It's not every day that you see a highly touted high school draftee make his professional debut in full-season ball, log over 121 innings, produce an ERA of only 2.37, a WHIP of 1.03, and a .234 batting average against, and still have some question over whether or not his season should be viewed as a success. The bar was set for Blake Beavan before he even threw his first professional pitch.
Of course, I'm not exactly innocent here. I was quite critical of Beavan in BBTiA's Top 25 Prospect Rankings, suggesting that, "Upon being selected 17th overall in the 2007 draft, Beavan was tabbed as a hard-throwing top-of-the-rotation starter with a devastating slider, but I'm not sure that pitcher exists anymore ... or if he ever really did." Harsh.
Writing about prospects often becomes an exercise in hyperbole, and as an emotional writer, I definitely find myself encapsulated in the moment. Unfortunately, snapshot analysis doesn't always paint an accurate picture of a prospect. Because of this particular flaw, certain players reside in the shadows, while others receive the lavish praise normally designated for established stars. It happens.
When it came to Blake Beavan, the fundamental error in my analysis occurred when I removed the actual person from the equation. Make-up is an important variable when analyzing a prospect, and I chose to believe the reports that suggested Beavan's make-up was a detriment, instead of believing in the kid who was standing right in front of me. Again, I was wrong.
Beavan's make-up is not an issue. He is an intelligent, hard-working professional that fell victim to public perception based on comments made after he was drafted. Those comments helped craft the image of the typical cocky, self-absorbed athlete that valued his contract amount over anything else. Fortunately for Rangers fans, this assessment just isn't accurate. Beavan's fastball velocity might have regressed some in his debut season, but his character continued to advance.
I recently had a chance to discuss the aforementioned velocity tumble with Beavan, as well as get his take on the cockiness factor that seems to play against him even more than his radar gun readings.
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Q: Let's go ahead and get this question out of the way. As you told me in Surprise, and as I've seen you mention elsewhere, you think the loss of fastball velocity was a result of the acclimation process to professional baseball, speaking specifically of the travel, diet and physical workload involved. For the sake of discussion, let's assume that your pre-draft velocity will not return and that you will always have a high-80s/low-90s fastball. What adjustments will you have to make in order to find success under these conditions as you continue to climb the professional ladder towards Arlington?
Beavan: You can't get away with keeping your ball up as much. You can't blow the ball by people as easily, like you can with a mid-90s/high-90s kind of fastball. The advantage of having that low-90s fastball is that it can be sneaky to hitters. If you are able to hit your spots and mix up your pitches, that high-80s/low-90s fastball can breeze by hitters. You have to put your pitches in the right sequence and work yourself into good counts.
If my velocity doesn't come back there is always a reason why, but I'm not going to worry about it too much. I trust that it will come back sometime in my career, if not this upcoming year then the next year. Right now, I'm just working on my mechanics and finesse more than anything.
Q: What were you thinking when you realized that you just didn't have the same cheese that you had in high school? Was your initial thought injury-related?
Beavan: No. I didn't think anything like that because I didn't feel any pain. I was just a little more exhausted in my first full season. The running and the throwing every day was a big thing. In high school I threw once a week and then played shortstop, so I didn't throw nearly as much as I did this past year. I think that was the biggest adjustment.
Q: How is your change-up? Are you focused on being more consistent with it?
Beavan: Yes. I focused on it all year. It made progress. I was trying to get comfortable with it. Trying to figure out which grip I wanted to use and how I wanted to throw it. Also trying to figure out which counts to throw it in, and to which hitters. I worked on it a lot in the bullpen, and then during the game I would just pitch. That's what [Low-A Clinton pitching coach] Danny Clark and all the other pitching instructors told me. In the bullpen you do your work, but during a game you just pitch. You just pitch your game. If you start worrying about how many change-ups you've thrown during a game, you can get out of your rhythm. I just worked on the change-up during the season and I think it got better each month. I took it into [fall] instructs and worked on it and it improved there. I am going to keep working on it during the off-season and take it into spring training and hopefully develop it into a consistent third pitch.
Q: Which grip did you finally settle on?
Beavan: It's just a circle change-up. [Minor league pitching coordinator] Rick Adair and a couple other guys were showing me some other grips, but a circle grip felt the most comfortable.
Q: As you and I previously discussed, I probably undersold you when formulating my off-season prospect rankings. Of course, I wasn't the only one that might have fallen victim to radar gun influence. It seems that despite having a very solid rookie season, you have been penalized for your somewhat pedestrian strikeout totals, those lingering make-up rumors, and of course the aforementioned dip in fastball velocity. Do these rankings ever bother you? Do you ever think about it?
Beavan: Well, I think everybody thinks about that stuff, but I've never really worried about the rankings because I know what I'm capable of, and I know what I'm going to be in the future. All that matters is how I see myself.
Q: What are some of your goals going into next season? It looks like you will be at [High-A] Bakersfield, pitching in a very solid rotation alongside Michael Main, Tim Murphy, and quite possibly Kennil Gomez. That has to be exciting, right?
Beavan: Yes. I hope I'm pitching in Bakersfield. I'd like to execute some of the things that I've been working on in the off-season. Whether I have the velocity or not, I'd like to continue working on my change-up, working on my slider. Staying on top.
One of my goals is to hopefully get to [Double-A] Frisco. Get back here to my hometown area and be around friends and family, so they don't have to drive too far or take a plane to see me.
Q: Participating in the Fall Instructional League gave you a front-row seat to witness some of the most talented players in the system. Who are some of the players that you enjoyed watching during your time out in Arizona?
Beavan: [Robbie] Ross is a good pitcher. He was able to throw a little bit out there. It was fun to watch him. I was able to play with [Justin] Smoak in Clinton, but I also got to see him hit out at instructs. He can definitely hit the ball. He has pop both ways. Those are two guys who were high draft picks that look to be really good.
Michael Main finally got to gear it up and throw. He threw the ball really well. A couple of the [Arizona Fall League] guys, Andrew Laughter and Beau Jones, also got to show off their stuff and throw. Lots of talent out there.
Q: Before you signed with the Rangers, rumor had it that you were considering pitching at the University of Oklahoma. Were you serious about honoring that commitment if the contract situation didn't get resolved?
Beavan: I really liked OU when I visited the campus, and it was definitely an option if things didn't work out with the Rangers. But I'm glad they did. Deep down, after it was all said and done, I was really glad to be playing professional baseball for the Rangers.
Q: Where does your drive come from? What gets you up every day and out to the fields?
Beavan: Just knowing that you get to do this for a living. What is more fun than playing sports for a living and getting paid for it? Just being there and being around all the guys. The team camaraderie and the actual friendships and relationships we have with each other bring us back to the field everyday. We are all working on our tools and trying to get better. We push each other to be the best. Altogether, it's a great team game.
Q: Seeing how you grew up in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex as a fan of the Texas Rangers, it must hold even more significance having a former baseball great like [team president] Nolan Ryan around for instruction and advice. Has this been the case?
Beavan: Yes. It has been great. It's great to hear from a Hall of Famer like Nolan. He's one of the best pitchers ever, a man who practically lived and died by baseball. That's why he holds all of those records. My brothers idolized him more because he was of their time, but once I was old enough to remember baseball, Nolan Ryan stood out when I saw him pitch. I remember how fast he could throw and his 5000-plus strikeouts. How hard he competed on the mound. You could always tell by his body language that he took it very personally.
Q: You told me out in Surprise that you don't like high numbers and that you prefer wearing #15. What is the significance of #15?
Beavan: It's a family number. Everybody in my family wore #15. My brothers did, my mom did, and my dad did. I was just raised around wearing that number.
Q: Why baseball? Why not basketball or football? Given your size and athleticism, it seems like you would be able to excel at either sport.
Beavan: I played all three in high school, but baseball was the one I loved. I quit basketball my freshman year because I couldn't stand not being at the baseball practices, or missing the baseball scrimmages, because basketball runs into baseball. That told me right there that baseball was definitely my main focus. I've always wanted to be a professional baseball player. Even at three years old playing baseball in the backyard with my brothers and my mom, it just kind of pushed everything else aside. The other sports were just fun to play because all of my friends were doing it.
Q: Are you cocky, confident, or a combination of the two?
Beavan: Every professional athlete is cocky in his or her own way. That's what makes you good. Whether it's cocky as far as showing people in body language, or the quiet cocky, I think everybody is some sort of cocky. I'd say I'm more confident than anything. Back in high school I'd tell you that I was definitely cocky, but now I've been through a year and a half of professional baseball, with instructs and stuff, and it brings you back down to earth and humbles you and makes you realize that you aren't the only good athlete out there -- that you are going to have to work just as hard, if not double the effort of the other guys, if you want to be on that stage.