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August 10, 2001
Andy PrattAndy Pratt is a young left-handed starter in an organization that's in desperate need of big-league pitching help. Pratt pitched well in middle-A and high-A ball in 1999 and 2000, posting ERAs under 3.00 with very good peripheral numbers, including a 195 to 42 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 164 1/3 innings. He struggled in making the adjustment to the Texas League late in 2000, suffering the same fate as his counterparts with the big club.
This year, however, he has pitched well, posting a 4.38 ERA with 109 strikeouts in 129 innings, which is pretty darn good for the Texas League. Andy was kind enough to take a break from the heat and talk with our Gary Huckabay.
Baseball Prospectus: Andy, you pitched very well at Savannah in 1999, and did a great job during the first half of 2000 at Charlotte. When you got called up to Tulsa in the second half of 2000, you struggled a bit with the adjustment. What happened, and what changes have you made that have led to your success in 2001?
Andy Pratt: A combination of a couple things when I was promoted in 2000. First off, I didn't really have any familiarity with the hitters. I didn't know their strengths and weaknesses, and hadn't seen them very much. At the higher level of play, I thought I had to change what I was doing on the mound. I got hit around a little bit, then I started to overthrow, which hurt my mechanics. I started walking guys, got in trouble with that, then started to make mistakes in the middle of the plate.
This year, I've been going back to the same approach that worked in Savannah and Charlotte. Trying to play to my strengths, get my mechanics back, and I've had a little more success.
BP: You've had different pitching coaches from year to year. We hear a lot about pitchers in particular getting conflicting advice and guidance from coaches as they move around in the minors. What kind of different advice have you received from different pitching coaches?
AP: My pitching coach this year is Steve Luebber, after Aris Tirado before. The Texas organization is pretty good about keeping a consistent message from coach to coach. We're supposed to pitch inside, and change speeds. The coaches have different ways of talking to us, but they're having us focus on the same ideas. A lot of times, you get different messages from different coaches. What used to be a good idea is now a bad idea. We don't have that problem. The coaches definitely press the "Ranger Philosophy"--pitch inside, and change speeds.
BP: What pitches do you throw? Are you concentrating on improving one particular pitch? What's your strongest pitch?
AP: I throw a fastball, curveball, and change, and I've been working on a cutter and a two-seam fastball. My best pitch is probably the combination of my change-up and fastball; changing speeds to keep the hitters off balance. I'm slowly working the cutter in, using it pretty much against lefties right now, but I want to start throwing it to right-handers and use it in more situations.
BP: You moved from one of the best pitchers' leagues, the Florida State League, to one of the worst pitchers' leagues, the Texas League, in one season. Do you really notice the difference in terms of the way the ball jumps off of the bat? What kind of adjustments have you had to make pitching in more of a hitters' league?
AP: Oh, you absolutely notice the difference. It's a big change. The wind blows out at most of the parks in the [Texas League]. You throw a fly ball, and the next thing you know, it blows out of the park. The ball carries way more than it did in Charlotte [Florida State League]. You have to change the way you pitch and make adjustments. Maybe not so much in which pitches you throw, but in location. ou have to keep the ball down. Do what you do best, but do it in the right place. If you leave a ball up in Midland, it's going to go far.
Management understands the differences between parks and leagues. They talk about road trips, particularly to Midland, which has got to be the worst place to pitch.
BP: Has Ranger Management asked you to focus on any particular part of your game? On what would they like to see you work?
AP: I've got to work on my curveball. I've got to have a reliable third pitch, and then hopefully work the other pitches I'm working on into my routine. If I'm going to be an effective starter, they want me to have good command of all three pitches.
BP: Who are some of the best players you've seen and faced?
AP: Ryan Ludwick owns me. I gotta figure out a way to get that guy out. Ken Harvey is an unbelievably tough out. Brandon Berger in Wichita. Kevin Mench is a great hitter; he's finally getting healthy after battling a lingering hamstring injury for a lot of the early part of the year. Hank Blalock is the real thing, no question. Jason Lane in Round Rock.
BP: A lot of attention is being focused on keeping pitchers healthy. What kind of conditioning regimen do you have?
AP: Pitchers have a five-day regimen we go through. There's running, some light upper-body lifting, but primarily, we work on lower body strength and range of motion. Gotta be able to use every bit of your legs. Conditioning takes maybe an hour and a half each day, and we do running and drills, too.
They keep a pretty close eye on our pitch counts. It's different for each guy, and depends on how long you went in your last start, and a bunch of other things. It's different each time, but they make sure we're not getting overworked.
BP: Do you have a plan or timetable for making the bigs? What one thing do you need to work on the most in order to get to Arlington in the near future?
AP: I don't concentrate on that. I take it day by day, hitter by hitter, pitch by pitch. You start overthinking those things that are outside of pitching, and it'll mess you up. If I'm not pitching well, I won't move up anyway, so it doesn't make sense to do anything but focus on my job.
To get called up, I just need to concentrate on each hitter, every time out, and make the right pitches.
BP: Andy, thanks for talking with us, good health, and continued success.
Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.