Three years ago David Phelps was hoping to get drafted right out of high school, he wasn't and he went on to be a successful pitcher for Notre Dame instead.
This season he was expecting that experience to help him get selected on the first day of the draft. Instead he was drafted in the fourteenth round by the New York Yankees and is hoping to turn this latest disappointment into more good fortune.
It was the numbers he showed during his sophomore season at Notre Dame that made him feel like he would be picked early in the draft. That year was phenomenal for the young right-hander. In 110.1 innings he was 8-5 with 102 strikeouts and a 1.88 ERA, all while holding batters to a .236 batting average.
It was his inability to repeat those numbers during his junior season which caused his stock to slip a bit. In 93 innings this season he was 5-5 with only 75 strikeouts and a 4.65 ERA, and batters hit .282 off of him.
He was healthy all season and there seemed to be no one reason for the drop in numbers. Phelps said it was just a small mechanical issue that neither he nor his coaches could pin down. Sometimes his offspeed stuff would be strong and other times he wouldn't have it.
"There was a lot of inconsistencies in my delivery," Phelps explained. "The year before I was able to get comfortable and get into a groove, but last season I couldn't find that consistency. I think that we had some ideas of what was wrong, but we could never really put our finger directly on what it was."
For Phelps, consistency means staying ahead of hitters with his fastball and using his secondary pitches to get batters out. As with most pitchers, if he can't stay ahead or is unable to put batters away, he gets himself into trouble.
"I've got low nineties velocity," said Phelps. "I wouldn't say I try to overpower guys so I'm going to try to get swings and misses as opposed to blowing it past people.
"Just being consistent with getting ahead of guys is important. That was one of my problems in college. I would get behind a couple of guys and just give up hits."
The best of his secondary pitches is his slider. He will often turn to it late in the counts to try to put batters away. In college it was different, he said he used to use his curveball that way but recently has has relied on it less.
"I think it's just arm speed," Phelps said explaining why he lost a little off his curve. "I'm kind of babying it a little bit. I'm throwing it just as hard as my slider, but I haven't really thrown it in games because I haven't been consistent with it so I'll just keep working on it in side sessions."
He also throws a changeup, but he said that it is probably the weakest out of all his pitches. It is hardly ever used as an out pitch and instead is used as a way to keep hitters guessing. He'll throw that pitch as a way to keep them from sitting on his fastball.
But he still needs work on all of his pitches and his number one priority is to figure out a way to smooth out his delivery and get his numbers back to where he and the team feels they should be.
"I'm not really worried about what I have to prove," said Phelps. "I'm just kind of anxious to get a chance to work with the coaches on being more consistent with my mechanics. I mean my stuff has always been there, I never lost it, but I have to work to keep it at a high level."
To a man, everyone on Staten Island thinks that Phelps has great stuff, but it is clear the consistency isn't there. One day he is shutting teams out and the next day he can't get passed the third inning. His pitching coach Pat Daneker isn't worried though, he says it is mostly minor things keeping Phelps from breaking out.
"It's just basic stuff," Daneker said. "Trying to keep him back a little bit more, try to keep him upright. Trying to keep him from bouncing his hands as much. It's going to be the same stuff as with most of the guys. Nothing too drastic, just a couple of things here and there to make him more consistent."
Also working with Phelps is former adversary, catcher Mitch Abeita. Abeita and Phelps have sort of become a tandem on Staten Island and manager Pat McMahon credits Abeita with helping his pitcher settle down and begin the process of learning to pitch to professional hitters.
"I think that he's a real competitor," said McMahon. "He locates his pitches well and does a good job of mixing his pitches. I think that he and Mitch Abeita have worked very well together and he has done a good job of getting David settled in."
One reason the two have clicked early on is because of Abeita's familiarity with Phelps from their days playing in college.
"I faced him two years ago when I played in Nebraska," Abeita said. "There is a mutual respect there in seeing a guy and he's got good stuff so we work well together. He throws the same way I saw him throw two years ago and hopefully we'll see more of it."
When asked about Abeita, Phelps couldn't help but smile and it is clear the pair have already worked out a good relationship.
"He's a good guy and he's easy to work with," said Phelps. "He's easy to talk to. I don't shake a lot, but if I shake he's going to put down what I want. It's been quick too, he already knows what I like to throw and I know where he wants the ball. Having him behind the plate, there is definitely a comfort level there."
Phelps Looking To Get Ahead
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