Just recently Baltimore Orioles minor league pitcher Zach Davies took time out of his busy off-season to speak with us about life in the minor leagues, the biggest difference between high school ball and the minors, his strengths and weaknesses on the mound and what he’s working on most this off-season.
Davies, 20, was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 26th round of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft. While normally players coming out of high school that are selected that late in the draft tend not to sign and go to college first, Davies made the decision to get his professional baseball career started right away.
With two seasons under his belt, the six-foot right-handed starting pitcher has made great strides in Baltimore’s farm system, posting a career 3.76 ERA with 12 wins in 43 total Single-A Delmarva and High-A Frederick starts.
Zach explained to us his arsenal of pitches and what he’s been doing to get him to this point in his career:
Orioles Nation: Coming straight out of high school and drafted in the 26th round a couple years back, what were some of the factors that led you to sign a contract with the Orioles rather than opting out and attending college (committed to Arizona State)?
Zach Davies: After a long summer of baseball and getting exposed to more of the Orioles staff, I started talking with the Orioles about signing a few days before the deadline. One of the main things that led me to signing was the opportunity to play baseball professionally and pursue my life-long dream. The next important thing that helped me decide was the fact that the Orioles were generous enough to pay for my college if I decided to head back to school and live comfortably with no worries.
ON: What has been the biggest difference, for you, between high school ball and the minor leagues so far? And what adjustments have you made in your game?
ZD: The biggest difference between high school and the minor leagues is probably the most noticeable to everyone, which would be the playing field. Minor league baseball has a much more level playing field than in high school. For me personally the things that are different for me are the small things. The small things in baseball nowadays mean that much more. The main adjustment for me would be to use all of my pitches in all counts at all times and to put the ball in each quadrant of the zone when I want to.
ON: The primary pitches in your arsenal are fastball (upper 80s, low 90s), slider, curveball and a change-up as well. Forget what the scouts say, what do you, personally, think is your best pitch? And what’s the strongest part of your game?
ZD: My best pitch is my change up. Since my junior year in high school i have worked and worked on my change up. It was some of the best advice in my mind that I received from my pitching coach. He told me to use my change up and ever since I have done just that. The strongest part of my game in my mind is my command and having the confidence to throw any of my pitches in any count.
ON: At the same time, what do you feel is the pitch that you need to work the most on improving?
ZD: I feel that I need to develop my slider more. For the last two years I have been focusing on my curve ball and I feel that it has greatly improved. So now I would like to develop my slider.
ON: Would you mind explaining to Orioles Nation the different grips you use for your curveball and change up?
ZD: My curveball is a normal curveball grip. I take a traditional two seem grip and rotate the ball towards my body. So I have my index and middle finger together and my middle finger rests on one side of the “horseshoe”. My change up is a 4 seam grip and Alan Mills described it the best as a box grip. It is like a circle change but I do not curl my index finger.
ON: Michael Ohlman had a breakout season with the Keys. His bat opened the eyes of many, but many seemed to focus on his defense and game-calling. What improvements did you see from Ohlman while he was catching for you?
ZD: Since I didn’t play until 2012 I did not pitch to Michael when he first signed. But some things that I noticed that I liked about Ohlman’s game was that we seemed to almost always be on the same page with game calling. Also he’s a big target and easy for me to throw to.
ON: Scouts often talk about pitchability and whether a pitcher understands the process of being more than just a thrower. Orioles Nation has often noted your aptitude of pitching. How have you learned to be more than just a thrower and what people have helped you learn the art of pitching?
ZD: The only person I have ever taken pitching lessons from, besides my dad, just so happens to be an ex-oriole, Eric Bell. He taught me a lot of why the pitching motion works in different ways. Since I was a little kid I watched the game with my father. A big thanks to him for my knowledge of the game. We sat down and as the game went on we just kept talking about what happened there, why did this happen, so on and so on. And soon enough it developed into this pitch in this situation to this hitter.
ON: Are there certain aspects of your game that you’re focusing on this off-season? If so, what are they?
ZD: For the most part this off-season is for me to get bigger and stronger. Of course, I try and fine tune things in my motion and in my pitches but my biggest focus is in the gym.
ON: As a young guy, have any current Orioles pitchers––or any of your teammates down in the minors with you––given you any advice? Whether it be how to approach certain hitters, how to adjust to the minor league grind, or just anything in general. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received, and who was it from?
ZD: Being around friends and guys in the organization during the season I think is the best way to get information about what it’s like in the minors. With being around the guys who have slightly more or slightly less experience than myself it’s tough to get a big piece of advice. You tell stories and have conversations that you can pull knowledge from but you’ll get the most out of just being observant through the season. Also another thing is that the coaches aren’t just there to talk about the fundamentals. They were once players and it’s always good to go pick their mind a little.
ON: One last question for you, Zach. Kevin Gausman‘s superstitions and game-day rituals are all well-known within the organization by now (powdered donuts, crow-hop during warm-ups). Do you have any superstitions or game rituals that we should know about?
ZD: I don’t feel that I have any superstitions or rituals per say but I do feel like I have a routine during the game. Every inning, when I go to the mound, I put my glove on the same way and my hat on the same way. I run up the steps, with the same foot on each step, and I step over the line, with the same foot, every inning.
With over 50 appearances and 263.0 innings under his belt and a potential promotion to Double-A Bowie (mere speculation on my part) in time for opening day this spring, we could see Davies make even more strides towards a big league roster starting this upcoming season.
A big thanks to Zach for taking the time to speak with us, and all of Orioles Nation wishes him the best of luck in 2014 and beyond.