No curve, no problem: Pitching newbie deals at PDP

July 2nd, 2019

BRADENTON, Fla. -- For the entirety of his time in the Prospect Development Pipeline League, Carson Swilling (Smith Station, Ala.) has looked very comfortable on the mound. He’s so in command, in fact, it would be impossible to know that he’s a relative newcomer to pitching.

“I’ve been pitching for a little over a year now,” Swilling said. “I started last summer.”

And he doesn’t have a ton of innings on his resume -- yet. A two-way player at home, one who will get to play the outfield and pitch at Auburn should he head to college, Swilling only threw nine innings during his high school season in his pitching debut, collecting four saves and striking out 15.

He’d been described as having a fresh and live arm, but understandably without a ton of polish. That didn’t show on Tuesday as he tossed two shutout innings, allowing two hits and no walks while striking out three. The right-hander was touching 92 mph with his fastball and showed an upper-70s breaking ball that froze hitters and missed bats. The crazy thing is he didn’t even have a real breaking ball before he arrived here.

“I knew coming into this, I needed more pitches,” Swilling said. “In high school, I was new to it, so I just pounded the zone with the fastball. I started a week before this. I was like, ‘Man, I need to get a curveball.’ So I was in the backyard, I have a batting cage in my backyard, so I just sat back there and kept trying to feel the spin of the ball. Then I came to the game and said, ‘Let it eat’ and that’s what I did.”

Thrown with some power, it at times looked like more of a slider than a curve, but Swilling said he’ll change what he calls a slurve depending on the hitter and the count. It’s still a work in progress, something he is fiddling with even in-game.

“I played with the ball,” Swilling said. “I originally held the curveball a different way, then during the game I switched it mid-pitch and saw it break a lot, so I was like, ‘I’m going to start using that.’”

It’s worked. Swilling didn’t allow a run in three PDP League outings, giving up just five hits and three walks while striking out 11. He’ll be a front-runner for candidates who got the most out of this program and who put himself on the map the most.

“For sure, I’ve learned a lot,” Swilling said. “Pitching against some of the best players in the nation really helped me the most because I competed with the top. It helped me out a lot, with the coaches helping me too with pitching and understanding more. First off, they started with the bullpen, getting a routine down. Then they were teaching me grips. They weren’t trying to change who I was, they were trying to help me from how I pitch. That’s how it went”.

Other standouts

• Jared Jones (La Mirada, Calif.) showed why he’s considered one of the top high school arms in the country in the afternoon game, but it’s not because he put up zeroes. In fact, it’s more how he responded to getting nicked up in his first inning of work that stood out.

Jones gave up three hits and two runs in the third inning, the only runs he allowed in PDP League play. Scouts often like to see how players, especially those used to dominating, bounce back from adversity. Using a fastball that was in the 94-95 mph zone and a filthy slider, Jones struck out the side -- Team Jeter’s 4-5-6 hitters -- on 12 pitches. He ended the inning with an outstanding breaking ball and returned to the dugout all fired up.

“I was pretty mad that second inning, so I kind of just let it rip and let my slider do its thing,” Jones said. “I try not to overthrow at all. I try to keep my composure and execute my pitches, but try to throw a little harder.”

Jones can rack up K’s with both his lively fastball and his breaking ball. But given the choice between blowing someone away with heat or making them look silly with his breaking stuff, he doesn’t hesitate.

“I like freezing them with my slider,” Jones said. “I just like seeing knees buckle.”

• Nolan McLean (Garner, NC) impressed on both sides of the ball in the afternoon game. He made a diving play in the bottom of the first, jumping to his feet and throwing a bullet to first to rob AJ Vuckovich (East Troy, Wis.) of a hit and end the inning. He singled and scored in the fourth and then hit a drive to lead off the seventh that was 97 mph off his bat and traveled 374 feet to straightaway center field. The only problem for him was that Petey Halpin (St. Francis, Calif.) made an outstanding play to rob him of extra bases.

• Jack Bulger (Dematha, Md.) had a pair of extra-base hits in Team Jones’ 3-1 loss to Team Larkin in the morning game. He tripled off the right-field wall off Nate Savino (Potomac Falls, Va.) in the third at 91 mph off the bat, then doubled in the fifth (104 mph off the bat) against Marquis Grissom Jr. (Counterpane, Ga.) for his team’s lone run of the game. His 2-for-3 day brought his average up to .333 with a .945 OPS.

• Outside of Bulger’s triple, Savino was very sharp. He did give up one other hit, a leadoff single by Tre Morgan (Brother Martin, La.) in the fourth, but didn’t walk a batter and struck out one in his two innings of work. He topped out at 96 mph and sat in the 94-mph range with ease, while showing a solid upper-70s breaking ball.

• Mick Abel (Jesuit, Or.) finished off his strong PDP League performance with two perfect frames and a strikeout. In eight innings, he allowed just one run on four hits and one walk while striking out 10.

• Grissom Jr. had struggled in his first two outings, but he was much sharper on Tuesday. Though he did allow one unearned run on two hits, he didn’t walk a batter and struck out four. He was up to 93 mph with his fastball and effectively used his low-80s breaking ball as well.