Bryan, Ohio’s Matt Wisler: Climbing the MiLB Ladder
As the offseason goes, my travel for the TinCaps is a little less time-consuming and not quite as distant as it is during the season. You may know that the Midwest League has 16 teams and that we’ll travel as far east as Eastlake, Ohio, as far south as Bowling Green, Kentucky, as far north as Appleton, Wisconsin, and as far west as Cedar Rapids, Iowa. About as far as I may travel for a speaking engagement this offseason (unless Cooperstown has any openings) is Bryan, Ohio, to talk to the Bryan Kiwanis Club. They’re a great group and they’ve graciously had me as their guest each of the last two years to talk about the TinCaps. What makes visiting there so special is that it’s the home town of one of the best players in recent TinCaps history, Matt Wisler.
He starred here as a 19-year-old (and eventually 20-year-old) in 2012, and then moved his way up to Advanced-A and eventually Double-A during the 2013 season. His numbers were phenomenal at both levels, and during an August interview I did with Padres General Manager Josh Byrnes, he told me that Wisler will come into spring training next year with a chance to make the MLB roster, which is pretty remarkable considering Wisler’s age.
During my visit to Bryan a few weeks ago, Matt was kind enough to join me at the podium and speak about his experiences this past spring and summer:
I will forgive him for wearing a San Antonio Missions polo shirt! Matt talked to the group of about 50 people about his season and how he developed both on and off the field.
During the 2012 season, Wisler went 5-4 with a 2.53 ERA in 114 innings. He struck out 113 and walked only 28, working to a 1.079 WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched). In 2013, he was 10-6 with a 2.78 ERA in 136 innings. He struck out 131 batters while walking 33 and had a 1.067 WHIP.
I chatted a bit with Matt about his 2013 season, during which he received an earlier-than-expected promotion from Advanced-A Lake Elsinore to San Antonio, his progress in attacking hitters, the difference between Low-A and Double-A, and what he perceives his next step in the organization to be. Here are the highlights:
It’s All Relative: How was your 2013 season?
Matt Wisler: It was a good year. I enjoyed it. Staring in High-A was nice getting out there to California and working with those coaches. I had a pretty good month. I only gave up three runs my first month, I think. Then I messed up pretty bad in my last start and gave up four runs. Then I went to Double-A and struggled there early. My first start wasn’t terrible, but my second start was really bad. I gave up five (runs) in the first inning. That was the worst start I’ve had as a professional. Then I had one good outing of seven shutout (innings) and then I think I struggled a few more (starts) after that and finally figured it out in June. I had a good June, July and August. JJ (Jimmy Jones), the pitching coach in Double-A, was huge for me this year, just as much as Willie Blair was last year. He was more mental than physical; we did some physical tweaks here and there. Staying even keel was definitely big for me. Instead of over-throwing early and losing velocity late, he helped me to stay under control. With him, he had a mentality of striking guys out and going right after them. That was a good mindset to have as well. Winning the championship was really fun. I definitely enjoyed that experience.
IAR: What was your reaction to going up from High-A to Double-A?
MW: It was really good especially because I had a bad start beforehand. I was so excited to get to Double-A. You figure (you’ll get promoted) after you have a run of good starts, and then I had that bad one, and it was after that start I got called up.
IAR: What expectations did you have out of spring training?
MW: I thought if I had a pretty good first half of the season I could get up there (Double-A) by the All-Star break like what (Justin) Hancock did in Fort Wayne. I figured it would be a two or three month thing, but it was great to go earlier and get pretty much a full year of experience up there.
IAR: What is level of play like at Double-A?
MW: It’s definitely different. You can see it in the pitchers, mostly. It goes from High-A and Low-A where (pitchers) only have a fastball and not too much off-speed. Once you get to Double-A guys can locate every pitch, they mix speeds a lot better. You can see it in our hitters that guys are off balance a lot more. You’ll get a 2-0 changeup or a 2-0 curveball and guys just know how to throw it for strikes. Even 3-2 they get a lot more off-speed pitches. The hitters were just a lot better. They can all hit a fastball so if you miss a fastball, they’re going to get it. Learning how to locate my off-speeds a little better is big. I’ve got to learn how to get a 0-0 curveball over more consistently. With my slider when I first got there, guys were not chasing. When I first got there, I was still pitching the normal way—get ahead with a fastball and finish with an off-speed. I had to learn how to get ahead with an off-speed and maybe come back with a fastball or finish it off with a slider. I had to make the slider a “chaseable pitch” where I start it more over the plate so guys see it longer and have it break late. That was definitely a big adjustment for me as well.
IAR: What did you think of the comments made about you by Padres General Manager Josh Byrnes?
MW: It’s exciting knowing I have a chance going in. I have a lot of drive. Next year is a huge year for me. It’ll be my first full chance where I really have a chance to get up there. I can’t wait to start getting work in this off-season. I’m excited to see how I’ll do against big-league hitters. I’ve never really faced them consistently so I’m excited to get out there and at least see what I’ve got.
IAR: Given that the Padres don’t have the payroll to be big spenders in free agency and tend to build their MLB team from within their ranks, do you feel like it might have taken you longer to move up quickly if you were in a different organization?
MW: I don’t know. I guess it’s a matter of me and how I keep pitching or what they see in my progression. If they have something they want me to work on before I get there, it’s pretty much depending on that. Anytime they call me, I definitely think I’ll be ready to go. It’s just a matter of when they think I’m fully prepared and ready.
IAR: What did you think of the Padres trading (2012 TinCaps teammate and 2013 Missions teammate) Matt Stites?
MW: That was pretty crazy because he’d just had that appendectomy and I knew he was going home anyway. (Stites had been placed on the disabled list toward the end of the season.) I picked him up and I was taking him to get his pills two days after his surgery when he got the call (from Padres General Manager Josh Byrnes). It was kind of shocking. You forget it’s a business and we’re not gonna have him next year, so I’ll have to find a new roommate.
IAR: What are your plans for the winter?
MW: I’ll start working out 4-5 days a week until spring training. Weightlifting for now and I’ll start throwing with (Defiance, Ohio, native Justin) Hancock in December and I’ll start to hit since next year I’ll start to hit a little bit more.
Thanks to Matt for taking the time out of his day to speak not only with me, but also with the Bryan Kiwanis club. We’ll be keeping an eye on Matt as spring training rolls around next year.
Eve 6…take it away!