SYRACUSE — While the action on the field is typically great at big showcase events like the East Coast Professional Showcase, the atmosphere in the stands resembles that of a library more than a baseball game. Scouts and coaches scribble down notes and talk quietly amongst themselves, most players have one or two family members there, if that, and there are never any other fans present. So the loud cheers righthander Mark Armstrong received during his outing on Aug. 3 definitely stood out.
Armstrong goes to Clarence (N.Y.) High, about 135 miles west of Syracuse, just outside Buffalo, and had what looked to be about 10 family members at the event, rooting him on.
“It feels really good to face some of the top guys on the East Coast,” Armstrong said. “This is a great environment and a great stadium. It’s only two hours away, so it’s nice to be local and not have to travel to find good competition. So it’s overall a great experience to play in this ballpark.”
Armstrong said the only other time he had been to Alliance Bank Stadium was to see Bryce Harper play for the Syracuse Chiefs. He threw three innings over two outings at the event without giving up a hit. Armstrong did allow two walks, but picked one of the runners off second base after they stole the bag and struck out five.
With a sturdy, 6-foot-3, 200-pound build, Armstrong showed good direction to the plate and threw his fastball in the 88-91 mph range. He got under his 71-74 mph curveball a few times, but also mixed in a 78-80 mph changeup.
“My fastball, I try to work downhill and try to work the outside corner with that, mainly,” Armstrong said. “My two-seam, I’m developing that and I like to jam the guys inside. My changeup, I like to buckle it at the knees, especially outside or inside when I read the hitter. And then my curveball, I like to break it late and pick the ousted corner on lefties and the inside corner on righties. I like mixing my pitches in and they worked well together.”
Armstrong said he would like to develop a slider this spring to give him a deeper arsenal of pitches and continue working to become more comfortable with his two-seam fastball.
The Pittsburgh commit also plays quarterback for his high school football team, but it’s another sport that helped develop his strong lower half. Armstrong gave up ice hockey last year to concentrate more on baseball and said all those years of strapping on the ice skates helped him as a pitcher because the skating helped him develop strong legs and the endurance needed to last seven or nine innings on the mound.
“I played since I was three years old,” Armstrong said. “I was a big travel hockey guy and I actually probably could have gone to college for hockey. But I choose baseball over hockey and it’s been worth it.”
Being from upstate New York, Armstrong has a shorter spring than most players, as his team doesn’t typically have its first game until mid-April. With fewer innings under his belt than some of the other pitchers from warmer-weather states, Armstrong really appreciated being able to work with the scouts who serve as coaches at the event.
“They worked on getting my stride out a little more and doing that helps me throw a little faster and more accurate,” Armstrong said. “It also helps me get downhill a little bit more, especially with my fastball. With my curveball, they helped me make slight changes to my arm angle and my wrist angle. It’s great working with them because they know what to do and they know what they see. Hopefully they’ll see me improve and they’ll see me next June and we’ll see what happens.”