FORT WAYNE – Forty-two games into their first season of Low-A baseball, a quartet of TinCaps pitchers have embraced the learning curve that comes with a jump from high school to the professional level.
All played for the Padres’ rookie league affiliate in the Arizona League, but the adjustment was at first difficult.
Four of Fort Wayne’s starters are 20 or younger. They are some of the top prospects in the Padres’ organization. And in order to pick up on the next level of the game more quickly, they’ve picked up a new practice.
They study each other.
I think we’re all sponges, just taking in information – whatever we can, said No. 2 starter Max Fried, 19. It’s an unbelievable learning experience.
At the farm system level, pitchers often keep pitching charts for each other. The charts track every pitch to every batter. It shows what kind of pitch was thrown, whether it was a ball or a strike, its location over the batter’s box, if the hitter swung or not and, if the hitter made contact, where the pitch went and how it got there.
Fried, who will start today’s game against South Bend, puts together the chart for Joe Ross. In his last start at home, Fried threw six shutout innings.
Fried started with his fastball, occasionally throwing in a changeup his first time through the order. The next time, through, once hitters had seen his fastball, he added more off-speed pitches and chucked his curveball.
He (Ross) emphasizes throwing the fastball and commanding it early and throwing the changeup off that, Fried said. Then, later in the game, when you’ve seen them once or twice, then you break out the curve ball.
Fried picked up on that – and implemented it in his approach during that May 15 start – because of what he saw on Ross’ chart. It earned Fried his third win, complete with one walk and four strikeouts. He gave up just one extra-base hit.
Fried isn’t the only one.
Other pitchers on the staff – including Walker Weickel and Zach Eflin, the other 19-year-old starters – have paid attention to what works and what doesn’t for the other young aces.
You pick up every small thing you see in games, said Ross, who turned 20 on Tuesday. The jump from high school to pro ball is so big that you can’t really allow yourself to make the same mistakes two outings in a row.
Ross was drafted in 2011 and played for Fort Wayne last season but, like Eflin, Fried and Weickel was drafted out of high school. The oldest member of the staff, if he can be called old, is Justin Hancock, 22.
They have had to grow up quickly, and embraced doing so.
To have to learn so much so quickly is just another challenge to me, Ross said. It’s been fun trying to make changes from outing to outing – inning to inning, really – and batter to batter.