Triple-A Buffalo pitcher Collin McHugh, an 18th-round pick in 2008 who hails from Atlanta, chronicles his life as a Mets minor leaguer on his personal blog, "A Day Older, A Day Wiser." He will periodically have those entries carried on ESPNNewYork.com as well.Courtesy of Binghamton Mets
This is my first post from a new level. Triple-A Buffalo to be exact. Thus far I have four starts under my belt. Three of which were mediocre (bordering on bad) and one that was pretty good (bordering on...well, pretty good). As I wrote last year upon my promotion to Double-A, there is always a learning curve. The goal is to shorten that curve as much as possible, and hopefully I'm moving in the right direction.
People have asked me what the differences are between Double-A and Triple-A. There are the the obvious ones like stricter strike zones, more patient hitters and better postgame spreads. However, there are other nuances of the level that make for a more interesting topic.
My first three outings, as previously noted, were less than spectacular. I gave up something in the neighborhood of 11 runs in 14 innings, walking about a half-dozen and plunking a couple to boot. Running through the gauntlet of "fixes" in my head, I couldn't seem to figure out where I was going wrong. After watching a few minutes of video, however, it was soon very apparent what was "off." My balance was bad. I was leaning forward toward home plate without gathering my momentum first. My arm wasn't catching up, the ball had no option but to be up in the zone and that ball got hit ... hard. Once I learned what I was doing wrong it made it easy to fix. It was simple. Stay back.
Triple-A is filled with guys like me. Up-and-coming players. Players looking to make their mark. However, it's also filled with players who have tasted the big leagues. Some for a sip of coffee and others who have feasted up there for years. With that dichotomy brings an interesting mix of emotions. As younger players, we begin to realize that our dream of playing in the big leagues is closer than ever before. Literally one step away. The veteran guys also understand the proximity to the promised land. They've been there. They've tasted the milk and honey. Where once I was worried that I would never make it, now it's a struggle to ... stay back.
The temptation for everyone here is to rush. Rush our careers to the big leagues or rush our way out of the minor leagues. Look at it either way you want! Momentum, just as in pitching, is a huge factor in the makeup of a minor leaguer. Coming up through the ranks you're trying to keep the momentum moving forward. Coming down from the bigs the goal is to get the ball rolling once more. We push and push towards the bigs like a track runner lunging toward the finish line.
What I'm beginning to learn, however, is that lunging forward can often be counterproductive. After talking to coaches and staff up here, they all preach the same thing. Be consistent. Be you. Be patient. When we feel the need to push so hard, we often lose the focus that got us here in the first place.
One of our veteran catchers said to me before my last start, "The thing that separates the great pitchers from the rest is their ability to focus one pitch at a time." That fact is especially true at this level. If we get too far ahead of ourselves and try to nose our way into the big leagues before it's our time, our focus isn't narrowed enough. Our scope is too broad, and the distractions hinder any momentum we might have or might be building.
What makes my mechanics sound is the same thing that makes for a sound head and heart. Stay patient. Stay balanced. Stay back.