Friday, February 22, 2008

Three Young Pitchers

When it comes to talent in Our Washington Nationals Organization--Young Pitching has become a valued asset. Late this morning and early this afternoon--three pitchers--all at different stages of the emerging careers were kind enough to answer questions for The Nats320 Blog.

First up--John Lannan arrived in Washington, DC in 2007--after sprinting through virtually the entire Nationals Minor League System. Going from Single A to Double A to Triple AAA and then The Big Leagues in less than five months--does not happen often. Yet, John Lannan accomplished the feat.

With your success last year, what are your goals for 2008? (SBF)

“Last year, the success was great. The Nationals gave me the opportunity and fortunately, I kept on pitching well. This year, I need to build on last year and improve my game. They are giving me another opportunity to make the rotation. I need to take advantage of that—pitch my best.”

What did you learn by going from the low minors to the majors so quickly? (SBF)

“I had my routine down. I was pitching with confidence. When you are throwing strikes, any pitcher can be successful. I did not change a single thing throughout the the season—on any level of competition. Did I ever learn that ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’ So, I kept on doing the same things, over and over. It felt really good to be successful.”

How different was it facing those minor league hitters and then—the very next week—having to face Major League Hitting? (SBF)

“There has been a big transitional phase at every level I have competed. It takes time for me to get comfortable. Every level has it own feel. The Hitters change as you move up the ladder. There is more consistency in their knowledge of the strike zone. I had to adapt—and fortunately was able to do so. Of course—The Big Leagues are much faster. It is a completely different game there. You have quality hitters, larger crowds—a completely different atmosphere. It took me a couple of starts to get comfortable.”

They know the strike zone in The Major Leagues. (SBF)

(Laughing)—“Yeah, they do!! That’s also why the competition is fun.”

So, here you are—you had success at The Major League Level in 2007—what’s the next step to continue your process forward? (SBF)

“Pretty much, I need to get my walks down and continue throwing strikes—do what I have been doing. Right now—I need to be nice and easy preparing for this season. Don’t try to over do it—too soon. Once the games begin—I expect to receive more feedback (from Pitching Coach Randy St.Claire).”

As you get ready for the spring—what is your routine? (SBF)

“Not only is there a throwing program every day—but also a shoulder routine—to keep my arm in top condition. I run every single day to get my legs into shape. You need that stamina to stay on the mound. Without the strength—you will not be successful.”

In June, 2007--Our Washington Nationals chose Josh Smoker with the 31st Pick in the Entry Draft--a Supplemental Pick of a Calhoun, Georgia High School Pitcher with great promise. And, they signed this talented 19 Year old.

You have to be thrilled to be in your first Spring Training? (SBF)

“No doubt—getting the opportunity to play with all these guys. Players like Dmitri Young and John Patterson—everybody—it’s really awesome.”

You are young—what do you need to work on in the early development of your game? (SBF)

“My command. I need to work on my command. I give up too many walks. More than anything else—my command needs the most work.”

What pitch is your best—right now? And, what needs help? (SBF)

“Easily, my fastball is my best pitch. Its that pitch—with my arm—that got me here. By far, I have the best command over that pitch. I can throw for strikes and off the plate right now. My off speed pitches need some work. Without those—my fastball is not as effective.”

Do you have any idea where you might end up this season? (SBF)

“No, really no clue. No one has told me anything. But, I just have to start easy—do some long toss, build up my arm—and progress up. ”

Draft Day, 2007—what was that day like for you? (SBF)

“A Great Honor to be chosen. My family was very proud. And, this is an organization that appears to be doing everything the right way.”

Has Randy St. Claire been helpful to you—early on? (SBF)

“Yes, he is a great guy. Many told me he was very accessible—and he is. He is fun to play for—because he cares. He is interested in what happens to me—that means a lot to me.”

What does he do for you—that makes it fun? (SBF)

“He’s very laid back—loose. But, he's there with information, knowledge—that he passes on. Remarks that make me say: ‘Yeah, that’s makes sense.’

You’re 19 Years Old—this is a very big step for you—going from High School Ball to The Minor Leagues? (SBF)

Yes, it is—a totally different game. No longer aluminum bats—but wood bats. The talent is better. The players are better. And, I need to learn to pitch inside to a hitter.”

I take it you never thought you would be in this situation during your last high school season? (SBF)

“No, Sir. (laughing) I never thought it would happen. This is a dream come true.”

Are you intimidated at all? (The African Queen)

“Well, not too much. The guys have made it easy on me. I have found everyone very open hearted in helping with everything. The other players have made it fun for me. They are normal people like anyone else—and that’s good. It also makes everything relaxing.”

What’s interesting—and on this team in particular—is that every young player I have talked to says the organization is very helpful to them—to a man. And you find that to be the case—as well. (SBF)

“Definitely, there is a support staff that has made my transition far easier than I ever expected.”

And finally--we finish off the chats with Collin Balester. In the latest Baseball America Rankings--this soon to be 22 year old has risen into a top prospect for Our Washington Nationals.

When I saw you last year—you were just beginning to develop. How far have you progressed? (SBF)

“Being in Major League Camp is important. This has given me the opportunity to learn from others that have played in the Big Leagues. Other than staying healthy—I can’t think of a better way to learn how to do it. On a day to day basis—I am learning so much.”

What did you learn at AA last year? (SBF)

“No question, I learned how to throw strikes. I can throw as hard as I want—but if I can’t control where it goes—it will not make a difference. You can’t walk anybody. When you get behind a hitter—the hitters are so good—you can get pounded. They will crush any baseball you throw over the plate—keeping the ball low is extremely important.”

Do you have goals for 2008? (SBF)

“Other than staying healthy, I need to pitch the way I know I can do and move up the ladder—everything else will play out.”

Speaking of the ladder—you have been advancing up to the top of Washington’s Talent Pool—so they think highly of you. Does the team speak of this topic to you? (SBF)

“No, not really. I think when that days finally comes in which I get to The Majors—will be a day—I least expect. So, I just need to continue to work hard and let everything play out.”

Do you hope to make The Majors this year? (SBF)

“I will continue to pitch the way I know how and hopefully stay healthy. They (The Nationals) know what they want to do.

How much do you lean of pitchers like John Patterson and others—for knowledge? (SBF)

“A lot, I am just a Rookie coming in—but he and others have been there for me. If I have question or concern—they are very helpful. And, I need to take advantage of that opportunity to learn as much as I can in a short period of time.”

You have a rifle arm—what other pitches do you have to work on? (SBF)

“During this off season—I have been working on my change up. My command on that pitch is getting much better. My curve ball is looking pretty good too. Randy St.Claire has helped me with my lines (Mechanics), staying on top (of hitters) and staying out in front (of the count)—little things like that.”

Everybody says Randy St.Claire is always available for them. The same holds true for you? (SBF)

“Oh yeah, he is there for every single pitcher—no matter what. Whether its early, late or just after practice—if you ask—he will be there for you. It works out good. He’s great—really.”

That concludes a few chats with three of Our Washington Nationals brightest pitching prospects.


Anonymous said...

This is all great but Curly wants us to explain to him why exactly why he is stuck up here in this horrible weather when you guys could have easily taken him with you!

Anonymous said...

No offense because I appreciate and enjoy your frequent posts (and picures); however, I would like to throw in a little correction. I'm not sure but from reading the interview with Balester -- he obviously has confidence with his fastball, but his command of offspeed and breaking pitches is what needs the most work. Therefore, when he speaks of working to stay on top and out in front....I think he means mechanically, rather than in the count. Staying on top of his curveball with his grip and arm action ensures that he gets good rotation and a lot of break while being able to locate it - and staying out in front refers to his extension towards the plate which also gives contributes a lot of arm action. I could be wrong, but reading those comments in the context of which he was speaking, that's just my .02.

Thank you and keep up the good work.