Monday, July 3, 2017

BlueClaws pitching coach Brian Sweeney talks Suarez, Sanchez, Romero, Fanti, more

Brian Sweeney oversees Ranger Suarez
On Sunday, Class A Lakewood pitching coach Brian Sweeney took time to discuss his club's staff with me.  Among the topics of discussion were starting pitchers Ranger Suarez, Sixto Sanchez, Nick Fanti and JoJo Romero.  Additionally, we chatted about his attention toward young fans at the ballpark and plenty more.

Sweeney pitched in the majors for the Mariners and the Padres before joining the Phillies' developmental staff in 2015.

Read ahead for this full interview with Coach Brian.

-Thanks for taking some time for me.  Before games, I often see you having a catch with children in the crowd while your starting pitcher for that day loosens up.  Today I also saw you go back and talk to a group of kids a bit more as well.  Can you tell me what was going on there?

You know, every kid wants a ball, of course, and sometimes they say, "please".  Most times they don't.  And, but before the game, before the pitcher warms up if the kid has a glove I'll just grab a ball and have a catch.  Every kid should have a catch.  And if I have a ball to give away, I typically ask them a baseball question and whoever answers correctly gets the ball.  Today's question was, "Who just recently hit their 600th home run?"  And, you know, right away somebody got it.  The first kid.  I try to go in order.  Sometimes they'll yell it out.  I try to go in order.  So he told me Albert Pujols and the kid got the ball.  The other kids were mad, so I said, "Okay.  One more question.  Who has the most stolen bases in baseball history?"  That was a little tougher on the young kids.  They didn't know.  And then I wanted to know who threw the most recent no-hitter for the Phillies.  And right out of the chute-- once you get more modern, they know, and one kid at the end got it and I handed him the ball.  So, at least it's not-- you make them work for it-- it's not just a giveaway.  

-That's great.  I would have never thought of that.  On the subject of the team, though, share some thoughts please on today's hurler, Ranger Suarez and his success in his most recent outings.

The guy is just doing everything right.  His baseball IQ is tremendous.  I've seen him grow from the (Gulf Coast League), to Williamsport, to here and his development-- he's doing just fine.  He's doing a great job on the mound.  He knows what to do.  Throwing the right pitches.  And with (catcher Edgar) Cabral, they work great together and just execute very well.  And as you can see he gets good results as well.

-I talked to Sixto Sanchez for the first time today and he's a guy of few words, but I think his effort on the field can speak for itself.  What have you seen from him?

He's another guy that has been putting in a lot of work and getting better with each start.  Learning how to use his off-speed, learning how to use his fastball instead of letting it rip each time.  He's adding and subtracting to it and using both sides of the plate, which is going to be a huge part of his development.  When he starts pitching inside at 100 miles an hour, that's just going to open up so many opportunities for him to get swings and misses with his off-speed.

-I was talking to Lehigh Valley manager Dusty Wathan last week and he talked about finesse pitchers versus high velocity guys and he spoke about maybe the return of, or maybe a philosophy change of guys that may throw less fast-- Nick Fanti's an example of a guy like that having success with this BlueClaws team-- being able to be key starters that stay healthy and go more innings. That then leaves the higher velocity maybe being shorter stint arms that come from the bullpen.  Is there anything like that you could see being prevalent?

I think eventually-- I mean, everybody's starting to throw harder and harder, but good hitters make adjustments and they can hit that fastball.  You know, velocity's forgiving.  There's no doubt about it.  But, if you can pitch with that velocity, if you're able to control it, but obviously that's a different ballgame.  You become a superstar when you have that kind of ability.  I think at one point the game is going to transition.  The (velocity) is going to come down, I'd bet, and you're going to find more pitchers, guys with control and spin and guys that know what to do and have a feel for the baseball that's going to transition into the game.  When that is?  I don't know.  But that's just my guess.  The (velocity) will come down and you'll get guys that are pitching out there.

-That sounds excellent.  The team saw JoJo Romero promoted to Clearwater this week.  What progress had you seen from him this season?

I mean, his development has been great.  He was having trouble with his fastball, because it moves so much, just throwing quality strikes with it.  And when (Phillies minor league pitching coordinator) Carlos Arroyo was in town, working with his foundation, his back foot was moving a little bit.  Once he stabilized that back foot, it really helped the rest of the delivery, working from the ground up, and he was able to control what he was doing, especially out of the wind up.  As you can see, he got better and better and he started striking a lot of guys out and the ground ball rate was tremendous.  

Did you you see what he did today (in his Threshers debut)?

-No.  I haven't seen it yet.

Six and a third, 10 punch outs.  No (earned) runs,  We just heard about it.  He just had a great start in Clearwater.  So, he's developing nicely and, you know, it's just great to see guys continue to move along and do the job.

-That's outstanding.  I talked to Nick (Fanti) my last time through here and he's a very positive guy and has enjoyed some good success this year.  Any thoughts on him?

Yeah.  I'm excited to see what happens in the second half.  He's just 20 years old.  From the GCL, to here it's quite the jump and he has to finish the race.  You know, physically and mentally finish this race.  He has about 10 starts left.  I would love to see where he is physically and mentally at the end of the season.  

-I glance at the list of pitchers here (gesturing toward a roster in my hand) and I did this once before, last time we sat down and talked, but is there anyone on this roster here that you would like to share some comments on?

I mean, this whole list!  I really feel every guy that steps out on that mound has a chance to be a major leaguer.  I think I said that last time.

-Yeah, you did.

Some guys may have better pitches, so to speak, but that doesn't take away from the opportunity that they have.  If you can get outs, that's a meaningful thing in baseball, no matter how you do it.  We look at Harold Arauz, moving up to Double-A this year.  Not Sixto Sanchez velocity, but gets out and it's fantastic to see a guy like that do something.  We have plenty of guys with (velocity) and plenty of guys that can pitch here and plenty of guys that are finally settling in.  You know, (Tyler) Hallead's settling in.  Casey Brown.  You know, these news guys that have come here that are maybe a little tentative coming in, but now getting the opportunity to pitch, we really get to see what they can do.  So, it's an exciting time here, because we get some news faces that are put in some more important roles than they were in the first half.
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