Thursday, April 7, 2016

Meet Your 2016 Biscuits - Pitchers Edition

The Pitching staff is well built, though Brady Williams says it will take a few weeks to shake out the roles in the bullpen and stretch the starters out to full strength. I had a chance to talk with the Manager and Pitching Coach about the teams pitchers, there was alot to cover!

Jacob Faria

"Is Jacob Faria a double-A Pitcher? Absolutely not." Thats how pitching coach RC Lichtenstein replied when I mentioned I was surprised to see Jacob back in Montgomery.

 "He really has nothing to prove at this level" RC continued and it is obvious he is right. Faria led all of the minors with 17 wins last year and has probably already got big league stuff. However the Rays just have so much great pitching that we are the fortunate recipients of Faria's talented arm to open the season.

Biscuit fans liked what they saw from Faria last summer, big strikeout numbers, dominant starts and pitches with great movement.

This year Jacob has a more mature look and its not just the beard he now sports. He displays a more developed and athletic build, this guy has been doing his homework in the offseason. His delivery is still smooth and low-effort, which combined with his more muscular build should result in more stamina.

Lichtenstein agreed that the biggest part of Jacobs development last summer came in the playoffs. With three runs in and men on base, Faria was showing signs of struggling for the first time all year. So the Biscuits pitching coach went to the mound. The message he delivered to Jacob was "I don't know what you are going to do, but the time to figure it out is now." Faria did not allow another run to score.

For the Biscuits, Jacob Faria will take the ball every fifth day and be the stopper in the rotation - the guy who stops losing streaks. His time in Montgomery is probably limited, he is admittedly better than this level. Till then, the Biscuits look to make hay while the sun shines.

Taylor Guerrieri

Taylor came up from Port Charlotte last year in July, got whacked by the Smokies in his first start and then responded with seven straight starts allowing one earned run or less every time out. To say that the former first round pick has gotten his career back on track is a dramatic understatement.

For the Biscuits last year, Guerrieri had a stellar 0.90 ERA in four starts on the road.

At the end of last year, Taylor talked about his pitch counts being lifted. At the start of the season, all pitchers are held back a little as they build arm strength.

However with Guerrieri there is a little more to it - being a 40 man roster guy for the Rays means he could get a late season call if he stays healthy and is throwing well. So we will see Taylor save a few bullets for the end of the rodeo, just in case.

That means a few short outings with the Biscuits for Guerrieri, but he still brings his great fastball-curve-change combo.

Chih-wei Hu

Robin is his adopted name, what he uses on twitter, though his coaches call him Chih-wei. The Taiwan native was part of the Rays deal with the Twins last summer, where he was a top-20 prospect. The Tampa Rays depth pushes him down the list, but he is still a great young pitcher with six different pitches.

Fastball, changeup, curveball, sinker, cutter and palmball - a fine arsenal of pitches. 22 year old Hu could not have found a better spot to hone his craft, Biscuits pitching coach RC Lichtenstein tossed a palmball during his playing days and has a great store of knowledge on the somewhat rare pitch.

"When he gets on top of it, it spins backwards. The seams come in spinning the reverse of his fastball, and it dives down out of the strike zone. When he loses the feel for it, it starts to hang or move side to side and can leak over the plate. Thats what we are working on right now with with him" says the pitching coach.

Plenty of strikeouts and very few walks are the hallmarks of Hu's pitching. The stats imply he limits baserunners and keeps the ball in the yard, likely a groundball machine when his palmball is sinking well.

Brett Marshall

Manager Brady Williams is high on Marshall, who brings major league experience to the Biscuits young pitching staff. Still just 26, Brett pitched with the Yankees for a few games in 2013 when he was a highly touted prospect. He has also been in independent ball, so he knows both ups and downs. Now he has a chance to show his stuff with the Biscuits and has a strong competitive desire to stay affiliated.

Marshall was a sixth round choice in 2008 by the Yanks, he has also been in the Reds and Rockies organizations. Last summer he split time between Colorado's double-A New Brockton Rock Cats and a pair of indie teams, Sugarland and Evansville. His numbers were good, though in a small sample size of just ten starts.

Brett had 120 strikeouts two seasons in a row, 2012-2013 in double and triple-A for the Yankees.

For the Biscuits Marshall brings veteran presence and life experience as well as a good old fashioned Texas fastball-changeup combo.

Buddy Borden

The 23-year old Las Vegas righty was outstanding for the StoneCrabs last summer, leading them to the FSL title. He posted 95 punchouts in 127 innnings, including a seven inning no-hitter last May.

Borden, taken in the 7th round of the 2013 draft by the Pirates, was part of the Sean Rodriguez trade. He was attending UNLV when he was chosen, then spent two years in the Pirates system before being traded.

Borden features a very good fastball, nice curve, good movement and great stuff. He issues walks as a product of the movement of his pitches, something he will have to cut down on against Southern League teams.

In three pro seasons, Borden has issued just one intentional walk.
Buddy has yet to master videogames.

For the Biscuits Budreaux will have every chance to prove he can adjust to double-A hitters and develop his secondary pitches into strikeout weapons.

Chris Kirsch

Kirsch-mas in Montgomery again, as the lefty starter returns to the Biscuits rotation. The 24 year old from Chester, PA had a nice campaign last summer, making 23 starts at two levels including helping the Skitz get to the postseason.

Chris was drafted three times, first by the Pirates in the 13th round of the 2010 draft. After turning that down to attend college, he was chosen in 2011 by the Cardinals in the 21st round. Finally the Rays convinced him to sign after taking him in the 14th round of 2012's amateur draft.

Kirsch has good twitter game with interesting observations...
Chris made 11 starts after his promotion to the Biscuits and got roughed up a bit but pitched better than his 5.69 ERA would imply. In those 11 starts, he went five innings or more in all but two.

Last year Kirsch held righty hitters to a .245 batting average and now looks to take the ball every fifth day for Brady Williams.

Jeff Ames

25 year old Jeff Ames is a long way from his Vancouver, Washington home but is enjoying Montgomery's home cookin just fine.

Jeff Ames, the only guy I didn't get a photo of
A first round pick in 2011, Jeff had also been drafted twice before. First he was claimed in 2009 in the 42nd round out of high school by Philadelphia. He turned it down to go to college and was chosen again in 2010 by the Rockies in the 30th round. Ames finally signed after the Rays made him a first round selection and he has enjoyed success at every level.

Ames was chosen out of Lower Columbia College, the the same school as Bud Black was drafted from.

Jeff's gory blister was a hot topic on the blog last August as it threatened to keep him out of the playoffs, but a bigger story was the miniscule 0.73 ERA he posted while in the Biscuits bullpen. He was simply good all the way around, exceptional against right handers and just a little better facing lefthanded hitters, striking out just about one man each inning.

For the Biscuits this season, Ames will be a valuable left handed option out of the bullpen. He can fill a situational role or be utilized as a set-up man. 

Steve Ascher

I followed Ascher on twitter last fall and he probably thinks I am stalking him, but I am just determined to learn more about the lefty. His bio on wasn't giving fans much to go on....

So I had to do some digging and I am still not completely sure he isn't part of some witness protection program. Or possibly an independent film director, if you believe Google.

From the detailed MiLB graphic we see he is 22 years old, from New York state and was taken in the 17th round of 2014.

Steve is a lefty in his third pro season. Not really a strikeout guy, Ascher did put up a bunch of quality innings for the StoneCrabs last year. He managed to top 75 innings pitched in 35 games, carried a nice ERA of 2.50 and held lefties to a .192 batting average.

In an interview last summer, Ascher listed his pitches as two-seam fastball, split fingered changeup, curveball and a recently-added cut fastball.

Skitz manager Brady Williams is excited about having to chose between lefthanders Ascher, Kolarek and Ames, last season Harrison was sent packing early and the team went months without any lefties in the bullpen. Multiple lefthanded relievers in the same bullpen is a luxury rarely seen in the minor leagues.

For the Biscuits, look for Ascher to be summoned often to face left handed hitters late in games.

Adam Kolarek

Kolarek comes to the Biscuits a little older than some of the other pitchers, but brings great stuff to the hill. I am pretty sure Pitching Coach RC Lichtenstein told me he had developed a low three-quarters sidearm delivery that should be fun to watch.

Drafted in 2010 by the Mets in the 11th round, Adam was taken ahead of Joc Pederson. Kolarek attended the University of Maryland where he enjoyed three seasons of play.

 Adam was taken from the Orioles by the Rays in the minor league rounds of the Rule 5 draft this past December. Baltimore had signed the local pitcher, but he hadn't even thrown the first pitch for his hometown team before the Rays claimed him.

The Baltimore native has good strikeout numbers in his pro career and usually limits the base hits.

Kolarek is a rocker, citing Metallica as a favorite in an interview from 2011.

With the Biscuits, Adam Kolarek offers Brady Williams a valuable lefthanded relief option capable of striking out a batter or getting a ground ball when needed.

Parker Markel

We saw Parker often last summer as he worked in over 40 games, posting a nice 3.43 ERA for the Biscuits. Parker was the vulture of the Skitz pen, grabbing five victories while pitching out of the bullpen.

The tall 25 year old righty was born in Cali but schooled in Arizona. Parker was first drafted by the Tigers in 2009 and refused to sign, taken again by the Rays in 2010 he went quickly up the ladder. Markel arrived in Montgomery in 2014 when he tossed in 16 games.

Numbers wise, Markel's stats don't jump off the page but he provides quality innings and doesn't walk hitters - just 26 walks in 42 games last season. Parker likes pitching at Riverwalk, his ERA at home is over a full run lower.

Parker has a clutch stat, his ERA when behind in the count is a fabulous 1.15, not many pitchers can bear down when they fall behind that way.

Look for Parker Markel to pitch often, Brady Williams says he could get into save situations just as easily as he could handle middle relief.

Jared Mortensen

The Jared Mortensen we will see this season is much different than the Jared Mortensen we knew last year.

Grinning Morty, back row on the left
When a guy makes the AllStar team, wins a gold medal and has a season of 9w-5L with a cool 3.68 ERA, you usually don't see him trying to re-invent himself. But thats just what Jared Mortensen has done, and it could propel him to the big leagues.

What is the big change?
Jared Mortensen is now a knuckleball pitcher.
He throws it "about 50-60% of the time" according to the Biscuits pitching coach. Getting him to trust the knuckler and rely on it as his best pitch is the lesson for the Canadian-turned Texan.

The Rays have a "Knuckleball Camp" to teach pitchers the goofy ball, Mortensen showed up about a month after that camp began and impressed everyone with his natural knuckler. Coach Lichtenstein said it was Mortensens "Wow!" pitch and now Jared has a path to the bigs with it. All he has to do is develop it and learn how to use his other very good stuff to set up his great knuckleball. A "hard" knuckle, Jared throws it in the upper 70s, making it more like a Dickey knuckleball and less like a Niekro.

Throw away the stats and splits for Mortys previous campaigns, the New Mortensen will be a completely different pitcher.

For the Biscuits, look for Mortensen to toss his knuckleball often. He may have hiccups but watching a pitcher toss a knuckler is a rare delight for fans.

Brad Schreiber

25 year old Brad Schrieber will be the Biscuits closer, for the most part. With 30 saves last year combined between two levels, the righty brings a heavy fastball in the low-90s, a biting slider and a bulldog mentality to the bump.

Brads Riverwalk ERA is a run and a half lower than his road numbers, right handed hitters bat a paltry .185 off of him making him a great option late in games.

Brad was drafted twice, but eschewed signing to play with Purdue University. He signed with the Rays as an undrafted free agent, working his way up from Low-A by getting hitters to ground out when they do make contact.

Last season Schreiber finished 46 games and saved 30 of them. His fine efforts were rewarded with a trip to the Fall League where he finished seven more and added two more saves to the pile.

For the Biscuits, Brad Schreiber should close games out when the team has a slim lead.

Ryne Stanek 

 Stanek spent time in the rotation last year before moving to the bullpen. A first round choice in 2013 by Tampa, Stanek is what I call "prospecty" for his high draft level, competitive mindset and pitch arsenal.

Stanek can start or relieve, and while he has been challenged at double-A the problem wasn't that guys were hitting him hard. In 61 innings last year he allowed just 52 hits and had 41 strikeouts in 16 games.

Ryne was a Razorback at the University of Arkansas, was drafted in the 3rd round of 2010 but didn't sign until the Rays chose him 29th overall in 2013.

Stanek missed time at the start of 2014 due to labrum surgery. In May of last year he was promoted to Montgomery and made eight starts. 

Ryne Stanek notched just one save last year, but this year he could be in line for more as Brady Williams mixes and matches his bullpen.

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