LONG BEACH—The 23rd annual Area Code games continued on Saturday at Blair Field in Long Beach. During a break between the first and second games, I had a chance to chat about pitching with Bret Saberhagen.
Saberhagen is a two-time Cy Young award winner who spent 16 years in the major leagues with the Royals, Mets, Rockies and Red Sox. The righthander was the 1985 World Series MVP and a two-time 20 game winner. In his finest season, 1989, Saberhagen posted a 23-6, 2.16 record.
After his retirement as a pitcher, Saberhagen coached baseball at Calabasas (Calif.) High for several years. He now works as a consultant for West Coast Sports Management, Inc., whose president, Dan Evans, is the former general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
I asked Saberhagen what he looks for in a young pitcher. From a mechanical standpoint, Saberhagen insists, “The release point and arm angle must be consistent. The ball will react differently if the release point changes. A pitcher has to repeat the same delivery with all of his pitches.”
Regarding the mental aspect, Saberhagen said, “I like to see cockiness—not arrogance—and a kind of swagger in the way they walk. It’s easy for a guy to be confident when he sails through an inning one-two-three. I want to see his poise, how he handles a tough spot.” Saberhagen believes the true test of a pitcher is his ability to “fight himself out of a corner.”
Saberhagen continued, “A guy does not have to be 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3 to be a good pitcher. The bottom line is getting guys out. I like to see how a guy goes about the game.”
He went on to describe himself on the mound. “I had two good pitches—a four seam fastball and a change.”
“I split my fingers when I gripped the change, and then released it so that it had a kind of fade, screwball action on it.” Saberhagen continued, “My third pitch was a 2-to-8 curveball, but that wasn’t there all the time. When my curve was on, I knew it was going to be a good day.”
During these Area Code games, Saberhagen has been concentrating primarily on the Milwaukee Blue and Gray squads, which represent California. He shared his observations on several of the Brewer pitchers:
Cody Buckel, rhp, Royal HS, Simi Valley, Calif.: “He has a great mound presence and can control all of his pitches. He’s not afraid to throw inside. Buckel is a bulldog.”
Ryon Healy, rhp, Crepsi HS, Van Nuys, Calif.: “Healy’s one of the best all around players out here. He can command both sides of the plate, and throws any pitch in any count. He has an idea what he wants to do, and doesn’t give in.”
Henry Owens, lhp, Edison HS, Huntington Beach, Calif.: “He has three really good pitches, and I love his mound presence. Owens takes over the game—and he wants to be in game that means something. Most kids will look great in the bullpen and then not so good once they take the mound. Owens is unusual—he is the exact opposite.”
Aaron Sanchez, rhp, Barstow, Calif., HS: Saberhagen conceded the fact that Sanchez looked better in preliminary events than he has in Long Beach. Nonetheless, Saberhagen says, “He is real special. Sanchez is a young senior with a nice loose arm and lots of projection. He has a nasty curve when it’s thrown well, but he needs to do more with the change. If so, he’ll have three good pitches and he’ll only get better.”
Peter Tago, rhp, Dana Hills, Calif., HS: Tago is another pitcher who has been more impressive in prelim events than in Long Beach. Still, Saberhagen says “He is impressive. Sometimes he doesn’t look good warming up, but when he is on his arm action is excellent, his stuff is good, and his mechanics are pretty.”
Jesus Valdez, rhp, Hueneme HS, Oxnard, Calif.: “Valdez had by far the best velocity and command of the guys I’ve seen so far. He looked very good, and wasn’t afraid to pound hitters inside.”
Jordan Shipers, lhp, South Harrison HS, Bethany, Missouri (Chicago White Sox squad): “His high school has no baseball team, but he pitched great. He’s only 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, but he has good velo—91 to 93, and a good tight breaking ball.”
BA will list and describe the top hitters/position players from this year’s Area Code games on Monday. The top pitchers will follow on Tuesday.