Rangers' Buckel Follows In Bauer's Footsteps
The first time you see Cody Buckel on your television screen may not be on the diamond.
Before Buckel was one of the Rangers' top pitching prospects, acting was his favorite pursuit aside from baseball, having done it since he was 8 years old. Baseball started demanding more of his time in high school, but Buckel got back into acting with an assist from Jason Dolley, a friend of his and a Disney television star who helped him land some stage roles.
That flame hasn't gone out just yet either. This past offseason, Buckel signed on with a talent agency he hopes will get him spots in commercials or work as an extra over the winter.
"That's kind of like another door that's waiting there," Buckel said of his acting aspirations. "I'd like to go back to it when I can."
It might be a while before Buckel steps through that door. He's been doing just fine in his day job, shutting down Carolina League opponents every five days for high Class A Myrtle Beach.
After tossing seven shutout innings against Frederick on May 3, Buckel lowered his ERA to 1.31, the second-lowest mark in the CL. The 19-year-old righthander, selected in the second round of the 2010 out of Royal High in Simi, Calif., also paced the circuit in strikeouts with 41 in 34 innings and ranked second in opponent average at .167.
If watching Buckel on the mound for the first time brings a sense of deja vu, that may not be a coincidence if you've seen any UCLA games over the last three years or Double-A Mobile this spring. Diamondbacks top prospect and former UCLA star righthander Trevor Bauer became well known during his college career for his unconventional approach to pitching. But years before Bauer got to UCLA, he found a kindred spirit in Buckel.
Two Of A Kind
Both natives of Southern California, Buckel was 13 when he met the 14-year-old Bauer, who was already on his way to crafting his unique style. Buckel took to it immediately.
"(Bauer) kind of had a different approach," Buckel said. "I'd always wanted to learn new information, and meeting him was probably one of the greatest things that's happened to me, in terms of baseball knowledge and playing the game. We've been working together, bouncing ideas off each other ever since we were that young."
The two continue to work out together each offseason, following a training routine designed to mimic the rhythm of pitching a game. They eschew long-distance running, believing it teaches the body to be slow, in favor of short sprints interspersed with brief rest periods. When it's time to hit the weight room, they emphasize light weights and lots of repetitions, with bands, chains and medicine balls as the primary implements, while they don't do many curls or much upper-body lifting at all.
"It's a lot of just moving around and getting your blood flowing and just staying explosive because pitching is such an explosive movement," Buckel said.
Buckel uses words like "athletic" and "explosive" frequently when talking about his and Bauer's workouts and how those translate to their pitching. Part of that is borne of necessity.
"I'm not the 6-5 guy that just is 250 pounds and uses all his weight to generate velocity or throw the ball hard," Buckel said. "Being only 6-1, I've gotta figure out something else for my body to use."
That something else has been his legs. As Buckel watched video of his delivery with Bauer—also listed at 6-foot-1—this past offseason, Buckel felt he could get more out of his lower half. After working on his mechanics to that end, Buckel says he's been hitting 95 mph and pitching at 92-93 on the radar gun more consistently, rather than the 89-90 he often worked with last year at low Class A Hickory.
Buckel maximizes his delivery to wring everything he can out of his frame. That plus velocity derives from the potential energy he stores as he loads up his delivery, reaching what Myrtle Beach pitching coach Brad Holman calls his "post-balance point." Once Buckel starts coming forward, he exaggerates his stride length but not to the point of putting himself in compromising positions, understanding when to let that energy go.
Buckel's delivery conjures up images of Bauer's as well, which also means it gets saddled with labels like unconventional and unorthodox. But if you ask Holman, those are just words.
"I like his delivery," Holman said. "It hits all the necessary positions from the standpoint of being able to generate torque and being able to create direction and being able to avoid injury."
Buckel worked with four pitches last year—fastball, curveball, changeup and a slider/cutter hybrid—but he's added even more depth to his repertoire this year. Seeking to create deception with pitches that would look like a fastball out of his hand but then have different action, he started by separating the slider and cutter into separate offerings, now throwing a true cutter at 87-90 mph.
Buckel's other fresh addition is what he calls a "reverse slider," another Bauer-ism. More practically, Holman classifies it as a sinker with armside run. The pitch does mirror the action of Buckel's slider, moving down and in on righthanded batters, but the rotation on the ball is a sinker's rotation.
He hasn't trotted out the reverse slider, aka sinker, much in games yet, but he's got plenty else to work with, along with the intelligence to find the right mix situations call for.
"His sense of sequencing is advanced—what he utilizes in terms of the last pitch to set up the next pitch, and the attention of the hitter and working within the confines of his stuff," Holman said, "knowing where the pitch is going to end up, not necessarily where he lets go of it."
Buckel knows he's not going to have every pitch working every night, but one of the upsides of having a wide selection is not lacking for alternatives when something's off. Buckel recalls his April 17 start against Winston-Salem, when his fastball and slider were the only pitches he really had going, though that didn't stop him from mixing in curveballs and changeups. He could see they could still serve a purpose.
"It's not necessarily I only have to have those pitches (that are) working," Buckel said. "I can still go to the other pitches to make my pitches that are on look even better."
Even on the mound, it helps to be able to put on a good act.