Thursday, May 3, 2018

Getting to Know Astros/Hooks RHP Brock Dykxhoorn

It's not everyday that you get to interview a Hall of Famer. In this case it was a member of the 2015 Pan Am Games Gold Medal winning Canadian team, Brock Dykxhoorn, who was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame along with the rest of the 2015 Canada Men's Senior National Team in June of 2017.

Brock Dykxhoorn - April 2018
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Dykxhoorn, who is from Ontario, was barely 21 when Team Canada captured Gold that year. "It's one of the coolest things I've ever done in my baseball career. Being able to play for your country is pretty neat. [It was] an environment that it's strictly about winning. Personal achievement doesn't mean a whole lot in those tournaments. If the team wins, everybody wins. So it was a really cool environment that I'll never forget. I also played on the junior team in high school. Same environment, same kind of thing. The Canadian Baseball Network's pretty small. Even guys in this league, there's a few Canadians. We all know each other. When we go to their towns or they come here, we're always talking so it's a pretty neat family to be a part of because it's pretty small," said Dyxhoorn. If you follow Dykxhoorn on twitter, you would have seen him rooting on fellow Canadian Mike Soroka in his MLB debut for the Braves earlier this week.

Dyxhoorn was drafted by the Astros in the 6th round in 2014 out of Central Arizona College and is in his fifth season in the Astros organization, starting the season in the AA Corpus Christi Hooks rotation. I've watched Dykxhoorn from the time he was a gangly, somewhat unathletic-looking 20-year old in rookie ball to the well put together, towering (and much more graceful) pitcher I see today. Something else has changed with Dykxhoorn in the early going this season. Although I have seen him dominate at times, he has often been inconsistent with his results. That is most decidedly not the case so far this year. This season, through his first five appearances (four starts), Dykxhoorn has compiled a 1.16 ERA (currently second in the Texas League for qualified pitchers), a 1.071 WHIP and nine walks to 22 strikeouts in 23.1 innings of work.

I wanted to know what was working for Dykxhoorn and helping him find the consistency that has sometimes eluded him in the past. He said, "I think in Spring Training, I focused a lot on being able to throw my offspeed pitches in any count. Now, if I get down 2-0 in a count or 1-0, I'm not afraid to throw slider, changeup, curveball whereas in the past, I just resorted back to my fastball. I think that was predictable for hitters and they'd just ambush fastballs in those hitter's counts which is obviously beneficial to them."

And that change is absolutely key for a pitcher whose fastball ranges from the high 80's to low 90's. Last season, Dykxhoorn got hit hard at times because he wasn't showing enough confidence in his offspeed. "I had a few outings where I gave up a lot of runs in a short amount of time. I think a lot of it was that, just resorting back to fastball in (certain) pitch counts. When you don't have high 90's in the tank, it doesn't beat a lot of guys if they know it's coming. If you can rely on 99, a lot of times that's going to beat guys even if they know it's coming. But at 90 miles an hour, I have to be able to throw my offspeed pitches for strikes so they respect that. Then that 90 miles an hour can play a little harder than it looks like."

Dykxhoorn continued, "I've really worked on maintaining the ride on my fastball, the 4-seam. Guys like Verlander that can pitch at the top of the zone ... that's what I'm trying to do. Obviously I don't have 97 like he does. But still being able to ride that fastball, a lot of guys seem to swing under it even at 89, 90 miles an hour." In addition to that riding fastball, he has seen great results so far this season by trusting his offspeed more (changeup and curveball to lefties and changeup and slider to right-handers). It makes him a "little less predictable in hitter's counts."

This is the first season for Corpus Christi Hooks Manager Omar Lopez to work with Dykxhoorn and he is impressed not only by Dykxhoorn's early results but also by his intelligence and mental makeup. "He's a very smart guy. He's very open to hearing suggestions. And I think he's been working extremely hard implementing the information [Pitching Coach Bill] Murphy is providing him after every outing. He seems like he goes with a plan to every outing. He's not the type of guy to go with a negative mentality to the mound. He goes up there and (throws) it with conviction." Lopez emphasized the importance of a positive mindset and praised Dykxhoorn for understanding and embracing that concept, "His [mindset] is so good. He's a very steady guy ... not too high, not too low. He's in the middle, good or bad. That's what makes the difference."

We segued to talking about the 2017 World Series. Dykxhoorn definitely watched the Astros in the postseason, "Even if you didn't like baseball, I think everybody was watching the World Series. It was just an incredible series. It's amazing to play for the Astros, be World Champions. I feel like I'm part of that."

But he also realizes the challenges of playing in a system loaded with so much talent, "I'm just trying to play my best whether I play for the Astros moving forward or I play for another team. I'm never going to not play hard and do my best." Although Dyxhoorn is currently a starter, he has done well over his career in relief, a role that might be an easier path forward in such a deep system. "I'm open to anything, anything that they want me to do. I've had some experience in relief roles both in Team Canada and then even our tandem system ... every third outing, you come out of the bullpen. I'm willing to do whatever they need."

The conversation was brief and to the point as Dykxhoorn admitted that he prefers listening to talking, particularly about himself. But he still managed to leave an impression of quiet dignity, thoughtfulness and calm, a refreshing counterpoint to the daily chaos and manic energy of a minor league baseball field.

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Thank you for your time, Brock. It was a pleasure talking with you. Best of luck as the season continues to unfold.


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