HOUSTON—Arkansas sophomore righthander Ryne Stanek has picked up this spring right where he left off at the end of last season. In Friday's 3-1 win against Texas Tech in the Houston College Classic, Stanek continued to demonstrate just how much he has matured since he first arrived in college.
Stanek, an unsigned third-round pick out of high school in Kansas, struggled with his mechanics—and consequently his command and efficiency—throughout much of his freshman year in 2011. In his final regular-season outing, he recorded just one out before getting pulled in the first inning. But the following week in the Southeastern Conference tournament, Stanek suddenly began to harness his electric stuff, going 7 2/3 strong innings. He followed that up with a complete-game gem in regionals against Charlotte.
After a strong summer with Team USA and in the Cape Cod League, Stanek returned to campus with loads of confidence. He stepped onto the mound at a major league park on Friday and said he did not feel nervous—and he did not look nervous, either.
"I thought he did a great job in a big league ballpark, great atmosphere, he came out and was calm and under control," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "We did a good job spotting him a couple of runs, and he did the rest from there."
In seven innings, Stanek allowed one run on six hits and a walk while striking out seven. His fastball ranged from 93-97 mph, still sitting at 93-95 in the seventh inning. He effectively mixed in a pair of hard breaking balls—an 81-83 curveball and an 85-86 slider—as well as an improved 84-86 changeup. Stanek said a major area of improvement for him has been learning to throw his secondary stuff for strikes more consistently any time in the count, instead of just using them as a chase pitch. But he did have success expanding the zone when he needed a swing-and-miss, particularly with his slider.
"Some days my slider's really good—I can use it for a strikeout or just for a regular strike," Stanek said. "Some days my curveball's really good. I can normally throw them both for a strike, it just depends which one's sharper. The slider was really good today, which was good for my confidence to have it going early."
Stanek said he very seldom threw a changeup in high school, so the development of that pitch has given him another weapon to use against lefthanded hitters. He also had success throwing his slider to the back foot of lefties Friday.
Stuff was never a question for Stanek; he has one of the biggest arms in college baseball, and he has shown overpowering raw stuff since his prep days. But his rapidly improving ability to utilize his stuff by attacking the strike zone (without trying too hard to be too fine) makes him a strong early candidate to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft.
"His mechanics are a lot better (than they were in 2011)," Van Horn said. "He's a little more under control; you can see it's a little smoother and not as herky-jerky. He doesn't have to try to max-effort the baseball. When he's just free and easy, the ball comes out of his hand—he probably throws harder."
Stanek's cleaner mechanics and increased ability to control his wiry 6-foot-4 body have made a big difference, but the other major reason for his improvement is less tangible.
"I slowed myself down. It was a lot mental, just controlling my emotions, not getting too quick on the mound," Stanek said. "Just kind of working to get ahead instead of trying to fight from behind and throw a lot of pitches.
"Honestly, all I wanted to do today was try to work quick innings, keep the team in the ballgame and try to come out of here with the win."
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