Three players restarted their pro careers as pitchers last night, two of them with solid success stories.
Start with Athletics lefthander Sean Doolittle, who in a way is Danny Hultzen v1.0. Doolittle pitched and hit at Virginia but was drafted in 2007 in the supplemental first round as an outfielder/first baseman. The 25-year-old reached Double-A in his first full season, hitting 22 homers and 40 doubles between high Class A Stockton and Double-A Midland, but knee injuries started the next season at Triple-A Sacramento, and he didn't play for two and a half years, other than one pitching appearance in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
Doolittle had a strong instructional league, though, and one scout said Doolittle's fastball was in the 93-95 mph range this spring. His breaking ball still needs work, but he didn't need any help last night, striking out four of the five batters he faced for Stockton in a 7-2 victory against Lake Elsinore. He caught 2011 first-round pick Cory Spangenberg looking to start his outing, and also caught Rymer Liriano looking to start the eighth inning.
Diamondbacks farmhand Jason Lane is 35 and had a significant major league career as a hitter, batting .267/.316/.499 with 26 home runs for the Astros' 2005 National League pennant winners and. He hit 61 homers in 1,208 big league at-bats, with a slash line of .241/.314/.457.
Lane also was a two-way player at Southern California, hitting a grand slam and pitching in the Trojans' 1998 national championship game victory against Arizona State. He never pitched in the majors in an emergency situation, but did so for three years in the Blue Jays system—once in 2009, four times in 2010 and then six times, spanning 13 innings, last season at Triple-A Las Vegas, when he was a part-time player (hitting .291/.358/.460).
This spring he's with the Diamondbacks organization and keeping track of his exploits on his own Facebook page, which features a photo of Lane pitching for USC. The lefthander pitched and hit in an exhibition game against the University of Nevada back on March 28 and wrote, "No hits but felt great at the plate. I pitched a scoreless inning on the mound as well. I had a blast doing both."
On Opening Night, his quest to be the new Brooks Kieschnick got off to a good start. Reno beat visiting Colorado Springs 5-2 despite a short snow flurry delay, with Lane contributing four outs out of the bullpen. One of them was a strikeout of Rockies 2009 first-rounder Tim Wheeler.
Less successful was another former Trojan two-way player, Robert Stock, whom the Cardinals moved to the mound after trying to develop him as an everyday catcher for three years. Stock is the best prospect of the bunch, as he's just 22 and hasn't had any physical problems. He just couldn't hit enough, batting .241/.320/.347 in 680 pro at-bats.
The Cardinals decided to make him a full-time pitcher this spring, and pitching for low Class A Quad Cities, he gave up four hits and five runs (four earned) while relieving Tyrell Jenkins last night in an 11-10 loss to Kane County. (The Cougars put up nine runs in the second off Jenkins and Stock, with outfielder Lane Adams tripling to lead off the inning and hitting a grand slam off Stock to end the scoring.)
Cardinals pitching coordinator Brent Strom, who has known Stock since the player was 13, still sees progress from his fellow USC alumnus.
"He got beat around some last night, but he has shown us three pitches," Strom said Friday. "He's been 91-93 (mph) with a solid curveball, feel for a changeup and good poise. He's always been a pretty mature kid. His heart was in catching and that's what he chose to do. I've been waiting for him to come to the dark side as a pitcher for years."
Stock's arm action is still a bit short from his catching days, but Strom is confident he can get back to a bit longer stroke in the back. "He's not the 95 (mph) he was in high school," Strom said, "but the body will accommodate the goal. If I showed you video of his arm action from high school and how it has changed over the last five or six years, you wouldn't recognize it as the same player, because he had to be shorter and quicker as a catcher."
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