Angels' Chatwood, Fish Earn Quick Trips To Double-A
Angels righthander Tyler Chatwood's
mind was racing as he prepared for the cross-country trip to Winston-Salem, N.C. The 20-year-old was to represent Rancho Cucamonga in the the high Class A all-star game pitting his California League against the Carolina.
But it wasn't just the all-star exhibition that preoccupied Chatwood. Just days before the game, Quakes manager Keith Johnson called the righthander into his office to tell him that he had been promoted to Double-A Arkansas. Just like that, Chatwood went from living at his parents' home in Redlands, Calif., less than 20 minutes from the Quakes' ballpark, to life on the road and the sweltering heat of Central Arkansas.
"It was definitely an awesome feeling when I learned that I would be moving up," Chatwood said. "Obviously it was nice to be able to live at home and see my family almost every night. It's a lot hotter here in Arkansas and the humidity is bad, but I can't complain. This is what every player hopes for, and I actually have family nearby in Tulsa, so I get to see them when we play there."
The Angels' decision to move Chatwood up a level was an aggressive one.
The team's second-round pick out of Redlands East Valley High in 2008, Chatwood won't turn 21 until December and he instantly became the youngest player on the Travelers' roster by more than five months. But after dominating the notoriously hitter-friendly Cal League with 8 wins, a 1.77 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 81 innings, the promotion also was well deserved.
His immediate success and effectiveness is even more impressive considering he never seriously considering pitching until his senior season in high school. Chatwood was an equally impressive prep shortstop and likely could have played the position professionally had he wanted to.
But after stepping on the mound in high school and realizing he could throw the ball more than 90 mph, there wasn't really any doubt where his future lay.
"I just remember one of my first times on the mound I threw like 95," Chatwood said. "I was like, 'Man I had no idea I could throw the ball that hard', and that's when I thought maybe I could be a pitcher. I sat down with my family and we decided that I could make the majors faster as a pitcher so that's what I did."
The Angels are probably glad he made that choice because his potential as a pitcher is obvious. When he is at his best, Chatwood boasts a heavy 92-94 mph fastball that is tailor-made for the small ballparks of the Cal League. That life down in the zone was a big reason for his impressive 2.93 groundout-to-flyout ratio, which was best not only in the Cal League but all of high Class A.
He also has a mid-70s curveball that grades as plus and has worked hard to develop his changeup, a pitch he knows he will need to be able to throw for strikes if he hopes to continue his success at the higher level.
"I am still working with coach Patterson on my changeup," Chatwood said. "He told me the only way to gain confidence in the pitch is to keep throwing it. To get guys out at this level, you need to be able to throw offspeed pitches for strikes no matter what the count, and the only way to do that is have confidence in your pitches."
If his first two starts with the Travelers are any indication, Chatwood still has work to do. In his first start he lasted just 2 2/3 innings, giving up eight hits and six earned runs. The next time out he was better, pitching 5 2/3 innings while allowing eight runs, only one earned, but he still allowed seven hits and walked four without recording a punchout. In start No. 3, Chatwood allowed two runs in five innings, striking out four, walking two and allowing six hits.
Improving his command is one of the last remaining obstacles Chatwood has to conquer. He walked 66 hitters in 116 innings last season with low Class A Cedar Rapids and he has already walked 43 hitters in 90 innings this season. But his coaching staff is confident he will sort out the problems sooner rather than later.
"It's the same thing with every young pitcher, he just needs to learn pitchability, and that will come the more times he pitches," Travelers manager Bobby Magallanes said. "It's like when you touch a hot stove and get burned—you know not to touch the stove again. He is going to make mistakes, but that is the only way he will learn. He definitely has the stuff to be really good at this level."
Magallanes also said the fact that Chatwood is playing alongside a lot more experienced players may actually help his development.
"At this level, young players need to have maturity to do well. They need to know how to handle themselves and how to go about their business every day," Magallanes said. "It takes time to mature and learn, but playing with older guys who can give them advice helps them. They get to learn quickly and they kind of have to if they are going to survive."
Fish Makes His Mark
Chatwood isn't the only pitcher on the Travelers' roster who started the season in Rancho Cucamonga.
Lefthander Robert Fish
actually played against Chatwood in high school and is the unfortunate victim of some good-natured ribbing from his younger teammate about the time Chatwood took Fish deep in high school. But a lot of time has passed since both players were in high school, and it is likely that Chatwood would find it much harder to hit a home run off of Fish now.
The 22-year-old started the season in the Cal League but was promoted to Arkansas after allowing just two runs and striking out 25 batters in 16 innings for the Quakes. Since then Fish has emerged as one of the Travelers' most reliable relievers thanks to a fastball that occasionally touches 97 mph, a power curveball and improved command of the strike zone.
"The biggest thing for him is that he is throwing a lot of strikes," Magallanes said. "I know he has had command issues in the past, but for us he has been throwing both his pitches in the zone.
"A guy throwing as hard as he does doesn't need to be all that fine. His pitchability needs to improve some, but the sky's the limit for him because you don't see too many guys who throw that hard from the left side."
A sixth-round pick in 2006 out of Miller High in San Bernardino, Calif., Fish started his career in the Angels system as a starter. His first three seasons as a professional were marked by inconsistency. His power repertoire always allowed him to get guys to swing and miss, but he struggled with his command and it prevented him from becoming an elite prospect.
But after 69 innings with Rancho Cucamonga last season, Fish injured his shoulder. Upon his return, the organization decided to try to reinvent Fish as a power reliever. The move has allowed him to unleash his electric fastball without worrying about saving his arm for later innings, and Fish actually enjoys pitching out of the bullpen more.
"I really don't miss being a starter at all," he said. "Coming out of the bullpen I feed off my adrenaline more and I get to be more aggressive and really go after hitters. Part of my problem earlier was that I was trying to be too perfect. Now, I try to challenge hitters, throw it over the plate and trust my defense to pick me up."
In 21 2/3 innings this season Fish is 2-4, 4.98, though his ERA is slightly inflated because of three bad outings in the middle of June when he allowed six earned runs in five innings. More encouraging is the fact that he has walked just 12 hitters to go with 28 strikeouts.
Like Chatwood, Fish has high praise for pitching coach Ken Patterson. In his six seasons in the Angels system, Patterson has earned the reputation of someone who really helps pitchers learn new pitches. Fish said when he first arrived in Arkansas, Patterson helped him change the grip on his curveball and also has worked with the young lefthander on developing a changeup.
Fish still doesn't have enough confidence in his change to throw it in games, but he gave Patterson a lot of credit for helping him make the jump from an ordinary prospect to an intriguing one.
"When he helped me switch the grip on my curveball, the ball just felt tighter in my hand," Fish said. "I used to throw it 74-77 (mph); now I throw it 77-80. He has really helped me develop the changeup too. I haven't thrown it in a game yet, but it's obviously going to help if I can mix it up more.