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Clayton McCullough is the manager of the Lansing Lugnuts, a move up from managing the GCL Jays last season.  Tom Signore is the pitching coach in Lansing.  I spoke with both of them last week in Lansing.

Clayton McCullough, Manager, Lansing Lugnuts

BB:  You managed many of these players last season in the Gulf Coast League.  Last year was a struggle for many of them, this year they are doing better.  Is there anything specific behind the improvement or is it just a year of experience?

CM:  I think the experience is a big factor.  Last year they come in and sign, they leave home and move down to Florida and everything is new.  The baseball is different, we are playing every day in some tough conditions down there.  I think last year they were getting adjusted to a variety of things, they had a lot on their plates.  But in the last month of the summer they were better than when they got there, they got more comfortable and locked in.  I think coming into this year they are stronger and more physical.  Coming into they had more confidence and I think they took the experience of last summer, took it into this year and have gotten a lot better.

BB:  Justin Jackson had a good game last night and the ball looks like it comes off his bat real well.

CM:  Yes, Justin has a chance to be a special player.  He has been great the whole season for us, his offense is really coming around, he is just learning how to hit.  For a lot of these guys it is a different game, they are figuring things out offensively and defensively, and for Justin he has bought into what Justin (Mashore) our hitting coach and Dwayne Murphy our coordinator, have been saying to him and it has been working out for him because he is an athletic guy with a lot of ability.  With the way he is swinging it now the ball is taking off on him and getting out in the gaps.

BB:  How tough is it for a guy like Kevin Ahrens to be a switch hitter in this environment where you are trying to learn to hit at both sides of the plate?

CM:  I think it is tough because you have to put a lot of time into one side and then you have to put equal time into the other side.  We have seen a lot of right handed pitchers so the majority of his at-bats have been left handed.  For guys like Kevin or Tolisano or McDade, those switch-hitters, they may not get as many live at-bats off that lefty but they have to put in a lot of time on the other side to keep themselves sharp.

BB:  Jackson and Ahrens look to be fairly selective at the plate, they have their share of strikeouts but I assume that is on breaking balls?

CM:  They are just young hitters and a lot of stuff they just haven't seen.  We tell them not to be worried about those strikeouts, get in there and get a good pitch and go to work.  That's not something we are overly concerned with because they are having good at-bats, they are walking and seeing pitches and getting good pitches to hit.  Both of those guys are pretty comfortable at the plate right now so it's just be relaxed and get a good pitch to hit.

BB:  John Tolisano was your leading home run hitter in the GCL last season, this year his home run numbers are lower, is that the league or has something changed?

CM:  I don't think anything has changed, he is in the same boat as those guys he is still learning to hit.  He had a nice summer last year but like all these guys they have a lot of room to improve.  They are still trying to figure out how to hit, how to take a consistent swing.  The pitching is a step up for these guys, the competition is great but they are doing a great job and handling themselves well.

BB:  Yohermyn Chavez looks to be fighting his swing right now and is a bit late getting ready to hit.

CM:  I think that's all of them, a lot of these guys are late getting ready to hit.  Everybody's different, they have a different setup, they have a different way of getting ready to hit, all of them are trying to get that comfort zone, what do I need to do before the pitch comes in to get myself ready to hit on time.

BB:  Kyle Ginley looks to have made a lot of progress this season, is he now using those off-speed pitches?

CM:  Kyle is starting to learn how to pitch.  He can still pitch off his fastball, that is his bread and butter pitch, but he is working in his change-up and his breaking ball to keep those hitters off his fastball more but he has grown up a lot, on the field it's how he handles situations now and when things aren't going his way he will keep pitching and going after people.  He is more of a complete pitcher this year than he was last year.  His slider has a chance to be a very good pitch for him, sometimes it is hard for guys to translate from the bullpen into the game.  When it hits it's great but sometimes it doesn't work out for them on that day and that's what they are working on getting that consistency into the game.

BB:  Brad Mills has been working on fastball command, is that his big issue?

CM:  Brad has three very good pitches and he has used his fastball well to both sides of the plate.  Brad has some swing and miss pitches, his breaking ball, a lot of guys don't put it in play, they take it or they foul it off, so he has gotten a lot of strikeouts.  As to his fastball, yes as a starting pitcher you have to be able to pitch of that, to go deep into ballgames.  I think the reason he doesn't go deep into ballgames is that his stuff is sometimes too good for this level, guys don't put it in play for early contact.

BB:  What are you looking for Trystan Magnuson to do today?

CM:  With Trystan it's to get that consistency from each outing.  He has been working hard on his delivery in the bullpen and on the sides, trying to clean it up some.  He has worked really hard to this point and Trystan too is trying to take what he works on in the side into the game and get some consistency with his delivery because he has been really good.  You see signs, every time he pitches, of what this guy could be.

Tom Signore, Pitching Coach, Lansing Lugnuts

BB:  Last night's starter Randy Boone comes right after the hitters, is that his normal approach?

TS:  Randy is very aggressive and he should be because he has an outstanding two seam fastball.  It's a ball that comes on the hitter and moves on two planes and he should be aggressive because he can throw his secondary pitches for strikes.  He throws a slider, a curveball and a change so in a league like this where hitters are predominately geared to hit the fastball he should be very successful.  He will be successful at the next level and AA if he can command that fastball to both sides of the plate.  It keeps the hitters honest you know, elevating the fastball occasionally, he has to learn to do those things.

BB:  He worked well down in the zone.

TS:  That's the organizations philosophy, even before in and out, is down because you are a lot less likely to get hurt down in the strike zone than up and away or up and in, they will flare a ball or some hitters see it better up there and will take one out on you occasionally.  When it's down you have a better chance of recording an out.

BB:  What are you looking for from Trystan Magnuson tonight?

TS:  Trystan is making a big transition from a reliever to a starter.  What we are doing is trying to build up arm strength.  He has never had to go out for five or six innings so we are going to be careful with him, he won't go any more than three innings tonight and he won't throw more than 50 pitches.  He was a two pitch guy as a reliever, he was fastball and an outstanding slider, and that's his out pitch, but we are trying to get him some feel for his change-up, and he is gaining that feel.

BB:  Does his size work against him, being so tall, does it hurt his command?

TS:  No you know what he has a very nice delivery for a kid who is so big.  The parts move really well and the beauty of being so big as he is that he throws downhill and the hitters only get to see the top of the ball and that's all we want them to see.

BB:  Nate Starner, has he changed his delivery this year?

TS:  He is not quite as far across his body as he had been.  He still has that same deception and that unbelievable change-up.  You know he is going to go as far as his command of his other pitches takes him because right now he has an average major league change-up.  He can get people out in the big leagues with that change-up, now we need to develop two other pitches, or at least one other, that he can get major league hitters out with.

BB:  How hard is his fastball?

TS:  His fastball is 85-88 and quite frankly if you look at the velocities some pitchers it's OK.  Pitchers who are throwing 85-88 can get hitters out, especially with his change-up, it makes his fastball look like it's 93-94.  He also has a nice little cutter that has bailed him out of trouble a few times this season.

BB:  Another guy working on his command is Brad Mills.

TS:  I think what people need to remember is that Brad only had two professional starts last season.  He has been outstanding for us but yeah, he has gone deep into counts, and again we are careful with guys pitch counts but he is a guy who is a tireless worker, a consummate professional, outstanding aptitude.  I can't stress enough how intelligent this kid is.  He does have two major league pitches right now to get people out with.  Again, you talked about command, that's going to be the difference and that's going to be the difference with all these guys.  I expect that by the end of the season that Brad, when he wants to go to the arm side with the fastball he will be able to, and when he wants to go to the glove side he will be able to do that.  I am looking forward to the progress he is going to make this season.

BB:  You just lost Kyle Ginley, I saw him pitch last season and he was a fastball pitcher, has he progressed with using all his pitches?

TS:  The big difference from last season is that he has become good at all the little detail things.  He is better at controlling the running game, at having an idea of what he wants to do with each hitter, at throwing the fastball to both sides of the plate, and yes, his breaking pitches have come a long way.  If you had to grade out his slider it's probably a touch below average for the big leagues and his change-up, while now it is below average for the big leagues, it will be an average major league change-up.  He has the ability to spin a curve-ball but that is more of a get me over first strike pitch just to keep hitters honest.  He was a joy to work with, it was most satisfying as a position coach to see his progress from the start of last year to this point in May when he was promoted.  People talk about wins and losses, to me a win is promoting a player, because in the end it is more important for the Blue Jays to win than for Lansing to win.  Do we like to win?  Obviously, but my job is to get them to Dunedin so it is very satisfying to get them there.

BB:  Brian Pettway was just promoted too, that's good progress for a guy who just started pitching professionally.

TS:  Brian was a very good reliever in college and while he doesn't possess the foot speed needed for an outfielder and now he is a good athlete in the infield.  He did a great job for us, he found a consistent delivery and developed an outstanding two seam fastball.  He does have a good idea of what he wants to do with the baseball and he is going to have to be a guy who does pitch inside, he is not going to be overpowering but the two seamer he developed is what got him to Dunedin and at his age he needs to be there and good for him.  He also throws a split and he is aggressive kid, I call it controlled aggression, he always looks the same when he is getting hit hard or when he is dealing and he loves to come inside which I love as a pitching coach.

BB:   What has Alan Farina done this year?

TS:  He is struggling right now repeating his delivery, he is working hard, he works every day, he is a tireless worker, and I am not worried about Alan Farina, by the end of the season he will be one of our guys who we go to in a big situation.  Right now it is a lower body issue that's forcing him to tilt back and get over the ball and he can't do it on time.  I expect he will get there in the next four to six weeks.  He does have the arm strength and the slider and change are both there.  He does have three quality pitches, I am not worried about that.  He is a guy who I am going to have to put a lot of work into and he is going to have to do a lot of work, and he is, and I am looking forward to seeing good things from him this season.

Batters would like to thank Clayton McCullough and Tom Signore for talking time to talk with us.  We would also like to thank Brad Tillery of the Lugnuts for assisting us while we were in Lansing.

An Interview with Clayton McCullough and Tom Signore | 3 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Pistol - Monday, May 12 2008 @ 03:39 PM EDT (#185073) #
Excellent, as always, Gerry.
Mike Green - Monday, May 12 2008 @ 03:48 PM EDT (#185075) #
Nice, Gerry.  The picture of Starner is quite clear now, and it's getting there for Pettway.
Sneeps - Monday, May 12 2008 @ 05:08 PM EDT (#185080) #
thank you gerry.
An Interview with Clayton McCullough and Tom Signore | 3 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.