Q&A with Charleston Pitching Coach Jeff Ware

We sat down with Charleston Riverdogs pitching coach Jeff Ware for a Q&A session to get his early impressions of D.J. Mitchell, what's the biggest thing he and Andrew Brackman are working on, if Manny Banuelos has looked as dominant in Charleston as he had been in Spring Training, what he wants to see from Brett Marshall this season, and more.

PinstripesPlus.com: What are your early impressions of D.J. Mitchell this season?

Jeff Ware: He's done a tremendous job for us. With the amount of sink he has on his fastball, he throws a lot of strikes, he gets ahead in the count – so far this year he has done everything we could ask for. With his quality breaking ball and quality changeup, he's got three pitches he can throw for strikes. Anytime you can do that you're going to have a lot of success. And pitching down in the zone, that's why his two-seamer has been so successful.

PinstripesPlus: I know it's still very early, but he seems too much for this league right now. What does he need to work on to get to the next level?

Ware: Right now we're working on maintaining the same arm-slot, being consistent with it and hitting the same slot every time. But he's done a pretty darn good job at it so far. You look at his numbers and he's at the top in strikeouts, ERA, the whole works. We're just hoping that he can continue to progress, be consistent, and keep working his way up.

PinstripesPlus: Andrew Brackman has had some really good outings and some really rough outings. Even in Spring Training he seems to get a little off-track when he has runners on-base and has to pitch out of the stretch. Is that a key right now, working out of the stretch?

Ware: It has been a little bit of an issue for him. With him being 6-foot-10, 6-foot-11, it's going to take him a little bit longer to deliver the ball to home plate. So we've really been working with him on his quick-step, quicken him up, and just staying consistent with it. He's throwing strikes. We're trying to get his command a little bit better and improve on that. He's got three or four quality pitches, so we're just trying to get him consistent with that, really work ahead of the hitters, and mechanically we're tinkering around a little bit trying to get him one way where he feels comfortable so he can stick that way. I think he made a big stride forward in that in has last outing in Savannah where he was real consistent – tons of strikes with all of his pitches and repeating his delivery, which for a big guy the biggest thing is repeating your delivery. Your limbs are so long – your arms and your legs – that they've got a long way to catch up. So it's tough on him but he's very determined to pitch and have the best mechanics that he can have.

PinstripesPlus: You had Dellin Betances last season. Is the parallel between the two the same? Is Brackman at the same point Betances was a year ago where he needs to focus mostly on his mechanics, holding runners, and quick-step to home plate?

Ware: Yes they're very, very similar. Brackman might have just a little bit of a head start just because he went to college for a few years and because he's a little older than Dellin. But Betances has made some huge strides over the last couple of years so it's something we're looking for from Brackman. Even though he's a little older, he might not do as well because he was out for a year and half from his injury. He's such a hard worker. He competes very well and we're just trying to get him straight, get him on-track, and just be consistent.

PinstripesPlus: Manny Banuelos was so dominant in Instructs this past offseason and even more so in Spring Training this year, but he hasn't had the dominant numbers just yet here in Charleston. What have you see from him this season so far?

Ware: Gosh, to be that young and have the type of success that he's had last year in the Gulf Coast League and this year in Spring Training – he's had two quality starts here and one was not so hot, and in the start where he didn't pitch as well it was more of the command of his breaking ball, he just kind of lost the feel for it, but he got it back in his [previous] outing although it wasn't quite like it was in Spring Training – but for a young kid it's mentally tough on him. To come out here – it's low-A but he's still one of the youngest kids in the league – and to be in the starting rotation, it's a lot of pressure on him. I think he handles it very well. He's really mature for an 18-year old kid, which is outstanding. He's out there, he's confident, he knows how to pitch, he knows what he's doing, and we're just working with him to be more consistent with his offspeed pitches.

PinstripesPlus: He seems to me to be a guy who almost throws too many strikes. He'll be ahead in the count 0-2 a lot of the time and he still seemingly throw a quality strike instead of burying a pitch in the dirt or going high in or out of the zone. Is that something you see and is it something you're working on with him? Is that a problem right now?

Ware: I wouldn't call it a problem but it is something we're working on. It comes back to the issue of just making quality pitches with his secondary pitches, with his changeup and his breaking ball. The changeup has been there pretty good. We're just trying to get him to be more consistent with his curveball right now. He's shown a lot of good signs with it, especially all throughout Spring Training. He didn't have any command issues at all there. It hasn't been a big factor this year as far as command issues, but when we're comparing him to how he did last year and in Spring Training, he's not quite getting ahead like we're used to seeing him do. It's not an issue. He's going to come around and he's going to be fine.

PinstripesPlus: Brett Marshall is another young guy in this rotation. He wasn't very consistent in Spring Training though, so what are you looking for from him this season?

Ware: He's got a great fastball first of all. He's got a good downward plane, he throws a lot of strikes with his fastball, and especially for a young guy coming out of high school, to be able to throw strikes down in the zone with his fastball is a huge plus. His curveball is fairly new to him this year and we're really just trying to get that consistent. He's got a plus changeup. In fact the other day he showed he had a great changeup. As a matter of fact that was probably his best pitch outside of his fastball. With him being young and with a new curveball, that's one thing we're really, really working on right now to make that more consistent and help improve his numbers out on the field.

PinstripesPlus: Is he a guy where you kind of just throw away the stats this year and look more at the improvement with his curveball and pitch-ability?

Ware: Absolutely. Again, coming out of high school you don't expect these guys to put up great numbers. They're going through maybe some mechanical changes, maybe it's a new pitch, but throughout the year we want to see improvements in his mechanics and in his breaking ball. Anything that's new to him, that's what we're working on to make improvements and that's what's going to help him down the road. That'll make things easier for him.

PinstripesPlus: Pat Venditte – I don't want to get too much into the switch-pitching aspect because I think that gets a little overblown – but he's going to need to have that swing-and-miss, inside-the-zone stuff to have this same type of success at the higher levels. Between Spring Training and here in Charleston, have you seen that type of stuff or are guys still swinging a bit too much at his pitches outside of the zone?

Ware: He's done a great job for us. He's four for four in save opportunities, he's come into a tie game once and picked up a win, etc. Since he's not the plus major league fastball kind of guy, he's got to go out there with command. That's what he's done. The stuff isn't electric like you might see with a Brackman, but what makes him so special, besides being ambidextrous, he's able to command his right arm and his left arm pitches. He knows how to pitch, he's a bulldog out there on the mound, and just being able to handle himself in such a way – he knows exactly what he needs to do, he's well prepared, he prepares himself off the field as well as on the field. The stuff's not electric but he knows how to pitch, which is a huge bonus, especially at this level, and if he can just continue to command his all three pitches from both sides, he's going to have a big upside.

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Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: What are your early impressions of D.J. Mitchell this season?
\r\n
\r\nJeff Ware: He's done a tremendous job for us. With the amount of sink he has on his fastball, he throws a lot of strikes, he gets ahead in the count – so far this year he has done everything we could ask for. With his quality breaking ball and quality changeup, he's got three pitches he can throw for strikes. Anytime you can do that you're going to have a lot of success. And pitching down in the zone, that's why his two-seamer has been so successful.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: I know it's still very early, but he seems too much for this league right now. What does he need to work on to get to the next level?
\r\n
\r\nWare: Right now we're working on maintaining the same arm-slot, being consistent with it and hitting the same slot every time. But he's done a pretty darn good job at it so far. You look at his numbers and he's at the top in strikeouts, ERA, the whole works. We're just hoping that he can continue to progress, be consistent, and keep working his way up.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Andrew Brackman has had some really good outings and some really rough outings. Even in Spring Training he seems to get a little off-track when he has runners on-base and has to pitch out of the stretch. Is that a key right now, working out of the stretch?
\r\n
\r\nWare: It has been a little bit of an issue for him. With him being 6-foot-10, 6-foot-11, it's going to take him a little bit longer to deliver the ball to home plate. So we've really been working with him on his quick-step, quicken him up, and just staying consistent with it. He's throwing strikes. We're trying to get his command a little bit better and improve on that. He's got three or four quality pitches, so we're just trying to get him consistent with that, really work ahead of the hitters, and mechanically we're tinkering around a little bit trying to get him one way where he feels comfortable so he can stick that way. I think he made a big stride forward in that in has last outing in Savannah where he was real consistent – tons of strikes with all of his pitches and repeating his delivery, which for a big guy the biggest thing is repeating your delivery. Your limbs are so long – your arms and your legs – that they've got a long way to catch up. So it's tough on him but he's very determined to pitch and have the best mechanics that he can have.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: You had Dellin Betances last season. Is the parallel between the two the same? Is Brackman at the same point Betances was a year ago where he needs to focus mostly on his mechanics, holding runners, and quick-step to home plate?
\r\n
\r\nWare: Yes they're very, very similar. Brackman might have just a little bit of a head start just because he went to college for a few years and because he's a little older than Dellin. But Betances has made some huge strides over the last couple of years so it's something we're looking for from Brackman. Even though he's a little older, he might not do as well [immediately] because he was out for a year and half from his injury. He's such a hard worker. He competes very well and we're just trying to get him straight, get him on-track, and just be consistent.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Manny Banuelos was so dominant in Instructs this past offseason and even more so in Spring Training this year, but he hasn't had the dominant numbers just yet here in Charleston. What have you see from him this season so far?
\r\n
\r\nWare: Gosh, to be that young and have the type of success that he's had last year in the Gulf Coast League and this year in Spring Training – he's had two quality starts here and one was not so hot, and in the start where he didn't pitch as well it was more of the command of his breaking ball, he just kind of lost the feel for it, but he got it back in his [previous] outing although it wasn't quite like it was in Spring Training – but for a young kid it's mentally tough on him. To come out here – it's low-A but he's still one of the youngest kids in the league – and to be in the starting rotation, it's a lot of pressure on him. I think he handles it very well. He's really mature for an 18-year old kid, which is outstanding. He's out there, he's confident, he knows how to pitch, he knows what he's doing, and we're just working with him to be more consistent with his offspeed pitches.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: He seems to me to be a guy who almost throws too many strikes. He'll be ahead in the count 0-2 a lot of the time and he still seemingly throw a quality strike instead of burying a pitch in the dirt or going high in or out of the zone. Is that something you see and is it something you're working on with him? Is that a problem right now?
\r\n
\r\nWare: I wouldn't call it a problem but it is something we're working on. It comes back to the issue of just making quality pitches with his secondary pitches, with his changeup and his breaking ball. The changeup has been there pretty good. We're just trying to get him to be more consistent with his curveball right now. He's shown a lot of good signs with it, especially all throughout Spring Training. He didn't have any command issues at all there. It hasn't been a big factor this year as far as command issues, but when we're comparing him to how he did last year and in Spring Training, he's not quite getting ahead like we're used to seeing him do. It's not an issue. He's going to come around and he's going to be fine.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Brett Marshall is another young guy in this rotation. He wasn't very consistent in Spring Training though, so what are you looking for from him this season?
\r\n
\r\nWare: He's got a great fastball first of all. He's got a good downward plane, he throws a lot of strikes with his fastball, and especially for a young guy coming out of high school, to be able to throw strikes down in the zone with his fastball is a huge plus. His curveball is fairly new to him this year and we're really just trying to get that consistent. He's got a plus changeup. In fact the other day he showed he had a great changeup. As a matter of fact that was probably his best pitch outside of his fastball. With him being young and with a new curveball, that's one thing we're really, really working on right now to make that more consistent and help improve his numbers out on the field.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Is he a guy where you kind of just throw away the stats this year and look more at the improvement with his curveball and pitch-ability?
\r\n
\r\nWare: Absolutely. Again, coming out of high school you don't expect these guys to put up great numbers. They're going through maybe some mechanical changes, maybe it's a new pitch, but throughout the year we want to see improvements in his mechanics and in his breaking ball. Anything that's new to him, that's what we're working on to make improvements and that's what's going to help him down the road. That'll make things easier for him.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Pat Venditte – I don't want to get too much into the switch-pitching aspect because I think that gets a little overblown – but he's going to need to have that swing-and-miss, inside-the-zone stuff to have this same type of success at the higher levels. Between Spring Training and here in Charleston, have you seen that type of stuff or are guys still swinging a bit too much at his pitches outside of the zone?
\r\n
\r\nWare: He's done a great job for us. He's four for four in save opportunities, he's come into a tie game once and picked up a win, etc. Since he's not the plus major league fastball kind of guy, he's got to go out there with command. That's what he's done. The stuff isn't electric like you might see with a Brackman, but what makes him so special, besides being ambidextrous, he's able to command his right arm and his left arm pitches. He knows how to pitch, he's a bulldog out there on the mound, and just being able to handle himself in such a way – he knows exactly what he needs to do, he's well prepared, he prepares himself off the field as well as on the field. The stuff's not electric but he knows how to pitch, which is a huge bonus, especially at this level, and if he can just continue to command his all three pitches from both sides, he's going to have a big upside.
\r\n
\r\n

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