Ep. 3: 'They hunt pitches'
The following is an abridged excerpt from the script to Episode 3 of Season 2. Click on the embed above to listen to the full episode, or you can subscribe to Razed Sports on your favorite podcast app.
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“About the only problem with success is that it does not teach you how to deal with failure.”
— Tommy Lasorda
Think about this quote from Lasorda for a moment and let the truth of it sink in. Nobody wants to fail, but everybody does at some point. Nowhere is this more true than in baseball, a game that is as unforgiving and humbling as it is fascinating and complex. The question in baseball, is not whether you will fail, but how you react when you do, because you most certainly will at some point.
Cole Uvila had not experienced much failure as a professional pitcher, and the Texas Rangers were going to push him until he did. As a 40th-round draft pick in the 2018 draft, he navigated his initial stint as a pro, in the Northwest League, with relative ease. Then he started the 2019 season with Hickory in the South Atlantic and dominated there, too, earning a quick promotion after just 10 days, to advanced-A, and the Down East Wood Ducks of the Carolina League.
His start at Down East was good, too, and he went his first five outings without allowing a run. Things were going great, but this success was having another effect as well, it was boosting his confidence to the point where he was starting to think ahead, perhaps a bit too much.
COLE: “I'm an older guy that's behind as far as older guys go. 25 year olds, I'm still even though I've moved up a few levels I'm still one of the older guys on the team and I just know that certain guys are going to get a little bit more of a window just strictly on age and ability and I'm OK with that. But because of that. ... it's easier to kind of get ahead and map out everything and try to like think, 'OK I can get to Frisco by this time next year and then big leagues by whatever, whatever.'”
Frisco is the Rangers’ affiliate in the Texas League, which is Class Double-A. That’s a step above Down East, and just two levels below the big leagues. Double-A isn’t the majors, but if you squint, you can start to see it from there. Sometimes you’ll even see players skip Triple-A and go straight to the big leagues from Double-A. So Cole was feeling his success, and that, combined with this sort of nagging pressure, this feeling that the clock was ticking due to his age, and that he needed to keep moving, keep climbing up the minor league ladder, led to him kind of, allow himself to focus on the future and forgetting that he had yet to truly realize the challenges of the Carolina League.
At the same time, the differences between Advanced-A and his previous stop in Hickory, were beginning to be noticeable and it wasn’t all good for Cole. There were some positive differences to be sure -- the defense behind him was cleaner, better, which was nice. But there was another thing that proved to be a bit of a mixed bag -- the umpires. The umps were better, they had more consistent strike zones, which is good of course. But better strike zones are also less forgiving strike zones, which was not always to Cole’s advantage. Those pitches off the plate he would sometimes get guys out on before — those weren’t being called strikes as often anymore. The fast start at Down East, was to some extent, maybe not so much a mirage, but a bit misleading.
Another thing — the batters were more seasoned. They knew that the umpires had tighter zones, and they knew to take advantage of that fact. They’re weren’t tempted to swing at those bad pitches nearly as often as hitters at the lower levels would.
COLE: “The batters are much more disciplined. They have a little bit more of an approach. There's a lot of free swingers the younger guys get. They're a little bit more free swingers. Now I'm facing guys 23, 24, 25 years old with some experience. They hunt pitches.”
All of these differences came to a head for Cole in early May …
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Written and produced by Bob Harkins.
(All music edited for time purposes)