Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Doug Brocail Talks About Hooks LHP Tommy Shirley

On my recent trip to Corpus Christi, I talked briefly with Keith Bodie about several players and then I posed the question, "Who has been the biggest surprise for you this season?" His answer came back about a nanosecond later, "Tommy Shirley."

Tommy Shirley - April 2014
Photo by Jayne Hansen

I was extremely impressed with what Shirley accomplished in Lancaster in 2013 and I did this phone interview with him over the off-season. When I saw Tommy at Spring Training, I told him that he was going to be on my under-the-radar prospect post that I was planning to write. Unfortunately, I still haven't written the post and it may be too late to include Shirley on that list because he isn't exactly flying under the radar anymore.

In his first eight games (six starts) for the Hooks, Shirley is 3-2 with a 1.67 ERA and a 0.929 WHIP and is among the league leaders in those categories. Hitters are only managing a .185 batting average against him. He has definitely opened some eyes.

One person who had a lot to say about Tommy was Hooks Interim Pitching Coach Doug Brocail. When I was in Corpus Christi late last month, I intended to talk to Brocail about several pitchers, but we spent most of our time talking about Shirley. It was a very interesting discussion and I think the whole thing is worth sharing, so that's precisely what I'm going to do. Here are Doug Brocail's largely unedited thoughts about the lefty.

Doug Brocail - April 2014
Photo by Jayne Hansen

"Tommy's a little different. When you look at Tommy as a pitching [coach], the first thing you say is, 'Wow, that's ugly.' And then you start watching Tommy and all the moving parts. Tommy has really good mechanics.

"The kid's got a Bugs Bunny fastball if that makes sense. Everybody's seen the cartoon where Bugs Bunny throws the pitch in [and] right before it gets to the bat, it does the old dipsy doodle. It's one of those things where when you watch this kid pitch, he's so exciting because you don't know what you're going to see.

"We see a ton of bad swings. We see counts that favor the hitter against Tommy that are really not favorable counts because of how his ball moves. He can move it both ways with a natural fastball and that's very hard to do when you have a guy that throws across his body. Sometimes he cuts it a little short. Sometimes he gets over extension. The ball cuts. The ball runs. The ball dips. The ball dives. He has all that going for him.

"Usually I don't share this, but I made a mound visit out in Springfield and I think he was a little astonished that I was out there. He was doing really well and he'd fallen down 2-0 on the very last hitter of the game. I just walked out and said, 'Hold on. I know. I'm just out here to tell you that it's been a pleasure watching you pitch today. Now give me three strikes right down the middle.' He did. He got the strikeout. We ended up winning the game. We shook hands.

"This kid, at one point, I was convinced he was the worst fielding, worst athletic pitcher I'd ever seen. And over the last week and a half, we've been doing drills every day. Tommy doesn't hold runners. He has what I thought was one of the worst pick-off moves. I did not want him to pick off. [But after working on it only a little bit, Tommy surprised Brocail.] 'You have that?!' And he [says], 'Well, I've never done it before,' but he looks like a 20-year vet on the mound doing it.

"I'd made the comment there was no way Tommy Shirley was going to pick a guy off. Well, he picked a guy off in Springfield [and we've worked on it a little more]. He looks like Righetti out there, a little quick step off, throw over and it's a Mach-1 chest high every time to the first baseman. I said, 'Where's that been?' He says, 'Well, you guys said don't pick off.' I said, 'How long have you been doing that?' He says, 'Oh, I just started.'

"I came in the other day just to look at [Tommy's] numbers, to see where this kid has been, what he's done in the past, and I missed on Tommy. I don't like admitting that I'm wrong. Sometimes you've just got to give guys a chance and make sure that you're not holding them back on something as simple as a pick-off move.

"Tommy's got a very special arm. He gets the ball up to 94, 95. Tommy's got a very good change  up. He started working on his curveball. [It was] kind of slurvish at times, inconsistent, not a very good selling point, [but he] slowed his body down and all it took was one session and Tommy's throwing first pitch strikes with it, he's putting guys away with it."

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The last thing Brocail said to me about Shirley was this, "His learning curve is really, really high and he's an exciting kid to watch." Shirley is definitely on Brocail's radar screen now, and I think he will continue to open a few eyes.

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