The Fine Line of Control: An Interview with Alex Speas
At 6-4, 180 lbs., Alex Speas isn’t the biggest physical specimen among the current pitching staff on the Hickory Crawdads, but at this point, he has the biggest fastball among them all. In my mind’s eye, he reminds me of Carl Edwards Jr., from the 2013 squad – a tall, lean stature that is a little more filled out than C.J. was then – that gives no hint of the heat that is to come from the right arm. Speas actually brings more heat than did Edwards at Low-A. When he gasses up the fastball, I mean really gasses up, he is touching 96-98 mph with an easy delivery.
The native of Powder Spring, Ga. is the Texas Rangers No. 23 prospect according to MLB.com. The fastball is a big reason why. The reports lists a curveball, but it appears the breaking ball is more of a slider that has a good bite to it. Further beading the brief scouting report about Speas, one sees a cautionary tale – control. Since joining the Rangers after the team picked him in the second round of the 2013 June draft out of McEachern High School, Speas has struck out 81 batters in 56 innings, but walked 45. He began with the Rangers as a starting pitchers but moved to the bullpen midway through the 2017 season at short-season Spokane.
In watching him here at Hickory, there are times he dominates opponents. Then there are other times that his pitches and home plate are incompatible.
In an April 16 outing vs. Lexington (Ky.), Speas had his pitches working in a ninth-inning outing. He struck out four in the ninth inning – one reached on a breaking ball that badly fooled the hitter on a strikeout as well as his catcher on what turned out to be wild pitch – as he threw 14 of 18 pitches for strikes. Two days later, though he didn’t walk anyone, he allowed three hits as the Legends hitters waited for strikes, of which there were just 16 of them in 29 pitches.
Another example of the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature that can be Speas was an outing vs. Delmarva (Md.) on April 27. Struggling with a landing spot on the mound, the control floundered as he walked two in the eighth. After an adjustment in his position on the rubber, Speas returned to pitch a 1-2-3 ninth and struck out one.
My interest in talking with Speas was to ask from his perspective what is the fine line of between the Alex Speas that gets hitters out and the one that walks them. With an infectious personality and a smile that would make a dentist jealous, Speas was honest in his assessment of his development and where he hopes that will take him in 2018.
First of all, I want to ask you overall view of how you are doing so far?
Speas: I feel like it has started off pretty well for me. This is the first year as a full bullpen guy. I got moved into the bullpen role at the end of last season. I feel like it’s started off pretty well. I’ll have my two or three good outings and then I’ll have one, maybe two rough outings. I feel like consistency wise that I’m starting to get the feel for coming out of the bullpen and getting used to having to throw the back end of games after throwing in the front end of games. At first, it was a little rough to start off with and I’d say after my first two I got out of the way I had least two or three good ones and then I’d have one bad one. At the end of the day, I’d say right now I’m getting used to it and starting to get the consistency process of it and day by day pounding innings and getting more innings in the bullpen, so that when it comes down to it, I feel like this will be the role for me.
Did you have to adjust to the whole process? You had a routine being a starter and doing this one day and doing this another day. Now it’ll be a couple of days in between outings?
Speas: Yeah, it’s a big adjustment. The biggest adjustment for me was going from throwing every five or six days to now throwing maybe every other day, or back to back days. I’d say at first it was tough, but I’m getting used to the process. I felt good enough in spring training to throw basically every other day, even if I threw two innings or if I threw one inning that day. I’d say the biggest part was just making the adjustment of days of rest – how to take care of my body in between outings and get ready for the next day.
What is the biggest adjustment you made in taking care of yourself?
Speas: I think the biggest adjustment was finding a way of how I can relieve soreness or tightness on that day, to get over it. I think it played a big part to me now being able to know that, hey, this next day, I know what I need to do with my body after I threw a day. The day after that, I know that I’m going to feel a lot better. I’d say preparing my body. Now I have plenty of days where I’m not sore at all. Where there are days I might be tight, but even if I’m tight that day, I’m still able to throw.
98? Where did you find all of that?
Speas: I’d honestly say it’s just a blessing.
I’m looking at you and there’s not much leg there. Where are you finding that?
Speas: I’m not a big body and there’s a lot of guys taller than me, as well, and guys that are more filled out. I’d just say growing up being a three-sport athlete and just having the athletic ability, being blessed to just go out there and have a strong arm. It came to me naturally and I can’t say more.
Each year, I just focus on preparation with my arm and preparation with my body. It doesn’t show that I’m a heavy, strong guy, but I’m a really strong guy because in the offseason I take care of my body. I’m one of those guys that’s in the gym four to five days a week. I’m one of those guys that, when I’m here, I’m always asking to get an extra day in the gym, just because I feel that all that right there prepares me, like I said, to get rid of the tightness and get rid of the soreness. When I have those days that I threw 96 or 98 the first day, I still feel like I can come back the next day and still have it.
It looks like you are working on your secondaries quite a bit. What’s the focus, right now, as far as your secondaries?
Speas: I guess the biggest thing to focus was, if I’m ahead on my fastball, I throw my slider as a wipeout slider, or I can throw my slider in there for a strike. The biggest was being able to throw my slider when I’m behind in the count, to have trust in it. If it’s a day that I don’t have my fastball, I can trust in my slider.
The biggest thing is I think this year, mostly I throw more 3-2 sliders for strikeout pitches and more 2-2 sliders for strikeout pitches than having my fastball working the count. Because hitters now, as I continue to move up, as they know me as a plus-plus fastball guy, they’re sitting dead red for my fastball and they’re waiting for me to throw my fastball. There’s not much that they have to do except put the barrel of the bat on the ball and put it in play.
The biggest think was gaining trust in my slider. Gaining trust in my slider has helped me along to have more strikeouts and to be able to throw it in plus counts – throw it as a 1-0 count, a 3-2 count, to get more strikeouts and to get more strike calls.
Are you working on a changeup much?
Speas: I do. It’s a development thing for me. I’ll throw it every once in a while. There are days where I can say that my changeup is better than my slider. But there are days when I say that my changeup is my worst pitch, my third best pitch. It’s one of those things right now where we preach that we can get away at the Low-A and High-A level with a fastball and a slider, maybe a little bit at AA, but that’s one thing that I’m still developing each day. Every time I go out and play catch, every day I’ll throw a slider Every day I throw a bullpen I’m going to dominate that changeup because when the time comes, it’s going to be a time that I’ll need it.
What is the fine line for you where you will hit the spots where you want and you’ll have a good outing or inning and then struggle the next outing or inning?
Speas: The fine line is just the mental process. I was blessed with all the physical aspects of the game, to be able to throw hard and to be able to throw strikes when needed. But I think the biggest thing is me understanding the mental part of the game and being able to come out there and dominate the game, even when we are losing 7-1 like last night, even when we are tied 1-1, or when I have to come out and close the game. Because there are times when I’m going to come in in the fourth or fifth inning because I need to throw and we don’t have anymore relievers.
I think the biggest thing for me right now is the mental side because. Like I said, there will be days when I’ll have three good outings in a row. There will be days where I’ll just have two bad back-to-back outings. The raw talent and the raw ability I’m still figuring out and finding a fine line between it, but the mental side of the game, in my head, that’s where I’m trying to focus on the most.
When you throw an inning, what’s a perfect outing for you right now?
Speas: Nobody wants to go out there and give up runs. But a good day for me is if I go out there and I don’t feel like I’m giving into a hitter, and I feel like I’m attacking the zone at 100 percent each time. And I feel like a good outing for me – if I walk a guy, I walk a guy – but if I get out of the inning with zero runs and I’m still like I’m still in the 60 percent strike range, I feel like that’s a good day for me.
What are you goals for the rest of the year?
Speas: Just keep dominating. One of the big things for me, last year I wanted to cut my walks down. So, one of those things is that I’m getting to the point where I’m cutting the walks down and just find a more consistent basis. Maybe have four good outings and one bad outing and then get right back to the next four good outings. Just find the fine line between the mental game and finding the strong points where I can consistently have a good day.
Do you want to be a starter or reliever long term?
Speas: Long term, I think one of my biggest things was, just because of how hard I threw and in high school I came in and threw everything off the back end, I always wanted to be a reliever. But, I feel like that there is one day, if there is a time where I do end up gaining my changeup and I gain trust in all three of my pitches and I can throw it for strikes, then I’ll end up being a starter again.