Angels' top pick thrives on old-school approach

No. 10 selection focused more on locating pitches than velo

June 11th, 2020

In a world of hard-throwing pitchers, Reid Detmers is a throwback of sorts.

The 20-year-old left-hander has the arm to reach the mid-90s, but Detmers -- selected 10th overall by the Angels in Wednesday’s Draft -- prefers to take an old-school approach on the mound.

“I'm not trying to go out there lighting up the radar guns every time; I know a lot of people do that,” Detmers said. “I like to say I'm a pitcher; I like to locate my pitches. I would much rather go out there and locate all my pitches for strikes and keep hitters off balance rather than going out there and trying to throw as hard as I can, overthrowing, and not being as successful throwing strikes.”

That mindset was instilled in Detmers at a young age, when his father, Kris, began teaching him the game. Kris had a solid foundation, having pitched six seasons in the Cardinals' organization -- he climbed as high as Triple-A -- after being a 22nd-round pick by St. Louis in the 1993 Draft.

“He played during that time where it wasn’t all about velo -- it was about locating pitches,” Detmers, ranked No. 8 on MLB Pipeline's Top 200 Draft Prospects list, said of his father, who was also a southpaw. “If you locate pitches, you're going to play for a long time.”

Detmers speaks with his father every night, while the two also exchange texts throughout each day. Kris’ influence extends beyond his technical approach, and he has long preached the importance of the mental game, which has allowed Detmers to remain level-headed regardless of his surroundings.

“Every time I go out to pitch, it’s Game 7 of the World Series,” Detmers said. “So when it is a big situation like the College World Series or playing in a different country over the summer, it doesn’t really affect me. I just kind of go about it as a regular day.”

Detmers, whose 167 strikeouts as a sophomore set a University of Louisville record (his 13 wins also tied the program’s record), helped lead the school to the College World Series in 2019. A month later, he was the best starter for Team USA’s Collegiate National Team, going 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA in three starts.

“Being able to pitch in front of 27,000 people in the College World Series, that was something special and that will definitely help me in the future,” Detmers said. “I probably won't be playing in front of any crowds like that until the big leagues, but having those experiences, the Team USA games, it was a different atmosphere.”

Dan McConnell, Detmers’ head coach at Louisville, served as Team USA’s manager. He gave his squad a fiery pregame speech before Game 3 of the best-of-five series against Japan, which some credited the manager’s motivational words as a key in Team USA’s 2-0 victory.

Detmers allowed one hit over five scoreless innings that day, and although Japan outslugged Team USA 15-2 over the ensuing two games, McConnell laughed as he recounted the story of his memorable locker-room preamble.

“You can say anything you want when Reid Detmers is pitching,” McConnell said. “There are so many guys throwing hard these days, but Reid really pitches. The only reason he’s not 1-1 is because he isn’t throwing 96.”

McConnell believes Detmers’ Team USA experience – which included late-night games, early morning travel and other “uncomfortable” aspects that represented a complete 180-degree turn from cushy collegiate life – will benefit him as he embarks on a pro career.

“If the stars have to line up for you have success, you’re not going to have a lot of success,” McConnell said.

“You better be able to deal with the curveballs. In college baseball, there aren’t a lot of curveballs.”

Technically speaking, that’s far from true. The curveball is where Detmers separates himself from the rest of the pack, though he believes his changeup – which he doesn’t use much in college – has the potential to be his best pitch.

Prohibited by his father from throwing curveballs until high school, Detmers said the pitch came easily to him. He maintains the same grip and delivery on the pitch that he used as a ninth-grader, though he’s gotten much stronger since he arrived at Louisville, making the hook noticeably harder and sharper in recent years.

While Detmers’ fastball sits mostly in the 90-92 range, his plus curveball – which has been called the best in all of college baseball – clocks in between 73-77 mph, making his heater tougher to hit.

“It’s a big league curveball,” one scout said.

Detmers’ freshman year at Louisville resulted in a 4.85 ERA over 18 appearances, including eight starts. He spent the 2018 summer in the Cape Cod League, where he regained his confidence, returning to school looking more like the pitcher that had turned down an offer north of $2 million from the Braves in 2017 after Atlanta selected him in the 32nd round.

“Learning what my pitches do, how to pitch good hitters; that’s kind of where I learned how my stuff worked, just figuring it out on my own,” Detmers said. “There was a huge difference. My confidence was back, so I felt unstoppable on the mound. I felt like I was going to be that guy that the team was going to rely on.”

Louisville did exactly that during his sophomore year, when they made a run to the College World Series before losing to eventual champ Vanderbilt.

Detmers was on his way to another superb season in 2020, ranking second in Division I in strikeouts (48) and strikeout rate (19.6 per nine innings) as a junior before the season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.

MLB Pipeline called him “the most polished left-hander available” in the Draft, lending to the belief that he’ll move quickly through the Minors.

“Everything is there -- fastball command, the big breaking ball, and he’s really started to develop pitches three and four,” McConnell said. “He hasn’t been our Friday starter because we like him; he’s a Friday guy because he gets the most outs.”