Scouting Reports Become Reality For D-Backs' Corbin

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In an effort representative of his season thus far, Diamondbacks lefthander Pat Corbin attacked the strike zone with vigor in yesterday's Southern League all-star game. The 21-year-old Mobile BayBear delivered a perfect third inning for the Southern Division, one that required just three pitches.

But in Corbin's case, the journey from unknown amateur to Double-A all-star is almost more interesting than his ultimate destination.

When he graduated from high school in Central New York, Pat Corbin had no aspirations of one day pitching in the big leagues. Truth be told, the lefthander didn't harbor any notion of pitching professionally at all.

Corbin first began pitching in 2006, during his junior year at Cicero-North Syracuse High. A couple of his teammates on the basketball team encouraged him to try out for baseball.

"I had played Little League but never really pitched," Corbin said. "I used to play shortstop, and that kind of worked out, even though I'd never get to play the position in pro ball.

"Still, after high school I never thought of playing ball."

Little recruited in either baseball or basketball, Corbin attended nearby Mohawk Valley CC in Utica, N.Y., to play both sports. When that did little to raise his athletic profile, he realized that he'd have to head down South to gain the favor of scouts.

"I played on a summer-ball team (in 2008) that I found out about from one of my good friends back in Syracuse," Corbin said, "so I played in a bunch of tournaments in Georgia and Florida. I was pitching pretty well, so I thought something could happen. I talked to some schools out there, but I really wanted to settle at a powerhouse JC."

Corbin hit it off with Chipola (Fla.) JC coach Jeff Johnson and transferred there for the 2009 season. He helped pitch the Indians to the Panhandle Conference championship that spring, but the young lefty's move to Chipola would have greater implications.

Tom Kotchman, the Angels' veteran Florida area scout, turned in glowing reports on Corbin for the 2009 draft, using adjectives such as "super athletic"—he can dunk a basketball from a standstill—and "competitive"—he threw eight shutout innings at the JC tournament.

"College pitchers aren't often projectable," Kotchman said in 2009, "but this guy could throw 94-95 (mph) one day."

The Angels heeded the advice and selected Corbin with the 80th overall pick, at the tail end of the second round, making him the first junior-college player drafted.

"(Kotchman) was at our games quite a bit. I talked to him plenty of times," Corbin said. "He's really good friends with (Coach Johnson), and he knows that pitchers from Chipola have had success. (The Angels) drafted their third rounder, Ryan Chaffee, the year before they took me. So I kind of thought I had chance with them."

Corbin signed soon after the draft and went on to help pitch Rookie-level Orem to the 2009 Pioneer League title. He relied on a fastball/slider mix at Chipola, but by the end of his first pro summer Corbin had gained considerable confidence in his changeup. Also, he touched 93 mph in his final start for the Owlz.

Grounds For Appeal

Corbin made quick work of the low Class A Midwest League in his full-season debut for the Angels in 2010. He walked 10 batters in nine starts to earn a bump to high Class A Rancho Cucamonga, where his ERA held steady at 3.88 while his strikeout rate spiked to 9.5 per nine innings.

Unlike his amateur days, Corbin had the full attention of the industry now. At no time was this more apparent than when the Diamondbacks sought (and received) the southpaw as part of the trade bounty for ace Dan Haren. "He's had a fantastic year. He's a lefty with high projection and good promise," Arizona interim general manager Jerry DiPoto gushed at the time.

Initially, the news of the trade hit Corbin hard. "At first you kind of think it's a letdown," he said, "but I didn't really know what to think. As time went by I realized that it was for the better. Arizona wanted me because I was pitching pretty well."

The Diamondbacks' interest in Corbin stretches back to the 2009 draft season. Like the Angels, Arizona had multiple compensation picks.

"Frankly, he was one of those guys on our draft board we were disappointed we didn't get," said DiPoto, who now serves as senior vice president for scouting and player development for the Diamondbacks. "He was definitely on our radar, and because of our extra picks at the top of that draft, we scouted the top players exhaustively."

Pre-draft reports filed by Florida area scout Luke Wrenn matched up with what Arizona's pro scouts saw during the 2010 season. "Every report kept coming back positive," DiPoto said. "His stuff kept getting better and better.

"We saw a lot of things we liked about Corbin. He had projection in his frame at 6-3; a long, angular body; his arm works the way you want it to; he touched the high side with his velocity.

"He hadn't spent a lot of time on the mound, and all these factors create intrigue. Plus, his delivery is very deceptive—he's someone who batters don't pick up well."

Corbin didn't have far to move with the trade from the Angels to the Diamondbacks. He switched California League clubs, going from Rancho Cucamonga to Visalia about 220 miles to the north. He finished the season on a strong note, notching a 1.38 ERA in eight starts for the Rawhide.

Corbin's performance in the Cal League matched up favorably with any pitcher in the league. In 19 starts he went 5-4, 3.13 with 94 strikeouts (9.8 per nine innings), 27 walks (2.8) and just eight home runs allowed (0.8) in 86 1/3 innings. True to form, opposing batters hit just .231.

"The Cal League's a hitter's league," he said, "so stuff that's going to happen there won't happen (in other leagues). But I found that if I keep the ball down and attack hitters, then I've got a chance to get out of it."

Southern Rock

Just as scouts and evaluators prophesied, Corbin has taken another step forward this year, his first at Double-A, his sixth as a pitcher.

"Now we've seen him put all the pieces together," DiPoto said.

With Mobile, Corbin went 6-3, 4.20 in 13 first-half starts. At the all-star break he ranks tied for fourth in the Southern League with 71 strikeouts in 79 1/3 innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 4-to-1 ranks fourth among qualified SL pitchers. He had allowed eight home runs—or fewer than one per nine innings.

"I'm just trying to figure out the league," Corbin said. "The hitters are going to the plate knowing what they're looking for, and I'm starting to know what the hitter coming to bat is looking for. I'm using my strengths against his."

Both Corbin and DiPoto acknowledge that the lefthander's pitching style has changed since his early days in pro ball. "I didn't throw the changeup much back then," Corbin said, "definitely not as much as my slider. But now I realize that the changeup can be one of best pitches in baseball to get early outs—a weak grounder or a weak flyball."

DiPoto said: "His changeup has come the furthest (in the last year), but the sheer velocity he's showing this year, particularly over the past 6-8 weeks, is probably the biggest development. Last year he was topping out at 93-94 (mph) and pitching at 90-91.

"If that's what the finished product wound up being, then everybody would've been thrilled."

DiPoto said the Diamondbacks have Corbin pitching at 92 mph this year and topping out at 95-96. "We believed in the moving parts, the components," he said. "The long, lean body, the dream projection. These guys get better. We believed that."

For a stretch of three starts from May 30 to June 9, Corbin provided a glimpse of his ultimate ceiling. He allowed one run over 22 innings while notching more strikeouts (24) than baserunners allowed (16).

In addition to more velocity and an upgraded, solid-average changeup, Corbin also has added a second breaking ball to his repertoire, a knuckle-curve with 12-to-6 break.

"Kids I played against in high school used to throw it," Corbin said, "and I fooled around with it then. My first year in college I went away from it a bit, but I had been throwing it in the bullpen all along."

DiPoto said the slower knuckle-curve complements Corbin's angled, power slider. "There's not a discernible difference in the path the breaking balls take," DiPoto said. "It's just a velocity difference, but it works very well with his fastball because he's got great angle.

"The curve plays as a breaking ball, but his success comes mostly from the way he mixes pitches, and because he's very aggressive with the way he pitches with his fastball. A pitcher's ultimate ceiling is determined by how he uses his pitch mix—pitching soft in hard counts and hard in soft counts—and he's picking those things up at a very quick rate."

A key determinant to a young lefty's future value lies in how well he handles righthanded batters. Seventy percent of the batters Corbin has faced this year have batted from the right side. He's held righties in check by walking just 4.3 percent of them (10 of 235) and holding them to a .256 average. DiPoto credits Corbin's pitching approach.

"He's very aggressive in the strike zone," he said. "The development of the changeup and the quality of his strikes, that all stems from the ability to be aggressive with the fastball."

In addition to Corbin, Arizona acquired a second projectable lefthander as the crux of the Haren deal with the Angels. A fellow member of the 2009 draft class, Tyler Skaggs currently leads the California League in strikeouts. The Diamondbacks scouted both Cobin and Skaggs, who is from Santa Monica, Calif., thoroughly as amateurs. So they had a good read on their competitive makeup, an important consideration given that both will be inextricably linked with Haren until they forge careers of their own.

"It was easy to pull the trigger on the trade because we felt like we knew the guys," DiPoto said. "Sometimes it's hard to make the deals where you're acquiring Class A talent, but the reality is that's where you get high-impact players.

"We've stressed (to our scouts) what we're looking for in pitching prospects, and Corbin and Skaggs exemplify those traits."