Enjoy this guest post from Chad Hillman, a Michigan resident and former blogger for a number of different blogs including OK Blue Jays. A knowledgeable baseball writer, Chad was at the Lansing Lugnuts’ game last night and saw Frank Viola III pitch his first affiliated game since 2007. Enjoy this report!
I have seen tons of Midwest League baseball in my life. What amazes me is how the league continually shows me things in the game that I have never seen before. Monday night was no different as a player that is approaching 30 was making his professional comeback. Not only was he making a comeback, he was reinventing himself and his repertoire around a newly acquired knuckle ball. Welcome to the story of Frank Viola III.
Viola, who was originally drafted in 2004 by the White Sox, hadn’t thrown a professional pitch since 2010 for the independent St. Paul Saints. That all changed on Monday night however as he took to the mound for the Lansing Lugnuts facing off against the Los Angeles Dodgers low A affiliate Great Lakes Loons. The result? A 79 pitch outing over 4.0 IP, allowing no runs on three hits. He also allowed four walks and struck out four. While that may not seem successful, given the fact that he hadn’t thrown in a game in nearly four years and was his first chance to debut his knuckle ball, you really couldn’t ask for much more.
“I feel positive”, stated Viola after his outing. “I threw strikes with it, it was on and it was moving. With the exception of getting behind some guys, I thought it was pretty good.”
From an unprofessional scouting standpoint, the knuckler had very good late movement that induced lots of weak contact and several swings and misses. He appeared to feature the pitch at two different speeds. The main knuckler was thrown in the mid to upper 60’s, however when needed, he was able to bump the speed of the pitch up into the mid 70’s. Mechanics will be key as Viola did at times appear to rush his delivery slightly that would at times cause him to lose his release point with the pitch causing him to get on the side of the ball and push it wide of the plate. One other thing I noticed was that when he fell into hitters counts, he would fall back on his mid 80’s fastball to throw a strike.
“That’s a problem that I feel all knuckle ballers have is pitching ahead”, stated Viola. “I feel if I get ahead of hitters, it’s my game. When I do get behind, I do get a little bit predictable and that is where I have to have that second and third pitch to get back into the count.”
“I’ve got to be able to have faith in my knuckle ball to throw it in a 2-0 count to get back and I do have faith in it, but at the same time I know that I still have 86-87 in me with some sink to get a ground ball when I need too.”
As far as the second and third pitch, Viola seemed featured a slider on top of his fastball. I referred to his fastball as a change up as it was a change of pace pitch and after seeing a knuckle ball butterfly in at 65-67, the 85 mph fast ball appeared to be harder than it actually was. Using it as a change of pace pitch rather than a pitch he will rely on when he falls behind will be key in his development. More experienced hitters will most likely lay off of his knuckle ball, waiting to drive the fast ball.
“Predictability isn’t something that I need”, stated Viola. “That is not a strong suit for a knuckle baller.”
With his debut behind him, Viola will wait for his next outing which will come on the road against the same Great Lakes Loons over the weekend. In that outing, he will take the success of this outing and look to build on it.
“Building off this would be pitching more to contact”, stated Viola. “It’s a knuckle ball, it’s a contact pitch. I have to have a little more faith in letting go of it and letting it do its thing.”
Who are these players? Find out in The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook, now available as an ebook at Smashwords.com for $7.99 US. It’s coming soon to Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo and other fine retailers. You can purchase and preview the book at our Smashwords.com page! If you like us here,“like” us on Facebook!
All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013-2014) and may not be used without permission.