TUCSONâ€”With a big league roster teeming with homegrown position player talent, the Diamondbacks appear set pretty much everywhere on the diamond. Like most clubs, however, developing pitching has proven a bit tougher.
Though their rotation possesses reigning Cy Young winner and system product Brandon Webb, they lack pitching at the minor league level that is ready to step in and contribute. With the exception of nabbing Justin Upton with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, itâ€™s evident the organization has tried to address the shortage.
They took Matt Torra out of Massachusetts in the supplemental first round that year and then four more college pitchers in succession, including the enigmatic Jason Neigborgall in the third round. In 2006, they drafted Missouriâ€™s Max Scherzer in the first round and he remains unsigned. In the second round they went the high school hurler route by selecting lefthander Brett Anderson.
The club had to shut Torra down after just 10 innings in his debut because of a torn labrum. He came back from surgery late in 2006 to post a 1.80 ERA in 20 innings for low Class A South Bend.
â€œWhen you go through an injuries you make yourself a better pitcher mechanically because you figure out where you went wrong and are forced to rebuild your mechanics,â€ pitching coordinator Mel Stottlemyre Jr. said.
Torra has his velocity back in the 90-94 mph range, which is a pleasant surprise for the organization as labrum surgeries are notorious for sapping arm strength.
â€œI am not sure he has quite the same stuff, but he has become a smarter pitcher,â€ Stottlemyre said. â€œHeâ€™s developed a nice change, but he hasnâ€™t quite found the curve he had in college.â€
Nonetheless, it appears as though Torra is back in the prospect mix and set for a full season assignment, possibly to high Class A Visalia. Anderson, on the other hand, is doing just what was expected and Stottlemyre could hardly contain his excitement when talking about the southpaw. The son of Oklahoma State coach Frank Anderson, Brett was always noted for his advanced feel for pitching. Stottlemyre, who is the son of a big league pitching coach, knows full well how having a coach for a father can help your feel for the game.
â€œEvery bullpen he throws, I sit back in amazement,â€ Stottlemyre said. â€œHe is a kid at this age that understands things we try and get our Doulbe-A guys to do.â€
Anderson can command a 90 mph fastball to both sides of the plate and he also features a curveball, slider and a changeup. He typically uses the curve early in counts and the slider is his put-away breaker. Though Stottlemyre prefers his pitchers use only one breaking pitch depending on their arm slot–high arm slot for curve, lower slot for slider–he permits Anderson to use both because he can command them.
The Yin to Anderonâ€™s Yang is Neighborgall. The Georgia Tech product has always wowed scouts with a fastball that sniffs triple digits on the radar gun, but his command is Ankielian.
â€œHe obviously has some mental things going on and he is trying to make some physical changes,â€ Stottlemyre said.
In 36 innings in the Rookie-level Pioneer League over the past two years the 23-year-old has 45 wild pitches, 91 walks and a 14.64 ERA. According to Stottlemyre it is a bit of a chicken and the egg issue in that it is hard to tell if it was the physical or mental problems that appeared first, but they seem to compound one another and Neighborgallâ€™s inability to find mechanics he can repeat is clearly in his head. For now, the Diamondbacks are using him as a reliever to get him on the mound as much as possible in hoping that it will start to come together for him.
â€œI wish I had a road map I could draw for him to make his problems go away,â€ Stottlemyre said.
â€¢ While wandering around the minor league fields I was approached by someone who noticed I had a roster. He started asking me questions and initially he did not seem to know much about baseball. Apparently he was just being coy because it was Mike Bard, brother of Padresâ€™ catcher Josh Bard.
Mike played college ball at Kansas and coached at Texas Tech (where he recruited Josh), Texas-Arlington (where he recruited Hunter Pence) and was the head coach at Dallas Baptist for two years. During our chat, he mentioned having spoken to the White Soxâ€™ Lance Broadway, who he coached at Dallas Baptist before he transferred to TCU, this week.
â€œHe is having a bit of a tough time this spring,â€ Bard said. â€œThey are trying to teach him something with a little more sink so he is working on a two-seamer now. He just doesnâ€™t really know where it is going.â€
In 7 2/3 innings this spring, the 2005 first-rounder has allowed six runs. Itâ€™s not surprising the White Sox want him to work on a sinker after he posted a 1.22 groundball-flyball ratio in 154 innings for Double-A Birmingham in 2006.
â€¢ Leaving Tucson was a little bittersweet because I never got a chance to check out some of the sights of two of my favorite 80s movies. Revenge Of The Nerds was filmed on the campus of the University of Arizona and that campus was supposedly chosen because the fictional university in the film is called Adams, and the filmmakers liked that the campus had the letter â€˜Aâ€™ prominently displayed. Unfortunately, there was no time to make a pilgrimage to the Lambda Lambda Lambda house. Canâ€™t Buy Me Love is the memorable Patrick Dempsey vehicle that also features a young Seth Green and is set at a Tucson high school. As far as I am concerned, it is the finest role for both of them.
â€¢ When walking into Tucson Electric Park there is a sign that reads, â€œWeapons Prohibited On Pima County Premises.â€ Iâ€™m guessing that sign is supposed to comfort patrons, but I question its effectiveness.
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