In my piece for Viva El Birdos on Sunday, I recapped a little of Tyler Greene’s history. Prospect watchers will probably have been familiar with the term “prospect fatigue” and it’s connotative use with Greene but there’s another player this year — who likely has less of a shot at the major league roster right out of Spring Training — that I actually think of first when using the term prospect fatigue: Adam Ottavino.
The Cardinals drafted Ottavino in the first round of 2006 with the 30th overall pick. He was a college righty coming from Northeastern University with good fastball velocity and a potentially plus-plus slider. After 6 years in the system, Ottavino has failed to make the majors as a starter. His performance has been hit or miss at times but never strong enough to thrust his name into real contention for a rotation spot. He’s had injuries to rehab and now appears to be headed to the bullpen exclusively.
This is likely to be a good thing for Ottavino’s career. With a changeup that still leaves him vulnerable to left-handers, the bullpen should help minimize his weaknesses and maximize his strengths. There’s plenty of ways to parse the numbers for Ottavino but this year will be definitive towards his future in baseball. That said, his past, and the mini-controversies that he’s been involved in, are a fascinating recollection.
[ed. note: What follows is a brief history of Adam Ottavino with the Cardinals. It is not intended as a judgment of any person(s) but is simply a footnote in the history of a prospect.]
Where Tyler Greene’s public history with the club is straightforward and mostly kept behind closed doors, Adam Ottavino had the ill-fortune of being a prospect right on the heels of the Anthony Reyes brouhaha. The back story was that Reyes was a top prospect all through the minors. Upon reaching the majors (or at least the precipice of the majors in AAA), the major league coaching staff came to the decision that Reyes couldn’t succeed with just his four seam fastball but needed a two seam fastball or sinker.
The disagreement became public and eventually led to Dave Duncan and Dyar Miller both making independent statements with very different conclusions. Duncan was firmly of the opinion that the sinker was necessary for Reyes’ career in the majors and Miller was of the opinion that if Reyes could command his four seam fastball down in the zone, a true sinker was unnecessary. Neither coach made their statements in direct opposition to one another but it fed the narrative of rifts within the front office and the coaching staff.
In 2006, at the height of the Anthony Reyes conversation, Larry Borowsky, aka LBoros, did an interview with Ottavino for VEB titled “the indoctrination of adam”. While the title may read a bit inflammatory now, there was substantive precedent for what was going on in the system with a seemingly forceful conversion of high velocity pitchers into groundball oriented pitchers. (Some of this stems back to disagreements between the draft organization, read: Luhnow, and other parts of the front office and coaching staff.) In the interview, was the following exchange [ed. note: lack of capitalization is a trademark of LBoros writing at VEB]:
tell me a little bit about your repertoire. you said your fastball’s in the mid-90s, upper end. what else do you throw?
i usually throw between 90 and 94; i can get to 95, 96 a few times in a game. in college ball i was trying to strike a lot of batters out, so i was pretty much throwing a lot of 4-seamers up in the strike zone, but since i got here the cardinals have really preached to me the pitching to contact and throwing to ground balls. i have a good sinker that i’m developing right now, and that’s become my main pitch that i’ve been working on since i’ve been in pro ball. i’m struggling a little bit with it right now, at times, because it’s a new philosophy and a new thing and i’m just not used to it yet.
Adam would go on to discuss how he was learning the benefits of pitching to contact and a two-seamer. It was an amicable exchange and didn’t really hint at discontent by the pitcher. When pressed further, it was evident that the new pitching style wasn’t comfortable even if Ottavino was striving to enact it:
is it difficult when you have had a ton of success pitching with a certain style, and then you come in to begin your pro career and start blowing guys away — if i remember correctly, you didn’t allow an earned run in your first 20 innings or so at state college — and then you have to start learning something new and struggle with it, does that produce a desire to go back to what used to work for you?
yeah, there is some of that. but at the same time, i’ve shown flashes with this new thing that i’m learning. and it’s not a huge change; it’s just a little bit of a mental change and a little bit of a mechanical change, and some things take repetition.
While this is a single interview, it has to be contextualized in the writing of the time. With Anthony Reyes and the surprisingly public disagreement between coaches, the blogs were not the only ones documenting this discrepancy. While the article is buried someone in the STLtoday archives, in his second interview with Adam Ottavino, about one year later, LBoros quotes this from Derrick Goold noting, as LBoros terms it, “a retreat” from the pitch to contact philosohpy:
“The two-seam fastball [Ottavino] tested last summer at the request of the Cardinals essentially has been stowed for his higher-speed and comfier four-seam fastball” – Goold’s writing
“It has been hard to adjust to the idea that I want the other guy to hit the ball.” – Ottavino’s quote in Goold’s article
As LBoros’s conversation continues, you’ll note the beginnings of the public relations retreat by Ottavino:
There was another piece of the tool kit I wanted to ask you about. When you talked to Derrick Goold, he wrote an article in the Post-Dispatch about the 2-seamer vs the 4-seamer. That’s become a big topic for people who follow this organization. It sounded like the transition to the 2, which you began throwing last year, had become a little uneasy for you. Tell me where you are with that, and what your relationship with the pitch is.
I just want to be clear about this: I’m not against throwing any pitch. I do throw 2-seamers in the games; I just think I’m a different pitcher than a lot of guys in the system. And I’ve discussed this with my coaches: The high fastball can be effective for me. I get a lot of strikeouts with it. And for me, a strikeout is the safest way to get an out. I know that I shouldn’t be shooting for strikeouts all the time, because that’s how your pitch counts get high. But there are certain circumstances where I gotta limit the damage right there, and I gotta go for the strikeout. That’s just inside me. It’s the way I’ve always pitched, and it’s tough to get away from that.
That second interview focuses heavily on the two-seam fastball discussion and I’d encourage you to read the whole thing as it’s a fascinating remembrance of a once hot topic.
In 2008, the Anthony Reyes controversy (and Adam Ottavino’s unfortunate side show in it) were an afterthought to the farm system. The burgeoning Colby Rasmus was just a year away from his own fiasco and Adam Ottavino was just another player in the system: a first round pick that still had potential but hadn’t fully realized it. That summer, Erik Manning, the founder of Future Redbirds, traded some questions and answers with Ottavino and the public relation lines were in full effect. Ottavino replied:
As far as the sinker goes, I feel that it was a little overblown to begin with. No one is forcing this down anyone’s throat. Obviously as an organization there is a preference for ground ball pitchers, but I don’t think the Cardinals are alone in that preference. There are a variety of ways to get groundballs. The sinker is a pitch that ends up in the low part of the zone often, and I do use it. I use it in contrast with my 4 seam fastball.
While none of this is in direct contradiction to his previous statements, it’s clear that the candor of earlier interviews was more muted. It’s neither surprising nor uncharacteristic to see players provide answers that are more practiced and neutral as they progress through the ranks. That is as much a part of their learning process as throwing a two seam fastball.
While the recent comments of Colby Rasmus are perceived by many fans as out of line, controversy is not a new thing to the Cardinals’ young players. It will probably never go away — and I hope it doesn’t as it inevitably provides insight into the organizations workings — given the youth and unrefined media presence that young players are. Nothing that Adam Ottavino said was malicious or hateful; it likely wasn’t the most prudent phrasing either.
Adam Ottavino is at Spring Training, newly added to the 40-man roster. He has a new role as a reliever and a new opportunity to prove himself a major league player. It will take time and work and with a little luck, he’ll have success. His history as a prospect is six years in the making and one of the more colorful back stories among prospects still in the Cardinals’ system.
So while it may seem fatiguing to read another story on Adam Ottavino at times, just remember that it could be another story about Adam Ottavino and two seam fastballs instead.
“the indoctrination of adam” – Viva el Birdos
“being adam ottaivno: ‘a lot to learn about myself’” – Viva el Birdos
“Q and A with Adam Ottavino” – Future Redbirds
“Unplugged: Colby Rasmus sounds like a new man, but the St. Louis blues cut deep” – National Post