The instructional leagues can often be a place where a player turns the corner in his minor league career. Although there is some instruction during a minor league season, the daily pace can often interfere with the attempt to change mechanics significantly. Consequently, "instructs" serve as the perfect time for a player to work with the coaching staff to make significant mechanical changes. Sometimes, these alterations can jumpstart a successful career. Ryan Webb is hoping that is the case.
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Ryan Webb began the 2005 season as many experts’ sleeper pick for a break-out season. After being selected out of high school in the fourth round of the 2004 draft, Webb opened a lot of eyes when he arrived at the Arizona Rookie Leagues and struck out 23 batters while walking only one in 20 innings of work. The 6’6’’ right-hander was sent to low-A Kane County to begin the 2005 season, and, at age 19, was the youngest player on the team.
His 2005 season wasn’t as successful as his 2004 debut, but it still showed some promise. Webb had flashes of excellence mixed in with periods of inconsistency, all of which led to a mediocre 4.74 ERA. He struggled with his command more then he did in 2004, striking out only 84 and walking 41 in 128.2 innings. However, he did show good durability, as he missed only one rotation turn all season and averaged nearly six innings a start.
At the end of the season, a slightly weary Webb was invited to participate in the A’s instructional league for the second straight season. Although he was tired after a long season, Webb arrived in Phoenix ready to learn. And learn he did. After working with the A’s coaching staff on tweaking his mechanics, Webb pitched so well during “instructs” that he earned the “Most Improved Player” award for his efforts.
“The instructional league was the highlight of my season, actually. It was my second time attending it and that is where they really try to get you to accept their program and understand what they are trying to teach you to do,” Webb said.
“It was a lot easier for me to understand all of that the second time around and I feel like I made great progress.”
Webb said that he worked a lot on getting ahead of hitters, something that he struggled with during the regular season. He also worked on fixing some mechanical issues. The results were outstanding. He estimates that he fell behind roughly five batters out of more than 100 during the entire instructional league “season.” Webb also indicated that he was throwing his fastball between 89-93 MPH consistently by the end of camp. He was at 88-91 MPH during most of the regular season.
Webb also spent a lot of time working on his secondary pitches. He worked on refining his change-up and learned a new grip for the pitch. He also began throwing his slider with more velocity and a later break. In addition, he threw a few curveballs for the first time all season.
“I didn’t really add any pitches, but it was like I was throwing three different pitches with all of the changes that we made to them,” Webb said.
During the regular season, Webb said that he had a few starts when he felt completely in control of the game. However, he said that he never put together a string of five or more good outings, so a big part of what he worked on at the instructional league was his consistency. After all of the changes to his mechanics, his performance was much more consistent from outing to outing.
“I felt like I left the instructional leagues as a much better pitcher. Now I just have to make sure that I keep what they taught me in my head over the off season,” Webb said.
Webb said he hopes that he has put himself in a position to compete for a promotion to A-Stockton during spring training. However, he said that he has a lot of fond feelings for his time with the Kane County Cougars, playing in front of the enthusiastic fan base at Elfstrom Stadium.
“It doesn’t get any better in the minor leagues then playing in front of 10,000 fans a game. I couldn’t wait to go to the ballpark every day,” Webb said.
Webb, who will turn 20 in February, is spending his off season at home in Florida working out with a trainer to come into camp in the best shape he can. He will also be continuing the mechanics work that he learned at the instructional league in hopes of starting off spring training as well as he ended the instructional league. With a potential four pitch arsenal (fastball, change-up, slider and curveball) and a frame that reminds some people of a right-handed Mark Mulder, Webb will be someone to watch closely during the 2006 season.