Thursday, March 12, 2015

An Interview with Astros RHP Keegan Yuhl

Drafted in the 35th Round in 2014 out of Concordia University in Irvine, California, Keegan Yuhl made short work of Rookie Level Greeneville. After only nine appearances at the lower level, he leapfrogged Short Season A and went directly to Low A Quad Cities for his final nine appearances, and he did equally well at the higher level, ending his season with a 2.00 ERA and a 1.083 WHIP.

Yuhl walked only eight batters all season (36.1 innings) and increased his strikeout rate to 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings when he got to Quad Cities. With his polished approach, good command and high groundball rate (1.92 GO/AO ratio), I can see Yuhl getting the opportunity to prove himself in the tough environs of the California League at some point in 2015.

I caught up with Yuhl recently by phone and learned more about Yuhl, his pitch repertoire, his first professional season and what he's been working on in the offseason.

As is usually the case, I asked about Yuhl's pitch repertoire. He features a 2-seam and a 4-seam fastball, a split change and a slider. His fastball velocity was generally around 88 to 93 mph in his first season and around 90 to 93 in his final year of college. Yuhl generally works off his fastball, but considers his split change to be his best offspeed pitch. "I use my fastball a lot. I think it's just the fact that I can generally put it in the area where I want it that I trust it. I'm not afraid to throw 90 to 93 in a good spot. I'm not trying to be sweet with it and try and be tricky. I'm just going to try and pitch my game and get the outs the best way I know how to get outs," said Yuhl.

Yuhl has been working hard on his breaking pitch this offseason, among other things. He has dropped about 20 to 25 pounds over the offseason and it has helped him with all of his pitches. According to Yuhl, "My breaking ball in college wasn't as good as it has become and what it is now."  His breaking ball has been sharper, his changeup has a little more action to it and he expects to add a notch or two to his fastball this season. The loss of weight and the rest have helped him immensely, "I let my arm rest which is a huge help because after four years of college, you don't really get a rest. You throw summer ball, you throw in the fall, you throw in the season. So having a couple of months off without having to pick up a baseball was really nice. Let my arm kind of regenerate."

Even though Yuhl thinks that his velocity will be up this season, he admits that pitch velocity isn't really central to his game. He said, "As long as I'm throwing the ball, I'm not too (worried about) velocity. I want to put the ball where I want to put the ball and I want good life and good action on my pitches. I'm just trying to get outs, keep the ball down and I'm not going for strikeouts. I've never been that kind of guy, but I'll take them when they give them to me. Make your pitches is really all you can do."

I had the opportunity to meet Yuhl when I was in Greeneville last summer, but I didn't get the opportunity to see him pitch. I asked him what I could expect when I do see him on the mound. "When I'm on the mound, I'm pretty composed. I do my best to not show emotion. I don't want to give the hitter any satisfaction or give the team any satisfaction that I'm defeated because the way I pitch, I go after hitters. I'm not going to cheat, trying to paint a little extra off the corner, afraid to get hit. I'm definitely not afraid to get hit. I'm an aggressive pitcher. I'm going to throw in the zone as long as I make my good pitches, which I have had good success doing. I'm just going to continue to do that. I'm not afraid of anybody. I'll go up against anybody. If you hit it out of the yard, good for you. I made a bad pitch or you made a great swing. That's baseball."

Asked what he felt that he'd accomplished in his first professional season, Yuhl responded, "I kind of proved myself a little bit, surpassing the expectations of a 35th round senior sign. I think I definitely showed Houston that I take this very seriously and I'm going to work my butt off and really try and continue to prove to Houston that I'm ready. I'm going to keep working. I'm going to give them everything I've got. I'm really grateful for the opportunity they've given me which a lot of teams wouldn't have given me and I accept that and I just want to keep proving to everybody that I can do it. I believe in myself."

As to what he will need to do to get to the next level developmentally, Yuhl said, "Consistency of my breaking ball. That's going to be a big thing. I feel pretty confident in my fastball command and my changeup command; I think my breaking ball, if I keep throwing it the way I have this offseason, I'm going to have better success with it."

The weight that Yuhl lost during the offseason was only the tip of the iceberg. He estimated that he lost around 70 pounds total over the last 2 to 3 years but emphasized, "I'm not really looking for a number. I'm looking for a body for me that works ... that I'm agile, that I'm quicker off the mound, I'm stronger. I feel much stronger, healthier than I ever have in my life so I'm excited to see what happens this upcoming year."

When asked who he had seen last season that had a pitch he would like to steal, Yuhl gave me two he'd like to have in his arsenal. "I'd have to go with either Jandel Gustave's fastball that's like 100 or more or Troy Scribner's curveball. That thing is ridiculous! Pretty disgusting pitch." As to what hitter he'd least like to face, Yuhl did not hesitate, "Brett Phillips. He's ridiculous. I only saw him play for (something) like 4 games, but it was ridiculous." Who made him laugh? "Marc Wik. Me and him became really really close and he's like a brother to me. He's hysterical. Some people don't find his humor funny. I find it hilarious." Yuhl went on to say of Wik, "I think if he continues to work hard, he's going to be something special. He's a freak athlete."

The biggest surprise for Yuhl in his first professional season, other than the size of the crowds in the Midwest League, was his call-up to Quad Cities. "Honestly, being such a late round pick, I didn't really expect anything. When they called me in, I figured we were just going to talk about an outing or something. [2014 Greeneville Manager Josh] Bonifay tortured me a little bit and made it seem like I was in trouble or something and then said, 'You're going to Quad Cities.' And I was (shocked). It was a lot of adrenaline pumping and quite the experience the first time being called up and no clue, no experience in pro ball. I knew that I was pitching well. I just wanted to keep doing that and let the chips fall where they may. I was a little surprised, definitely."

If he couldn't play baseball, what would he do? "I'd finish school. That would be the first priority. I'd want to finish my degree (in Communications). I'm pretty close to it. I think realistically what my ultimate goal is if I'm absolutely out of baseball, I'd want to stay in baseball whether it's scouting, coaching collegiately or professionally. I love this game with everything I've got. So definitely something I would want to do is coach or scout or work in the front office or do something to do with baseball."

Aside from Yuhl's good command, solid developing pitch arsenal and commitment to making himself a better pitcher, there is one other thing that one should recognize about Yuhl. As a 35th round draft pick, he has a big chip on his shoulder and he is determined to prove that he has what it takes. He does not take the opportunity for granted. Yuhl said, "The Astros gave me the opportunity and I'm beyond grateful to them. I told my scout the day I was drafted that it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me and I'm forever appreciative of it." And Yuhl is determined not to waste that opportunity.

Thank you for your time, Keegan, and the best of luck in the rapidly approaching season.

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2 comments:

  1. Sounds like a guy to follow!!

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    1. He reminds me a lot of a certain 40th round pick in his drive and work ethic. :)

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