ERA in his first two years at Notre Dame and seemed destined to be an early round pick in the MLB Draft back in 2005, especially since he had a great curveball and a good changeup as well.

But Tommy John surgery in his junior year forced him out of action and he not only missed all of the 2005 season but pitched just three innings in his senior year and wound up having to transfer to Cansisius College.

"Things didn't go well when I came back," Axford said of his return from Tommy John surgery. "They [Notre Dame] tried changing a few things but they didn't work out physically so I had to transfer to another school."

Before transferring however, the Cincinatti Reds selected him in the 42nd round as a draft-and-follow, giving Axford a glimmer of hope a team would give him a chance.

"They never really followed," he said of his situation with the Reds. "It was just a draft. They told me I was going to be a draft-and-follow but nothing really happened there. No disrespect to the Reds, but I think they had different views from their side. I think they thought I was going back to Notre Dame and things just weren't really working out that way for them or for me."

Instead of being able to begin his pro career then, he went to Canisius and went just 3-8 with a 5.01 ERA in 14 starts for the Golden Griffins last season. While the numbers weren't pretty, his stuff had begun to come back from his first two years at Notre Dame.

"I went to Canisius. It was good to know my arm could come back velocity-wise and things like that, but mentally is was pretty tough because it was a change in school. I loved Notre Dame so it was tough to leave and it was also tough going to a team that was trying to rebound."

He attended various pre-draft workouts last season to show teams he had successfully returned to his old form. However, unable to sign immediately after the college season as an undrafted free agent, Axford headed west to play in an independent league in Saskatchewan, a province of Canada, in a league filled with some ex-pros.

It was there where he opened some scouts' eyes, especially after having a 7-inning/19 strikeout performance and finishing the season with twice as many strikeouts as innings pitched.

"Some teams kind of took notice," he said of his performance last summer. "The Yankees were the first that I tried out with out in Staten Island and down here [in Tampa]. When they offered me a contract I took it right away. I wasn't even going to try and throw for another team because the Yankees were tops in my book."

"Honestly, I didn't throw real well," he said of his tryout with the Yankees. "I was all over the place. I was a little nervous but I was throwing hard so I think that's what they liked. They saw a good curveball, they saw that I was throwing hard again, and they knew they could work on some things."

He reported to the Yankees' minor league complex back on February 5th to make the most of his opportunity and give himself the best possible chance of breaking camp with one of the long-season league teams.

"I wanted to come in a little early and get some work done since I didn't get to play last year," Axford admitted. "I just wanted to get my face in, get the coaches to see me, see what I could do, and see what I can improve and see what work I've done in the offseason."

"I've worked just as hard and as diligently as I could to get myself back and give them as much as I could, as much as I had when I was a freshman and a sophomore in school."

Armed with a power fastball that reached the 98 MPH plateau and a power curveball in the 83-84 MPH range at Notre Dame before his Tommy John surgery, Axford got his fastball back up to the 94-95 MPH range and his curveball sat around 78-79 MPH last summer.

"It really was a power curveball," he said of his pre-surgery breaking ball. "It would drop quite a bit from waist to the ankles at times and other times I could throw it less to get a strike. When I really get it going it drops right down and get guys looking foolish if I can."

A prominent strikeout pitcher throughout his baseball career, the knock on Axford's game has been his wild tendencies, often times pitching too high in the zone with his fastball. Working with Nardi Contreras and his staff in Tampa, that's the number one objective for him this spring.

"Right now they're just really stressing keeping the ball low," he said of his bullpen sessions. "For a right-handed batter, if you can get to the glove-side and hit that outside corner that's going to be a good pitch, especially if you can get your changeup out there too."

"That's what they're really stressing right now, hit glove-side down and get a good changeup. They said if I can do that and do that every game, I'm going to keep moving on."

While location is his focus as he works out with the Charleston Riverdogs group, stuff-wise, Axford says he is just about back to where he was.

"At Notre Dame, they tried to fix a few things because they thought I might have shoulder problems but they didn't really work it out to drop my arm-slot," said the right-handed pitcher. "My body got confused but it's finally back to where it was in my earlier days and I'm really confident about that."

"I'm just looking forward to getting all of my pitches working. In the bullpens we've been doing, they really have been. My curveball has been coming over real well and with my two-seam and four-seam fastball, I've been keeping it low, which as always been a struggle for me."

"I've always been getting ahead of myself - little younger, just getting hyped up and trying to throw real hard. Now I can keep control of my body, I'm hitting both sides of the plate, and my changeup is working great and so is the curveball."

"I never used to get much run but now I'm getting a lot of run and a little more sink on my two-seamers, which is surprising for me and very uplifting too," he continued. "The changeup is working great and my curveball is back better than ever. I'm getting a lot of bite and a lot of hook on that and it's always been my out-pitch. As long as I can keep the fastball down and work those other two pitches, I think all three of them work really well together."

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\r\n \r\n \r\nTopping out at only 91 MPH in his senior year of high school, John Axford reported to fall-ball at the University of Notre Dame in his freshman year throwing a bit harder, maxing out at 93 MPH. But when spring rolled around and the 6-foot-6 hurler was zipping in fastballs that reached 98 MPH, he instantly anchored the staff for the Fighting Irish.
\r\n
\r\nHe went a combined 14-5 with a 4.14 ERA in his first two years at Notre Dame and seemed destined to be an early round pick in the MLB Draft back in 2005, especially since he had a great curveball and a good changeup as well.
\r\n
\r\nBut Tommy John surgery in his junior year forced him out of action and he not only missed all of the 2005 season but pitched just three innings in his senior year and wound up having to transfer to Cansisius College.
\r\n
\r\n\"Things didn't go well when I came back,\" Axford said of his return from Tommy John surgery. \"They [Notre Dame] tried changing a few things but they didn't work out physically so I had to transfer to another school.\"
\r\n
\r\nBefore transferring however, the Cincinatti Reds selected him in the 42nd round as a draft-and-follow, giving Axford a glimmer of hope a team would give him a chance.
\r\n
\r\n\"They never really followed,\" he said of his situation with the Reds. \"It was just a draft. They told me I was going to be a draft-and-follow but nothing really happened there. No disrespect to the Reds, but I think they had different views from their side. I think they thought I was going back to Notre Dame and things just weren't really working out that way for them or for me.\"
\r\n
\r\nInstead of being able to begin his pro career then, he went to Canisius and went just 3-8 with a 5.01 ERA in 14 starts for the Golden Griffins last season. While the numbers weren't pretty, his stuff had begun to come back from his first two years at Notre Dame.
\r\n
\r\n\"I went to Canisius. It was good to know my arm could come back velocity-wise and things like that, but mentally is was pretty tough because it was a change in school. I loved Notre Dame so it was tough to leave and it was also tough going to a team that was trying to rebound.\"
\r\n
\r\nHe attended various pre-draft workouts last season to show teams he had successfully returned to his old form. However, unable to sign immediately after the college season as an undrafted free agent, Axford headed west to play in an independent league in Saskatchewan, a province of Canada, in a league filled with some ex-pros.
\r\n
\r\nIt was there where he opened some scouts' eyes, especially after having a 7-inning/19 strikeout performance and finishing the season with twice as many strikeouts as innings pitched.
\r\n
\r\n\"Some teams kind of took notice,\" he said of his performance last summer. \"The Yankees were the first that I tried out with out in Staten Island and down here [in Tampa]. When they offered me a contract I took it right away. I wasn't even going to try and throw for another team because the Yankees were tops in my book.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"Honestly, I didn't throw real well,\" he said of his tryout with the Yankees. \"I was all over the place. I was a little nervous but I was throwing hard so I think that's what they liked. They saw a good curveball, they saw that I was throwing hard again, and they knew they could work on some things.\"
\r\n
\r\nHe reported to the Yankees' minor league complex back on February 5th to make the most of his opportunity and give himself the best possible chance of breaking camp with one of the long-season league teams.
\r\n
\r\n\"I wanted to come in a little early and get some work done since I didn't get to play last year,\" Axford admitted. \"I just wanted to get my face in, get the coaches to see me, see what I could do, and see what I can improve and see what work I've done in the offseason.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"I've worked just as hard and as diligently as I could to get myself back and give them as much as I could, as much as I had when I was a freshman and a sophomore in school.\"
\r\n
\r\nArmed with a power fastball that reached the 98 MPH plateau and a power curveball in the 83-84 MPH range at Notre Dame before his Tommy John surgery, Axford got his fastball back up to the 94-95 MPH range and his curveball sat around 78-79 MPH last summer.
\r\n
\r\n\"It really was a power curveball,\" he said of his pre-surgery breaking ball. \"It would drop quite a bit from waist to the ankles at times and other times I could throw it less to get a strike. When I really get it going it drops right down and get guys looking foolish if I can.\"
\r\n
\r\nA prominent strikeout pitcher throughout his baseball career, the knock on Axford's game has been his wild tendencies, often times pitching too high in the zone with his fastball. Working with Nardi Contreras and his staff in Tampa, that's the number one objective for him this spring.
\r\n
\r\n\"Right now they're just really stressing keeping the ball low,\" he said of his bullpen sessions. \"For a right-handed batter, if you can get to the glove-side and hit that outside corner that's going to be a good pitch, especially if you can get your changeup out there too.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"That's what they're really stressing right now, hit glove-side down and get a good changeup. They said if I can do that and do that every game, I'm going to keep moving on.\"
\r\n
\r\nWhile location is his focus as he works out with the Charleston Riverdogs group, stuff-wise, Axford says he is just about back to where he was.
\r\n
\r\n\"At Notre Dame, they tried to fix a few things because they thought I might have shoulder problems but they didn't really work it out to drop my arm-slot,\" said the right-handed pitcher. \"My body got confused but it's finally back to where it was in my earlier days and I'm really confident about that.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"I'm just looking forward to getting all of my pitches working. In the bullpens we've been doing, they really have been. My curveball has been coming over real well and with my two-seam and four-seam fastball, I've been keeping it low, which as always been a struggle for me.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"I've always been getting ahead of myself - little younger, just getting hyped up and trying to throw real hard. Now I can keep control of my body, I'm hitting both sides of the plate, and my changeup is working great and so is the curveball.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"I never used to get much run but now I'm getting a lot of run and a little more sink on my two-seamers, which is surprising for me and very uplifting too,\" he continued. \"The changeup is working great and my curveball is back better than ever. I'm getting a lot of bite and a lot of hook on that and it's always been my out-pitch. As long as I can keep the fastball down and work those other two pitches, I think all three of them work really well together.\"
\r\n
\r\n

\r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n\r\n
\r\n

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\r\n

\r\n

Become an annual subscriber today!

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