Rangers prospect Wieland learning the ropes
Growth of 2008 fourth-rounder impressing new coaches
Being placed on a strange team in a different league can be quite a shock to any Minor Leaguer's system, but Rangers Double-A starter Joe Wieland is taking it in stride.After posting a 2.10 ERA with one complete game shutout in High-A Myrtle Beach over his first 14 games of the season, Wieland earned a ticket to Double-A Frisco to play for the RoughRiders -- and he's making the most of it. So far, he's allowing less hits per inning and fewer home runs, with a 2.05 ERA, despite being in Dr. Pepper Stadium, which is much more friendly to hitters than BB&T Coastal Field in Myrtle Beach. He is wowing the coaches in Frisco with his command of a four-pitch repertoire.
"As a hitter, when you've got a pitcher that's able to go not only firm and straight but up to down, the whole box is filled," Brant Brown, Frisco's hitting coach and acting manager while Steve Buechele is on vacation, said. "Not every hitter is able to hit every pitch in that box. It kind of forces them as a hitter to say, 'What's he going to throw now?' It allows the luxury of the pitcher to make a mistake, because [hitters] may guess wrong."The Frisco coaches have also seen Wieland trying to adjust to the different look Double-A hitters have been giving him, and being successful with it. "I've seen a guy who has a lot of confidence, a guy who has poise and on the intangible side is probably not afraid," Frisco pitching coach Jeff Andrews said. "He's feeling his way through the league at times, which is normal, but growing in confidence every time." Part of Wieland's success this season could be attributed to the fact that being called up is not a new experience for Wieland. Last season, he impressed in the first half at low-A Hickory, pitching to a 3.34 ERA with a complete-game shutout. But when it came time for him to pitch in Bakersfield, the Rangers' former high-A affiliate, Wieland was hit around to the tune of a 5.19 ERA with nearly one home run allowed per game which was twice his previous ratio.
"Since last year, I learned to pitch," Wieland said. "I learned what a quality strike really is. In Hickory I was more of a thrower. I threw it over the plate, but I didn't have much method. My first few starts I got hit around pretty bad, and it forced me to learn to pitch. Throw offspeed stuff early in the game, and ever since then I've grown as a pitcher."From high-A to Double-A is generally regarded as the largest gap between two minor league levels, and Wieland has definitely taken notice of that gap. "The hitters are better," Wieland said. "You get ahead 0-1 and 0-2, and I've thrown quite a few pitches that I thought should have struck the guy out, but they'd foul it off or put it in play, whereas in Myrtle Beach, that would have been strike three. The guys are much better hitters, and I've got to continue to make quality pitches." Wieland was drafted in the fourth round out of Bishop Manogue High School in 2008, and Andrews says his learning curve is a little bit steeper than those of college pitchers, but he's also younger, and has more time to grow into being a better pitcher. "The biggest thing is with high school kids, and with high school kids, every level that they go are easily the best hitters that they've seen," Andrews said. "Every level that you jump, they're either more gifted physically, or more experienced.
"You go from pitching at 21 in A-ball league, where you're right about the right age, and now he's pitching against guys that have played for six or seven years, and have experience," Andrews continued. "They've seen his pitches before. There's nothing that's going to surprise them, so it comes down to execution, and which pitches do I use and how do I use them."
Louie Horvath is an associate reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.