Image credit: Christian Scott (Bill Mitchell)
Christian Scott is a visual learner.
It’s a trait that has served the 21-year-old righthander well on the mound, especially of late. Coupled with some extra time to work on the details throughout the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Scott has capitalized on his ability to take pitch grips and techniques that he sees others implementing, transforming his own game with them.
He did it first with his slider, the pitch he now considers his best—also the one he graded out the highest while running through a scouting report on himself using a form previously utilized by Major League Baseball’s scouting bureau—and more recently Scott did it again, with his changeup. The Florida Gator laughs when recalling his pitch development, because it seems so simple, and a little unbelievable.
“I actually saw the slider on Pitching Ninja,” he said. “I never had it in high school. I saw Max Scherzer throwing his slider and he throws a pretty good one, so I wanted to see if I could do it. I learned it pretty quickly and it’s been my best out pitch so far and I fell in love with it a little bit. I definitely learn different pitch grips from other people. I learned my changeup grip from (Lucas) Giolito on Pitching Ninja. I pick up little things through videos or people who are having success at the next level.”
The first time Scott threw his Scherzer-inspired slider was in the fall following his freshman year, after he sought something complementary to his fastball.
“I was looking at pitchers I love to emulate like Scherzer and (Gerrit) Cole and (Jacob) deGrom — how do they do it and what do they do?” said Scott, the No. 232-ranked draft prospect. “I was just scrolling online when I saw a Pitching Ninja post about Scherzer’s slider grip and I thought I would try to stick to that. I was able to pick it up pretty quickly, it was hard, and I wanted to stick with it. It felt really comfortable.”
Scott added the Giolito-inspired changeup into his mix only recently, improving his own version of the pitch throughout his time away from the game last summer.
“My changeup was really slow through high school and I wanted it to look more like my fastball,” the 6-foot-4, 215-pound righty said. “I throw a lot of two-seam fastballs, so I thought what would help me throw it so it looks like my fastball? A two-seam changeup, obviously. So I was looking at Giolito’s two-seam changeup and he throws it as hard as he can and doesn’t think about pronating it.
“He was talking a lot about how it looks exactly like his fastball even though it acts completely different when it gets to the hitter. And that’s something I wanted it to do, because I didn’t want it to be the mid-70s changeup that’s slow and you can’t really get a lot of swings and misses on it. I wanted it to look like my fastball as long as it could and then finally just die off or have the hitter roll over it.”
Scott’s capacity for learning visually doesn’t stop in the development stage. The hurler has also discovered that a vital factor in his success comes by way of adding time watching video of his own outings into his daily routine.
“I’ll go back and look and if I did something good, I want to see what I did and try to do that every single time,” he said. “If I did something bad, I’ll go back and see what I need to fix. It’s a good tool, especially for me being a visual learner, to see how different pitches might be that you’re trying to make the same. If I throw a bad slider I’ll see that I got under that or my back leg collapsed early. If I throw a really good one I’ll see I was strong on my back side and finished the pitch, and that’s what I need to do every time.”
Much of Scott’s success this season has hinged on an improvement in his command as well. Through his first 25 innings this season, he’s limited his opponents to just three free passes, striking out 25, allowing just six extra-base hits (all doubles) to the tune of a 1.80 ERA with a 0.96 WHIP.
“Coming out of high school I could control the bal —I wouldn’t walk a ton of people necessarily—but since I’ve gotten to college I’ve learned to command the ball more, locating inside and out and not missing down the middle,” Scott said. “If you miss down the middle at this level and at the next level, it’s going to get hit pretty hard. I’ve learned to take my control and turn it into command, which has helped me a lot.
“It was a wakeup call, coming into college. I would be able to get a lot of outs in high school just throwing the ball down the middle. Then I got to fall ball here and I would throw a ball down the middle and it would go 400 feet and I’d think, well, that’s not how that was supposed to work. So I had to quickly learn to command the ball and go inside and out when I wanted to, and be able to throw quality strikes and not just strikes.”
Scott’s success has given the Gators incentive to start stretching him out and giving him an opportunity in the rotation after being a bullpen member for the majority of his tenure at Florida. In his only start of the season so far on Friday, Scott and the No. 10 Gators held No. 3 Ole Miss to two runs over five innings, fanning seven and walking none, relying preeminently on his slider, but he’ll bring the same confidence to any role he finds himself in.
“I knew coming into the season we had the same starters back, so I was happy to help the team any way that I could,” Scott said. “I just want to help us win games. So if having me come in on the back end of close games is something that would help us the most, then I’m totally good for that. And at the next level if they want me to relieve, I’ll be ready for it. If they want me to start, I’ll be ready for it. I want to do whatever it takes to win.”