Daniel Straily was far from a finished product when he was drafted by the Oakland A's in the 24th round of the 2009 amateur draft, and the improvements Straily has made since turning pro could catapult the Marshall University alum to the major leagues.
This season, Straily has been the High-A Stockton Ports' most effective starting pitcher. In 156 innings, the right-hander has gone 11-8 with a 3.63 ERA and 149 strike-outs. He is ranked fifth in the league in wins, sixth in ERA and third in strike-outs. Despite moving from a pitcher-friendly league to a hitter-friendly one, Straily has reduced his walks and homeruns per nine innings, resulting in a nearly .70 drop in ERA from 2010 to 2011.
Straily points to improved location down in the strike-zone and the emergence of a change-up as the keys to his success this season. The change-up, in particular, has been a welcome addition to his arsenal after a year-and-a-half of work on the pitch.
"Th[e change-up] has been an ongoing process since Instructs 2009. That year, we tried about four or five different grips. Last season, in Kane County, we went through about six or seven different grips," Straily said.
"This year one week, I said, ‘Can I go back to my college change-up?' We kind of compromised and found one that was in-between what they wanted and what I was used to. I have been working on that ever since and am getting a lot more comfortable."
Since turning pro, Straily has been a strike-out pitcher. He whiffed 66 batters in 59 innings for short-season Vancouver in 2009 and then collected 149 strike-outs in 148 innings with Kane County. Being a strike-out pitcher is a relatively new development for Straily, who struck-out only 58 in 71.2 innings for Marshall during his final season in college.
Straily features a four-pitch arsenal of a fastball, change-up, curveball and slider, and he points to the slider as the pitch he goes to when he needs a strike-out. Like the change-up, the development of an effective slider is a relatively new aspect of Straily's game. He didn't throw it his first pro season in 2009. Going into the 2010 season, Straily began to experiment with a slider grip that a college teammate gave him and he found immediate success with the pitch.
"I kept hearing that I needed a sharper breaking ball, that my stuff was too loopy, so I switched to that [grip] and found it," Straily said.
Despite the strong strike-out numbers, Straily isn't actively looking to strike-out every hitter he faces. He has learned this season to pitch to the situation, something that has allowed him to work deeper into games on a more consistent basis. He is currently third in the Cal League and first on the Ports in innings pitched.
"My first half season or full season, I was trying to strike everybody out. I was going 2-2, 3-2 on a lot of guys. This year I've really just tried to get as deep into ballgames as possible," Straily said.
"Some days that means I strike-out a lot of guys, and sometimes that means that I go two, three or four more innings and I only have a couple of strike-outs. [Strike-outs] are definitely not something that I'm trying to do. It's just nice when it happens."
The workload hasn't worn on the 6'2'', 220 pound hurler. Straily says he feels stronger at this point in the season than he did at the beginning of the year.
"I'm just feeling a lot more comfortable out there. I feel a lot more in control of things," Straily said.
That is good news for the Stockton Ports and their fans, who are looking towards the post-season with the Ports' magic number for clinching a wild card berth down to one. Straily is looking forward to a return trip to the post-season, having pitched for Kane County during the Midwest League playoffs last year.
"We've still got to lock in the playoffs. It's still not locked in yet, but I'm obviously excited," Straily said.
"It's a chance to play in the post-season two years in a row. Not everyone gets a chance to even do that in a career. I realize it's just the minor leagues but it is what we are playing for, a chance to go to the post-season."