ST. PETERSBURG FL. For baseball players, the transition from the minors, even the high minors, to the Major Leagues is both exciting and challenging.
With nine rookies on their current active roster, players who are completely new or relatively new to the majors are well represented on the 2018 Tampa Bay Rays. Some, like Jake Bauers, Willy Adames and Diego Castillo, are very recent arrivals; others have been with the team a bit longer but their major league call ups are still recent memories. DRB had the chance to speak to a few newly minted major leaguers about the adjustment to the big leagues.
Getting that call to the majors is memorable for every player, but after the major league debut butterflies subside they realize: it’s still baseball! So for many, success in the big leagues is less about transforming their play and more about continuing to do what has worked for them in the past.
We had a chance to catch up with all the recent rookie promotions, and among them Jake Bauers was pleasantly surprised to realize he just needed to keep playing his game:
“Everything so far has just been baseball,” said Bauers. “I didn’t know what to expect, so to come up and almost drop right in and just keep playing baseball, it’s a big thing, it makes you feel pretty good.“
Ryan Yarbrough, Diego Castillo and Johnny Field also say that the continuities are as striking as the differences. These young men may be new to the Trop but they are hardly new to baseball, as said Yarbrough when asked about pre-game preparation, early in your career
“You find something that works well for you and you stick with it.”
Of course players still need to make some adjustments. For Johnny Field, who was an everyday player in the minors, shifting to part time play has required some tweaking of his approach.
“You can go four or five days without seeing live pitching,” Field said, “so that was something I had to learn: How to stay ready, whether it is working out every day, still getting your early work in, staying ready.”
He also noted the challenge of remaining aggressive on the base paths but also being mindful of the better defense and stronger arms that might make you think twice about, say, going first to third on a single.
It’s just baseball... and it’s not.
For pitchers like Ryne Stanek, Ryan Yarbrough and Diego Castillo, the biggest on field adjustment is getting used to batters who will not chase bad pitches.
For Castillo and Yarbrough the pitch mix may not have changed much, and while Yarbrough says he’s made an adjustment to using more cutters of late, the leap to majors can be more difficult for some than others.
“I can’t just try to blow hitters away at the big league level,” Ryne Stanek explained. “You can’t just sit there and throw fastballs the whole time .”
For Stanek promotion has meant sharpening his secondary pitches, an effort that has led to greater success with — and more reliance on — sliders and change-ups. (According to Brooks Baseball, Stanek has gone from using almost 80% four seam fastballs in his early 2017 appearances, to around 60% in his last few games.)
“Learning what I need to do to be successful means learning to throw my secondary stuff. And of course the ability to throw the fastball in the zone is a big factor,” explained Stanek. “I think the overall strike throwing has been a lot better.”
Of course, part of adjusting is learning about the opposing pitchers and hitters, and it pays to be a student of the game.
Castillo, for example, treats every game as a clinic so that, by the time he gets the call, he already has a good idea of what to expect.
“I watch every game closely, I watch the hitters, see their tendencies,” said Castillo.
What every rookie knows for sure, though: the move to the bigs is a move to luxury.
The travel, the hotels, the clubhouse staff, the training room treatments, and the lunch spreads are “ten times better,” per Field. “They take care of everything off the field,” added Yarbrough, “so all you have to worry about is performance on the field.”
Ultimately, though, it’s just baseball... right?