Asa Lacy's Dogged Pursuit Of Greatness Pushes Him To Top Of 2020 MLB Draft Class
Wanting to be great has never been an issue for Asa Lacy, and he’s more than willing to put in the requisite work to be great. In fact, Texas A&M coach Rob Childress says that’s what makes the lefthander special.
“He’s a sponge and wants to be great, and I think the biggest attribute Asa has is when his feet hit the floor every day, he wants to be the very best at his craft. To me, that’s what separates him from so many,” he said.
But after his freshman season, it was clear that if Lacy was truly going to be great, he needed a breaking ball. So he went to Alaska to find one.
To be fair, he had a breaking ball. Two of them, in fact. But neither his curveball nor slider was going to cut it if he wanted to be a quality weekend starter in the Southeastern Conference. At the time, he wasn’t throwing either of them with conviction.
Lacy was coming off what anyone would consider a successful campaign. He had a 2.75 ERA in 39.1 innings for Texas A&M, mostly in relief. He struck out 48 and held opponents to a .200 batting average. Still, he needed a more diverse repertoire.
“As a freshman, (he) really was a two-pitch guy,” Childress said. “(A) fastball/changeup guy. He didn’t spin it exceptionally well. He was in between a curveball and a slider.”
So off to Palmer, Alaska, Lacy went to play his summer ball for the Mat-Su Miners of the Alaska Baseball League. There, he worked with pitching coach Jeff Urlaub, a fellow lefthander who made stops at Arizona State, Nevada-Las Vegas and Grand Canyon during his college years and reached Triple-A with the Athletics. With Urlaub’s help, Lacy found his stride, and crucially, a third offering.
“I got to pitch a lot, and the pitching coach up there was probably a lot more experienced than most,” Lacy said. “He pitched six years for the Athletics in minor league ball, was a lefty, and he started working with me on a knuckle curveball, which is kind of the first thing you look to go to when guys are having trouble spinning the ball.
“He helped me move my index finger along the ball where I could control it better, so I came back to campus at A&M with a curveball.”
Being a three-pitch guy is better than a two-pitch guy, but Lacy isn’t one to settle. He wanted to hone his entire arsenal, so work on his slider began in earnest that fall. He wasn’t taking to the pitch as well as he would have liked, but one day, it was just there.
“(I) spent the entire fall (of 2018) working on a slider, and it just wasn’t happening,” Lacy said. “Then all of the sudden, I came back from Christmas break and then I had a slider, so then it jumped to a four-pitch mix.
“Coach Childress made the joke one day when I was throwing a bullpen, ‘Well, you go off to summer ball and you’re a two-pitch guy and you come back and now you’re a four-pitch guy. What the heck happened?’ ”
The results during the ensuing 2019 season speak loudly. Lacy went 8-4 with a 2.13 ERA, 130 strikeouts and a .162 opponent average in 88.2 innings, forming a dynamic one-two punch in the rotation with John Doxakis, a third-team All-American who last year was drafted in the second round.
To an outsider, Lacy might have looked like a finished product after his sophomore season. He was dominating hitters in the SEC and he was firmly established as an elite draft prospect. But for someone who wants to be the best in the way that Lacy does, and for a coach like Childress who knew his potential, there was still molding to be done.
Specifically, heading into 2020, Childress wanted Lacy to be more efficient and cut down on the number of times he left the coaching staff having to fill in three or four innings at the end of his starts.
When Lacy was a Saturday starter pitching after Doxakis, who routinely got the Aggies into the seventh or eighth inning on Fridays, that wasn’t such a big issue. But while a Friday starter’s primary job is to put the team in position to win the first game of the series, it’s nearly as important that he goes deep enough into the game to set up the bullpen for the rest of the weekend.
“I think that was my biggest challenge to him was, ‘Listen, you have to be more efficient. You have to get us deeper into the game,’ ” Childress said. “Because if you go five innings, you strike out 12 and you’re at 100 pitches, you’re gone, and we’re asking for four innings on Friday night out of the bullpen. That’s going to really set us back throughout the rest of the weekend.”
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Lacy didn’t get much of a chance this spring to serve as a Friday starter because of the coronavirus pandemic that brought the season to a halt in mid-March, but what he did accomplish was impressive. In four starts, he had an 0.75 ERA, 46 strikeouts and a .111 opponent average in 24 innings.
His best start was his last one, which also helped prove that he had learned a little something about being efficient. He tossed seven no-hit innings against Nick Gonzales and New Mexico State, striking out 13 on just 99 pitches.
“I truly believe that what I did against New Mexico State I could have actually built on it, and then I would have carried that throughout the season,” Lacy said. “I just have a lot of confidence in the support staff around me who keep pushing me to get better every day, and that I would have done something special and that this team would have done something special.”
After three years of meticulously honing his craft, Lacy is a fully-formed pitcher and ready for the next level, plain and simple. At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, he’s got the physicality to endure a full season of pro baseball. With a fastball that can reach 98 mph, a plus changeup, and now two quality breaking balls, he has the stuff. But most importantly, he has a famously strong work ethic that will serve him well.
That’s evident in how he has spent his time since the college season was shut down.
“I have been throwing four days a week, sometimes five, keeping everything usually under 150 feet, just kind of lightly working on spinning the ball and my changeup, just keeping my arm in shape (and) maintaining the feel of my body as far as my delivery goes,” Lacy said.
“Luckily, I have access to a gym here (in his hometown of Kerrville, Texas), a private gym, so I’m working out four days a week, all the workouts from our strength coach. I know I’m a lot luckier than some. A lot of guys on the team, and other teams, are having to do body weight stuff in the house, so I know how fortunate I am.
“Here in about two weeks, we’re going to start picking everything back up, very gradually just with bullpens. And then maybe more as June rolls around maybe a couple of very short live outings, or maybe just with a hitter standing in the box.
“I’m throwing with Forrest Whitley of the Astros. He drives down from San Antonio to work out, and he and I are throwing usually twice a week. Just to have someone like him who’s been around (Justin) Verlander, (Gerrit) Cole, just to name a few, he can really pick apart the little things, and so I feel like every day I throw with him I get better.”
A coronavirus pandemic that has canceled all official baseball activity and forces people to avoid contact with others would seem to make it hard for an aspiring first-round draft pick to continue to get his work in, but Lacy is working as hard as ever under unique and inconvenient circumstances.
It’s a small price to pay when you want to be great.