Yesterday afternoon, I was able to visit Werner Park for the Omaha Storm Chasers’ showcase and media day. It was cold and windy outside, but it was still quite a bit of fun getting to watch the team run through some fielding drills and batting practice. Following the workout, I got a chance to talk with a few of the Chasers’ players. Here are a few of the things that stood out to me:
– During the interview time, Clint Scoles (from Pine Tar Press) and I had a nice chat with three players (the audio for those interviews, along with a few others from Clint, can be found here). While all three were great, I came away very impressed by John Lamb. Lamb’s struggles in coming back from Tommy John surgery have been well-documented, as have his poor workout habits in the past. In our conversation, the young lefty talked about how his current routine centers around him listening to his body. He’s trying to find a balance between working out too much and being too lazy, both of which have been problems previously. Lamb says he “didn’t do much, in terms of preparing for the 2010 season,” so when he had a successful year, it was basically him simply relying on his natural talent without knowing how to repeat it. When Lamb was injured, he didn’t quite know how to build himself back up, because it wasn’t something he had worried about before, and the longer delays and subsequent injuries caused him even more frustration. Mentally, it’s been a very long road for Lamb.
Lamb constantly talks about how he’s been humbled. He says the game of baseball “can humble damn near anybody.” He says he’s been humbled by the fact that 3 of the 4 top pitching prospects from the Royals 2011 farm system are in Omaha together, three years later. He’s grateful for where he is now, even after going through a few pretty tough years. He knows he still has work to do in order to reach his goal of pitching in the big leagues.
He knows he’s not the pitcher he once was, but I can hear in his voice that he knows he can get close to that level. Lamb is humble, but he absolutely has confidence in his ability.
As Lamb mentioned, he still has quite a ways to go. His velocity hasn’t returned to his pre-surgery level, although some experimenting with his delivery has been helpful in trying to figure out what works. He said his arm feels good, and he’s been focusing on keeping his front side closed longer. As a slender guy, he’s had difficulty adding muscle mass, so the velocity is going to have to come from him finding consistent mechanics. He knows he still hasn’t gotten all the way back to trusting his stuff, but you can tell he’s willing to put in the work needed to get there. I was a fan of Lamb before this interview, but now, I’ll be rooting even harder for him to find success.
– The other two guys Clint and I spoke with were Matt Fields and Aaron Brooks. Fields had a breakout season at Double-A last year, hitting 31 home runs for the Naturals. He told us that season came just a year after he nearly walked away from the game following a stint in independent ball. Fields says he didn’t really make any specific adjustments last year, but he credits the mental side of his game and his growing confidence in himself for his success. He tries not to worry too much about being blocked by Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler at the major league level, but he knows that he can contribute somewhere, so he’ll just keep doing what he’s doing and trust that something’s going to happen for him.
Brooks has been getting more pub recently, mostly due to improved stuff, and he says his increased velocity is more from him growing into his frame, instead of him making any particular adjustments. Standing at 6’4″, he certainly had the ability to add some weight, and that appears to have helped his fastball. His height also helps him get a good downward plane on his sinking fastball, which helps him generate ground balls. Brooks told us his excellent control comes from his aggressive approach, trying to get ahead of hitters early on, along with having consistent mechanics.
– While watching batting practice, I really liked what I saw from Brett Eibner. Granted, a lot of players can look good in batting practice, but the sound of his hits was louder than anyone else taking cuts. He also just looks like a baseball player. He’s a taller, strong-bodied guy, and he definitely showed off quite a bit of strength, knocking a couple balls near the warning track with a stiff wind blowing in. Fields also had some solid hits, especially to right and right-center field.
– During the fielding drills, Christian Colon was at second base, with Jason Donald at shortstop, and Johnny Giavotella at third base. I’m sure the three will get moved around the diamond quite a bit this season to improve their versatility, but I found that alignment interesting nonetheless.
– This was actually announced by Andy McCullough prior to the media event, but the Chasers’ rotation will be: Chris Dwyer, Brooks, Lamb, Danny Duffy, and Brett Tomko. I thought it was odd the team would go with Tomko in that 5th spot over Justin Marks, but as FanGraphs’ Nathaniel Stoltz pointed out to me on Twitter, perhaps they are trying to use Marks the way they used Will Smith last season. Marks already has strikeout stuff, so it could be something to watch, especially since he’s already on the 40-man roster, and could provide the team with yet another arm for the bullpen.
The Storm Chasers open their season at home against the Nashville Sounds, tonight at 7:05 pm.