Hickory Crawdads starting pitcher Collin Wiles is in his second season with the team after spending last year with the squad. The Overland Park, KS native was a compensation round pick (53rd overall) of the Texas Rangers in 2012 out of Blue Valley West High School.
So far this season, Wiles is 5-1 with a 1.37 ERA, which in the South Atlantic League. Through May 23, Wiles has allowed 42 base runners and struck out 25 hitters in 39.1 innings.
I caught up with Wiles after his start a week ago against Augusta when he gave up a run over five innings.
Could you have dreamt of a better start to your season?
Wiles: Yeah, I could’ve not given up any runs.
Yeah, but realistically?
Wiles: Realistically, it’s been a very good start. It’s nice to see that the hard work that has happened over the last three years has paid off in a sense. I’m in a really good place. I’ve got a pretty good idea about what I’m trying to do out there. That’s what everyone that I’ve ever worked with from the Rangers, that’s what they’ve been on me to do is to know who you are as a pitcher and have that belief that you’re the best. It’s nice to see it paying off early.
When you and I have talked before, you talked about trying to blow it by everybody—trying to blow it by people. What was the point that convinced you that is not who you are?
Wiles: When Greg Maddux talked to us at instructs last year.
What did he talk about?
Wiles: He broke it down to the point of you don’t have to have velo, but you have to change speeds. The difference between a 90 mile-an-hour fastball and a 92 mile-an-hour fastball in the hitter’s eyes really isn’t that big of a difference. So, there’s really no need to try to get anything more. It’s all about putting the pitch where you want it.
Something big that he said: After the game how he evaluated himself was based on good pitches and where he wanted them to go and if the glove moved at all when he threw it. That was really cool to see him talk about what he did and how he evaluated himself. I’ve taken that to here this year as a part of my evaluation.
If I’m making good pitches – it’s not necessarily about getting outs, because you can get outs on bad pitches – it’s more about making good pitches, executing good pitches where you wanted them to be executed. That’s something that really stuck out to me when he talked to us.
There’s a point where you hear that as theory and then you have to put it into practice. Is there a point where you began to see this work for you?
Wiles: Yeah, offseason bullpens. We get a break from throwing – about a four-and-a-half, five week break off from even picking up a baseball. When you pick up a baseball again, it’s like hitting a refresh button. So everything that happened last year is gone. You’re working for this year; you’re looking to get ready for this year.
Starting the offseason bullpens is where I started to figure out, okay, I made that really good pitch there, how many times in a row can I keep making that good pitch. Just challenging myself off of that in the offseason, and then in spring training keeping it going against live hitters, and then just having that same mentality here.
As far as your stuff, what is the adjustment that you’ve made where you’ve said, okay, I’m not a strikeout pitcher, but I can get a ground ball? What was that progression?
Wiles: Learning to pitch in the inner half, as well as going back to the outer half. I’ve always had good movement on my pitches. It’s all a matter of where you start them and where they end up. I’m trying to go to glove side and start it on the outside corner and know it’s going to come back in. So, just making a little adjustment and taking even four or five more inches inside or outside, if you will, and having it come back to where it’s in a place where you won’t get hurt.
That’s been the biggest thing. Just like I said earlier about learning myself and trying to have an idea of what everything does when I throw it, so I can make adjustments on the fly. Today, I’m not getting my extension out in front on my glove side and it’s coming back over the middle of the plate. Well, I’ve got to move my sights even more and try and get it out even more to have it come back over the plate and not in the middle.
The talk of (pitching at) High Desert is a whole different animal. It’s that something where you think, “if my stuff can play here, it can play anywhere.”? Is that something that’s in the back of your mind, or are you just worried about the here and now?
Wiles: I’m just worried about now and trying to take it day by day. I’m just trying to get better here as much as I can. All the High Desert or anything else is really out of my control. The only thing I can worry about is how I pitch here. That’s the driving force is just getting better every day. We’ve had a good start to the season as a team, and obviously our pitching staff has. But that won’t matter if we don’t take care of business and continue it throughout the year. I’m just trying to get better every day.
You talked about the starters – and they’ve definitely been the talk of the first quarter of the season – are guys looking to build off the success of each other?
Wiles: Oh, definitely. Every time that a starter takes the mound – I don’t want to say that it’s a competition between the other starters – but it’s just kind of like, “Alright, you did that yesterday and I’m going to pick you up today and I’m going to get you tomorrow, and we’re going to do this again and we’re going to keep it going.” I think that’s been really good.
We have starters that enjoy each other’s company. We’ll be in the dugout and we’ll be talking about, “alright, what are you throwing here to this guy?” We’ll keep going back and forth and say, “okay, if you want to throw that, what about this here?” The camaraderie amongst our fellow pitching staff has honestly been the biggest credit to our success. We’re not – I don’t want to say shy – but we’ll go out, even in a game. I’ll be in the dugout and say, “hey, I threw this pitch, what did you see out of the hitter,” and he’ll tell me instant feedback right there. It’s been good. Each one of us wants the other one to succeed just as bad as they want to succeed. If our team is winning at the end of the day, individual stats don’t really come into play.
How much does Oscar Marin mean to this staff?
Wiles: A tremendous amount. He’s taken us in and he’s kind of molded us into what he wants and I think he’s done a good job of doing that. His biggest thing is to never give in. Don’t be complacent. There’s still another three-quarters of a season left to be played, so he won’t ever let us get comfortable. He’s always pushing us.
In our sides it’s, how many strikes can you throw today? How many balls down below the knees can you throw today? It’s been really, really good. It’s been something that, as young as a staff as we have, I think it’s been something that has kind of opened our eyes: this is competition every day. Not just on the days that we start, but every day, whether it’s a bullpen or playing catch, it’s some sort of competition.