Today's Daily Dish has a definite bias towards pitching. We'll cover plenty of hitters over the rest of the week, but here's a look at four pitchers who stood out last week.
Kyle Gibson had to wait a long time to make his first pro start. Thankfully his second start came just five days later.
The Twins' 2009 first-round pick missed all of last season with a stress fracture in his forearm, so his Opening Day start against Brevard County (Florida State) was also his pro debut. He allowed five runs, three of them earned, on six hits as he lasted just 3 2/3 innings.
Fort Myers pitching coach Steve Mintz said that Gibson's first start wasn't as bad as it appeared–he gave up a pair of home runs on balls that carried in a stiff wind. But naysayers who had concerns about Gibson's heavy reliance on his slider and last year's forearm injury had reasons to worry.
The second start showed a lot of why the Twins were excited to see Gibson fall all the way to the 22nd pick last June after being considered a top five prospect at one point in the season. Gibson showed much better feel for his changeup, which was important against a Charlotte lineup that was heavy on lefthanded hitters.
The wind was blowing out once again (18 mph to left field), but it didn't matter because Gibson didn't really give the Stone Crabs' hitters anything to drive. He allowed four hits, three of which were singles, no walks and struck out six.
"His first start wasn't really that bad," Mintz said. "He threw the ball fine. The second start he was in control all game. He got his changeup working early."
Gibson's changeup is clearly his third-best pitch, but it's one that will be key to his development this year. His fastball sits in the low 90s with good sink while his slider is his potential out pitch, but the changeup gives him a weapon to battle lefties. Mintz said it has a chance to be a plus pitch once he refines it.
Working His Way Back
In less than 24 hours, fans, and scouts in Kinston got to see Kelvin de la Cruz face Mike Montgomery and Nick Hagadone face Tim Melville. That's two pitchers (Montgomery and Hagadone) who rate as the top pitching prospects in their farm systems and another (Melville) who is a Top 10 prospect in the Royals system.
But in some ways the pitcher with the most to gain from the start was de la Cruz. The lefthander was one of the Indians' breakout stars of the 2008 season when he dominated at low Class A Lake County. But de la Cruz, 22, missed almost the entire 2009 season with a strained elbow ligament that led to him being shut down from mid April to late August.
While de la Cruz never needed surgery, it's clear that he's still working his way back into top form. In his start against Wilmington, de la Cruz allowed six hits and three earned runs in five innings while walking and striking out two apiece. His first start was worse, which explains his 0-2, 5.59 record.
Before the injury, de la Cruz's fastball sat at 90-91 and touched 94 mph. Last week he sat at 88-89 mph while not showing much confidence in his curveball that has been a plus pitch at times in the past.
There's some thought and some hope that de la Cruz may need some time to round back into form, but the Indians are already impressed with his competitiveness.
"With de la Cruz he enjoys attacking hitters to get them out," Kinston pitching coach Tony Arnold said. "He's not backing off whether his velocity is what it was or his breaking ball is what it was. He's attacking the hitters to get them out. He's not going out there with any apprehension that he needs to do extra stuff, because his fastball isn't where it was the last time he pitched. He has confidence. It's a matter of getting out there and getting back in pitching shape."
Overshadowed But Impressive
It's not often that a pitcher can throw five scoreless innings, allowing only one hit, and get overshadowed, but that's a little of what happened to Wilmington's Tim Melville last week.
Melville's gem came in a day game just hours after Mike Montgomery flirted with a perfect game for 6+ innings. While it didn't equal Montgomery's effort, there was little to complain about Melville's dominance—he struck out eight and allowed two baserunners (one walk and one hit) in five innings.
Melville's gem helped erase the bad memory of his first start of the season. In that game Melville didn't get out of the first as he gave up five hits, walked three and gave up five runs thanks in large part to Gerardo Avila's grand slam.
"The other game he didn't start out aggressive and got in a hole. Then he made some location mistakes and gave up a grand slam on a changeup. His pitchers were high," Wilmington pitching coach Steve Luebber said. "This start he was aggressive from the start, had a good changeup right away, and then as we got into the middle innings he started to look for some opportunities to get the curveball in."
Melville showed a 91-92 mph fastball, touching 93 in the early innings. By the fifth he was throwing as many fastballs between 88-89 as 91-92, but his heater was still effective and he'd found the feel for his curveball to keep Kinston hitters off balance.
With Melville, 20, mechanics are a key part of his success. He sometimes struggles to maintain the same tempo in his delivery, and he also isn't always consistent with his release point.
"His posture is the thing. Sometimes he gets a little too high with the arm slot and he'll start spiking the changeup," Luebber said.
But on the days he's on, Melville, like his teammate Montgomery, can be nearly unhittable. In his second start he also showed the ability to make adjustments. When he started to lose his arm slot in the third inning, Melville was able to refocus and regain his control.
"He was a different guy today," Wilmington manager Brian Rupp said after Melville's start. "The last game he wasn't real sharp early. He got behind a lot. Today he came out and attacked the zone. His breaking ball and his changeup were real effective."
Blowing Them Away
Melville's mound opponent in his last start was just as impressive. Nick Hagadone showed the same blazing fastball that has been a trademark throughout his young career, but he also showed the ability to drop his curveball in for strikes.
Facing Royals' prospect Eric Hosmer in the first inning, Hagadone showed why he's one of the Indians' best arms. The Kinston coaching staff positioned the outfielders for Hosmer to go the other way, confident that no one was going to catch up to Hagadone's fastball. They were right. Hagadone went right at Hosmer with a 92 mph fastball that was taken for a strike, followed by a 93 mph fastball that Hosmer fouled off. After a curveball that was taken for a ball, Hagadone went back to the fastball one more time, Hosmer couldn't catch up to the 93 mph heater for the strikeout. Hagadone, who's touched 98 mph in the past, ran a fastball up to 95 when challenging Alex Gordon.
In the first inning, Hagadone looked like he was going to be just as reliant on the fastball as he had been in his first start—he threw only two breaking balls in the entire inning and both of them were balls. But as he got comfortable on the mound, Hagadone started mixing in more breaking balls effectively.
"I know last time he pitched he wasn't feeling his curveball very much so he pretty much stayed with his fastball and guys chased the ball out of the zone," Kinston manager Aaron Holbert said. "Today he was feeling the curveball a little bit. He was able to command the curveball and put guys away with it."
Hagadone, 24, missed almost the entire 2008 season with Tommy John surgery which has slowed his progress through the minors. Traded to the Indians last July in the Victor Martinez trade, he's yet to allow an earned run in his first two starts this season. He's allowed six hits and three walks while striking out eight in 8 1/3 innings.
Domonic Brown missed two games over the weekend after a collision during Friday's game. The Phillies' No. 1 prospect, playing right field for Double-A Reading, was chasing a shallow popup and collided with second baseman Ozzie Chavez. He stayed on the field for a time before being helped off the field, then came out of the game and missed the next two games with what was diagnosed as a concussion.
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