Anderson Leads Quartet Of Northwest Southpaws
No draft ever has enough lefthanded pitching talent to satisfy scouting directors, but this year comes close.
In Baseball America's midseason update of the draft's top 50 prospects, three of the top 15 are college lefthanders—Danny Hultzen at Virginia, Jed Bradley at Georgia Tech and Matt Purke at Texas Christian. Scouts in the Northwest won't get to see those pitchers, but they have a quartet of talented southpaws of their own to sort through: Tyler Anderson at Oregon, Adam Conley at Washington State, Josh Osich at Oregon State and Ryan Carpenter at Gonzaga.
The fact that they all throw lefthanded is really where the similarities start and end. All four pitchers grew up in different states and go to different schools. Three of the four pitchers have touched the mid-to-upper 90s with their fastballs, but they have distinctly different backgrounds: One of them is a converted college closer, getting regular starts for the first time this season, another is coming off of Tommy John surgery and the third has been a bit of an enigma to scouts over his college career.
The best of the bunch doesn't have that kind of raw arm strength, but doesn't come with the question marks the other three pose, either.
What Anderson does have is pitchability, poise and polish. He was a 50th-round pick by the Twins out of Spring Valley High in Las Vegas in 2008, but he's projected to go from the last round to the first round this June.
He came to Oregon in 2009 during the Ducks' first season back, when the Ducks reinstated their program after a 29-year hiatus. He had to adjust to the difference between the bright lights and hot desert heat of Las Vegas to the musty, hippie haven of Eugene, Ore.
"It's been a learning experience," Anderson said. "It's kind of like a life lesson. You know, you start off with everything brand new and you're just getting your feet wet and it's something to get used to. There wasn't much of a culture, but as we've grown as a team, there's been a little bit of a culture and we've all grown together as people, too."
Anderson has gotten bigger and stronger during his time at Oregon, and he's also learned how to deal with the failure that is inevitable in the game and the mental aspect of pitching.
Anderson has an impressive arsenal. He throws both a two- and four-seam fastball, a curveball, a slider and a changeup. Even with the five-pitch mix, scouts love the fact that Anderson can throw all of his pitches for strikes. Anderson is quick to give credit to Ducks pitching coach Andrew Checketts, calling him "brilliant" when it comes to pitching.
"Coach Checketts has developed certain types of bullpens that are competitive bullpens," Anderson said. "You have to throw your two fastballs to a spot, followed by a changeup to a spot and it's like a 30-pitch bullpen session. So, if you want to throw any curveballs at all, you better be able to throw your fastball and changeup for strikes. So, it kind of gives you motivation to throw all your pitches for strikes."
But Checketts isn't the only pitching coach that Anderson has studied under. During his time with Team USA last summer, he picked the brain of Cal State Fullerton's Dave Serrano and said the time with that team helped improve his changeup.
"His guys throw really good changeups at Cal State Fullerton," Anderson said. "That's something that Serrano preaches, so I talked with him a little bit about that and worked on more the mentality of the changeup over the mechanics of it. . . I think a lot of guys—and I was guilty of this myself, in the past—but they guide their changeups in there and they have a different thought process than when they're throwing a fastball. But you have the mentality that you're going to throw the changeup as hard as you can, by the hitter. That gives it the best chance to move and do what it's supposed to do. So, if you think you're throwing a fastball, the hitters probably think you're throwing a fastball, too."
"He's got a heavy, two-seam fastball anywhere from 88-93 (mph). He's got a four-searmer that he can occasionally get to 95. He's got a really, really good sinker and the chance for a plus chanageup. The only strike on him is that his slider is just a roller—it just spins. But he might have plus control down the road, even with a Dontrelle Willis-looking delivery. He's a fierce competitor and he might have the best makeup in the area."
—An American League area scout on Washington State's Adam Conley
Adam Conley spent his first two years at Washington State mostly in the bullpen, with a few starts mixed in. After being the Cougars' primary closer last year, he's in the starting rotation this year.
Conley, who is the only player of this foursome to go to college in the state where he grew up, likes the more structured routine that comes with starting. The set routine has given him more time to work on his secondary pitches—a slider and a changeup—which is good, because he's definitely noticed that it's harder to make it through the lineup the second, third and fourth time, even though the overall goal remains the same.
"The ultimate goal of a pitcher is just to disrupt the timing of the hitters and, no matter what role you play, that's going to be the same," Conley said. "I think the biggest transition for me was developing secondary pitches. When you're consistent with those and you can throw secondary pitches for strikes, you're going to disrupt timing as guys come through the lineup more than once. As a closer, you can get away with being a one-pitch guy or a two-pitch guy, but this league is so competitive and the hitters are so dialed in that you really need a third pitch and, for some guys, a fourth pitch. So, for me, that's been the biggest transition."
Conley pitched for the Keane Swamp Bats in the New England Collegiate Baseball League after his freshman year. But last summer, he put his nose to the grindstone, bucking hay and tearing down fences. But there was some time for fun and baseball, too.
"I spent the whole summer working on a farm with my buddies," Conley said. "I spent a lot of time swimming at Hewitt Lake and played some catch and threw some bullpens and stuff. I think it was the perfect summer for me."
The hard work suits Conley, who has always busted his tail for the Cougars. This year, the coaches even had to rein him in a little, to make sure he didn't tire himself out from working too hard with the increased workload after moving from the bullpen to the rotation.
In addition to his hard work, Conley has also taken on a leadership role on the team. He can often be found watching teammates' bullpens, just for some extra support.
"Just because of the fact that I've been around here while and kind of understand how things work, I really enjoy getting with the younger guys and trying to help them out as much as I can," Conley said. "I know that when I was a younger player, I would have loved to have that support, so I like to provide that for the younger guys who don't quite have an understanding of what the expectations are and don't quite have an understanding of what it is we do here and what we're trying to accomplish."
"I saw him sitting 95-97 mph in the first inning, but he got so tired after three innings that he was 88-93. But, he's a monster. He can dominate with the fastball just by itself. It's pretty true, though. So, unless you're going to put him in the bullpen and get that 96-97, you're not going to get that guy in starts. His changeup's pretty good and he's still not throwing breaking balls. So, I think he's a bullpen arm when all is said and done."
—An American League area scout on Oregon State's Josh Osich
When Oregon State's Josh Osich took the mound Feb. 21 against Fresno State, it was the first time he had done so for the Beavers since May 31, 2009, when the team lost a regional to Texas Christian. The following January, Osich slipped while doing some winter throwing, felt something snap in his arm and had Tommy John surgery.
Even without pitching last year, Osich was drafted by the Angels in the seventh round in 2010. He said he strongly considered signing, but just couldn't match up on numbers with Los Angeles.
Osich had some butterflies when taking the mound, which he said is typical, but they were intensified a little more because he had anticipating that moment for so long.
"It's been 20 months since the last time I got on a mound," Osich said. "So, it's been a long time and it felt really good. Everything came back and my arm feels great. Everything's come back like I wanted it to."
That stuff mostly includes a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a changeup. He has a slider in his repertoire, but hasn't used it much this season.
"I never really throw that many breaking balls anyway," Osich said. "I've been playing catch with it and stuff, so it just comes down to when (assistant coach Nate) Yeskie wants me to throw it. I'm ready, it just depends on when he's willing to."
While he was itching to get back on the mound during last year's layoff, Osich said he learned a lot about himself and the game.
"It was rough just standing there watching and knowing I can't play," Osich said. "But it's good to sit out a year and learn the mental side of the game. I just worked on my mechanics—dry runs without being able to throw—so, my mechanics got a lot better and I got a better understanding of what pitches to throw in certain counts and stuff like that. If there was a way, everybody should just sit out a year and learn more about the game. But, like, without an injury because injuries are no fun."
Gonzaga's Ryan Carpenter has been an enigma to scouts.
A 21st-round pick out of Cactus High in Peoria, Ariz., by the Rays, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound lefthander headed north to Spokane, Wash., instead of signing.
"He's kind of an enigma and he's gone backwards a little bit. He was up to 97 mph in Alaska (two summers ago). Now, he's 89-92 early, but after five innings, he's own to 85 mph. His arm action's changed. It's really one piece. He's not the same guy and he's put on some weight. The slider's really good at times, but everything is extremely inconsistent."
—An American League area scout on Gonzaga's Ryan Carpenter
Carpenter teased scouts his first couple years at Gonzaga. He'd flash a fastball that could get up to 97 mph, but the results never matched the power stuff. He went 6-4, 5.26 during his freshman year and then stepped back a little to 4-4, 5.67 as a sophomore.
"I call pitches for him and, at one point his freshman year, he shook me 18 straight times," Gonzaga pitching coach Steve Bennett said. "So obviously we weren't on the same page. But a lot of it was that he wouldn't trust his fastball, and he was falling behind in counts because he was throwing breaking balls and teams would start sitting on that."
This year, the numbers are looking better. Over his first 10 starts, he was 5-1, 3.02 with 73 strikeouts—a career best already—and 26 walks over 66 innings.
"As far as progression is concerned, his pitching ability has become a lot better," Bennett said. "The first couple years he was known for his arm, but he didn't really trust his fastball. He threw a lot of offspeed in high school and he didn't really trust his fastball, but he's kind of flipped that on its head now, and he throws a lot of fastballs."
Bennett said pitching for Orleans in the Cape Cod League allowed Carpenter to trust his fastball more, and he's working to pitch off of it this spring.
"That's one of the game plans we had going in: to establish my fastball and learn how to attack with it," Carpenter said. "I learned to throw to the corners and just get ahead of guys by locating a fastball."
But, the improved results are coming with a tradeoff this year. Despite using it more, Carpenter's fastball hasn't been as good as it has in the past, leaving scouts to wonder which Ryan Carpenter they're going to get in the draft this June. In a recent start against Loyola Marymount, Carptenter's fastball was mostly 84-87.
"That question has come up a bit," Carpenter said. "I've noticed in some video lately that I haven't been landing and rotating as much as I usually do. That's an issue I've been working on lately. I'm just kind of throwing with a little too much arm right now, which is why there isn't as much velo as in the past. I've been working on that lately to get my velocity back up, because I know it's in there, I just have to find it."
Carpenter also throws a curveball, a slider and a changeup, which he said is his most established offspeed pitch. Even though he was just okay during his first two years at Gonzaga, he was always impressive in the summer, against wood bats. In 2009, he led the Alaska League in strikeouts, and he came within five whiffs of leading the Cape last year.
Bennett firmly believes that Carpenter will soon have the best of both worlds—the top-shelf stuff and the improved feel for pitching.
"His velocity's been a little bit down this year, but he's only 20 years old, he's 6-6 and his upside is tremendous," Bennett said. "So, I think he's really just figuring out what kind of work ethic he needs and what kind of throwing program and all that."