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Prospect Schultz aims to build around heater

MLB.com @wwchastain

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The numbers stand out on the Rays' Spring Training pitching roster: 168 strikeouts in 135 innings. You do the math for Jaime Schultz and everything comes up fastball for the 24-year-old right-hander.

Everybody loves a hard-throwing phenom in the spring. Schultz fits the bill.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The numbers stand out on the Rays' Spring Training pitching roster: 168 strikeouts in 135 innings. You do the math for Jaime Schultz and everything comes up fastball for the 24-year-old right-hander.

Everybody loves a hard-throwing phenom in the spring. Schultz fits the bill.

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The Rays drafted Schultz in the 14th round of the 2013 Draft out of High Point University in North Carolina. A non-roster invitee after going 9-5 with a 3.67 ERA at Double-A Montgomery last season, Schultz wasn't always Senior Smoke.

"I had Tommy John [surgery] in 2010," he said. "I would throw low 90s before. Post Tommy John, it's just gone up steadily since then. Last year, I topped out at 99 a few times."

Possessing a fastball that continued to gain speed changed Schultz's approach.

"I definitely throw a lot more fastballs," Schultz said.

But with the high-octane heat comes the realization that "as far as changing as a pitcher, you come in here and anyone can hit that. I kind of learned that in the past two years."

Schultz understands he needs to work on his other pitches.

"Because my fastball has become such a weapon for me," Schultz said. "it's something I can go to when I need to. If I've changed, it's been to develop other pitches I can work off my fastball."

Schultz uses a curveball instead of a slider, and he's working to refine his changeup.

"I had a semblance of a change when I left college, but we've worked on a lot of things since," Schultz said. "I worked with a few changeups that I threw at 89 to 90 mph. It's just not effective like that. I'm getting more comfortable with [the changeup he's now using].

"Not trying to baby it and I'm actually using it as a pitch instead of just showing it. This [changeup] is down to about 84 or 85 and I feel really comfortable going forward with it. It's kind of a split [grip] with a thumb underneath. It's kind of a unique one."

Finding the right changeup grip can be an elusive pursuit for any pitcher.

"These fastball guys, the guys who bust it a little bit, they have a hard time with a finesse pitch," said roving pitching instructor Dick Bosman. "And it takes a lot of guys a long time to find a changeup that they are comfortably able to throw when they are behind in the count, which is obviously when you throw a changeup."

Bosman noted that just showing the changeup at the Major League and upper Minor League levels isn't enough for a pitcher.

"Show means nothing," Bosman said. "Unless you can put it in a hitter's mind that you will throw it when you need to throw it, a smart hitter's going to put it out of his mind and concentrate on the stuff he knows that's coming."

Schultz wants to continue to refine his changeup this season and improve the command of all of his pitches. Meanwhile, Rays fans can enjoy watching Schultz deliver his big fastball this spring.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com.

 

Tampa Bay Rays