Brett Cecil is coming fast. A 22-year-old left-hander with a power arm, Cecil is on the verge of crashing the Toronto pitching staff just two years after being taken by the Blue Jays as the 38th overall pick in the 2007 draft. Used primarily as a closer at the University of Maryland, Cecil has started all but one of his 42 professional appearances, and is currently battling for a spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation. Cecil talked about his approach to pitching and his transition from the bullpen to starting earlier this winter, when the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats hosted their annual Granite State Baseball Dinner.
David Laurila: How would you describe yourself as a pitcher?
Brett Cecil: Looking at myself, mostly I’m a tough competitor on the mound. I don’t think about anything else except which pitch I’m going to throw, the next one to throw, and how to set guys up-stuff like that. I throw a fastball, a two-seam fastball, a changeup, curveball, and slider. My out pitch is my slider.
DL: Do you consider yourself a power pitcher?
BC: I’d say that I’m a power pitcher, yet I’m not overpowering. I don’t have a 96 or a 97 [mph fastball], I’m more low 90s, maybe 93 or 94 at times. So I’m a power pitcher, but not an overpowering power pitcher.
DL: Developmentally, what has changed since you signed?
BC: I’d say that the main thing has been the changeup. When I first got here, they said, “You have to have a changeup.” So I worked on about 15 different grips, and this past year I finally found one that I’ve been able to strike guys out with. I’ve also been able to throw it for strikes. So the biggest change for me has been the development of that pitch.
DL: How do you grip your changeup?
BC: It’s kind of weird; it’s kind of like a four-seam split. That’s what I would call it. Robbie Ray taught it to me. He was down in Dunedin, but then got moved up to Double-A where I was. I wasn’t having too much trouble throwing my regular one, but I was having enough to be able to think about maybe changing my grip. I asked him how he threw his, because he was having the same amount of trouble that I was, and he showed it to me. I started throwing it in warm-ups, and I think I used it in my next start after two or three days of trying to throw it. It worked really well.
DL: Can you talk a little about the pitching coaches you’ve worked with in the Blue Jays’ system?
BC: They’ve been awesome. I only got to spend a limited amount of time with Knowlesy [Darold Knowles] down in Dunedin, but he’s a great pitching coach. He believes in getting a good work in, getting a good side in, before you go into a game. That’s really important. You can’t rush through things, and he’d make sure I didn’t do that. Rochey [Dave LaRoche] was very easygoing in Double-A. He’d kind of let you do your own thing, and at that level you kind of should be able to do your own thing; you should know what you need to do to get ready for a game, and he let us do it. If he saw something, he’d make a suggestion, and you’d try it. Either it worked or it didn’t work, and it didn’t matter to him. He was just there to make suggestions and give you support. The same with our Triple-A pitching coach, Rick Langford. He was easygoing, and kind of let you do what you needed to do to get ready for a game. He’d also make suggestions, but he pretty much left you to do what you do.
DL: LaRoche and Knowles were both big-league left-handers. Does having a left-handed pitching coach help you in any way?
BC: I’m not sure. They might have a few extra things to say about being left-handed, where a right-hander may not know what is comfortable for you. A left-handed pitching coach may know what is comfortable and what isn’t; they might have a few different things to say. That’s probably about it.
DL: Are you a stereotypical lefty?
BC: No. Stereotypical lefties are mainly 85-87 [mph], usually in that kind of range with their velocity, so I’m above average for a lefty. I’ve had a lot of coaches tell me that. So I’m not an average lefty, to tell you the truth, and I think that’s a good thing. I think it’s good that I don’t think of myself as an average lefty, because it gives me more confidence to go out there and make my pitches.
DL: How about off the mound? A lot of left-handers have a reputation of being a little off the wall?
BC: Yeah, in that aspect I’m probably a stereotypical lefty. When I walk a guy, I tend to show my emotions a little too much. I’ve been talked to about that, and it’s definitely getting better. I guess that I am a stereotypical lefty when it comes to that. Sometimes I just can’t hold it in. I have to kind of go to my own place, and do it there.
DL: As you’ve been transitioning from a college closer into a starting role, what are your expectations regarding innings progression? How many will the organization be looking for you to throw this year?
BC: To tell you the truth, I’m not sure. I was hoping to get more innings this past year than I did, but unfortunately I had a little setback in spring training, so they had me on another pitch count, and I didn’t really get above that until half the season was over. This year I’m hoping to get well above 150 innings, maybe 180 innings-somewhere around there, to really stretch myself out.
DL: Looking at your mental makeup, repertoire, and stuff, do you feel you’re better suited to be a starter or a closer?
BC: It really depends. I love closing; I love the intensity of it. I think I have more of the makeup to be a closer, but as of right now I think I’m better suited, and can help the team better, as a starting pitcher. That’s just because I can use all of my pitches; I think I’m pretty good at setting people up and working the counts-stuff like that.
DL: In setting up hitters, do you rely on charts, or do you basically just go with your own game?
BC: I’d say no on charts. Mostly I like to pitch to my strengths. My strength is [pitching] inside, and if that happens to be the hitter’s strength, so be it; that’s the way it is. Most of the time, it’s a hitter’s weakness that I’m pitching too. A lot of guys don’t like hard, inside, and I’m strong with that, so I don’t tend to look at hitting charts all that often.
DL: Any final thoughts?
BC: Not really. I’m just happy to be here and having some fun. I’m looking forward to having a good season, and hopefully a good career.