Q&A with Rick Waits - Part IV

Maikel Cleto burns up the radar gun

In this fourth and final section of InsidePitchMagazine.com's Q&A with Mets Pitching Coordinator Rick Waits, he gives his opinion on Jeurys Familia, what he likes about Robert Carson's progression, the power of Maikel Cleto, and much more.

InsidePitchMagazine.com: For a young left-hander, what do you think of Robert Carson's progression? He throws hard but likes to pitch to contact. Do you think that expresses a mature approach?

Rick Waits: I think when he started his year in 2007 coming in out of high school, he really only had the fastball and changeup without a breaking ball. So we spent a year trying to get him a breaking ball and it turned out to be a slider. By the middle of 2008, he had a very good slider and I was surprised and pleased that he had learned it so quickly. To tell you the truth, I thought it would take a little bit longer but the pitch came on quickly and he finished the second half of this season with three solid pitches.

The main thing with him is that he's a quiet leader and is a leader of a ballclub. I think he's also learned a lot about conditioning and preparing his arm and body for games. He came into good routines and works hard, so if anything, this was a year he found out a lot about himself and having three good pitches to work with and put them together. At the same time, his fastball velocity went up from 2007 to 2008 which is something we're always pleased to see. I'm really looking forward to seeing the Robert Carson we saw in the second half of 2008 for an entire year. I know he's excited for that too.

Inside Pitch: Josh Stinson had a very important turn-around season this year. Was it a matter of confidence with him? What's the change you have seen in him?

Waits: I think Stinson is a kid that came out of high school and pitched in the Gulf Coast League and impressed us so much for a kid out of high school that he got to pitch in Savannah in his first year. The next year of course he went to Savannah and got to find out some things about himself. Conditioning was an element he had to learn as he was tight and had to get more flexible especially with his bottom half and he's done that. He's got a curveball and a slider and I think we're realizing his slider is better than his curveball, even though he has a good curveball and he'll continue to throw his curveball. The other thing is that he has real good movement on his fastball and in his own mind didn't realize that and didn't maximize implementing that into his pitching. He has a good fastball with good sinking movement.

He's a real good worker and really got ahead early in his career. I think he was in Savannah which was a challenge for him, but he had a good year and had he been somewhere else he would have a great year. He's battled a little bit with his confidence, but to me he's overcome every hurdle that's been put in front of him. I think that the pitcher that Stinson is going to be, we'll see the start of next year. This is a pitcher that has got two and a half years under his belt and is still only 20 years old, so he's done a lot of pitcher as a young guy at a high level. All the things that I've said about his body and his pitches, I think he'll put together next year and be a strong pitcher. He's doing a very good job in Hawaii right now where he's working on his slider.

Inside Pitch: Elvin Ramirez is another pitcher with good size and a potential sleeper. How would you detail his development and what are the next steps with him?

Waits: He's coming along just perfect and I really love this kid. I look at him more than a sleeper because I really believe in him. He's a kid that did not pitch many innings even as an amateur down in the Dominican before he got to the professional level. He has a very good sinker and a very good slider and both are big league quality, but he just hasn't pitched much and that probably held him back about a year and a half. This year he went to Savannah and was one of the better pitchers in that league as far as consistency.

He added the changeup which came along great, but the main thing this year with him was an air of confidence. He really knows that he can be a good pitcher and he's really taking it to the next step. Here's a kid from A-ball that is going to have a chance to pitch with the top level Venezuelan Winter League team this winter and that alone, being around other big league pitchers and Triple-A pitchers will help his development even more. I really expected this kid to come out even better next year. I think he's also a kid who can be a starter or reliever given the type of stuff he has, but for now he's a starter.

Inside Pitch: Maikel Cleto throws hard and walks few. What are the most positive parts of his game and as a young pitcher and what are the steps he continues to take?

Waits: I think alongside guys like Rustich and Kunz and Holt and Mejia, Cleto had one of the better arms in the organization. He hit 100 MPH many times this year, but pitched at 95-96 MPH. He's young, very inexperienced and came from our academy in the Dominican, but when he first came in after he was signed, he really didn't have a delivery and we had to find one for him. He's now feeling comfortable with his delivery, but I think the main thing for him was a breaking ball and a changeup. He had a changeup and a breaking ball, but they weren't as good as it should be and he's taken the last year to work on both.

His changeup actually came a long way this year to where he was using it a lot. His breaking ball still needs to get a little sharper and when he does that it, it will be more of a put away pitch. If you noticed, someone like him, as hard as he throws he doesn't get as many strikeouts as you expect. But when he gets a sharp breaking ball and it's a put away pitch, he'll end up getting more strikeouts with his fastball as they work off each other. He's at the academy this winter and we continue to work on getting his breaking ball sharper.

Inside Pitch: Nick Carr is a pitcher who endured some of the toughest times of any pitcher in the organization this year. He has a real live arm and a big fastball, and finished the year pitching the best he had all year, but what needs to be done to make sure he can do that start to finish?

Waits: The one thing I admired about him this year was that he really stuck it out through a tough year where he took losses in games that he pitched well in. He pitched some games where he left with the lead and didn't get wins and it kind of snowballed on him. At times he let it bother him like a lot of pitchers would, but he didn't give up and I really liked that about him and he kept going after it. The main thing is, and he knows this, is that he needs to throw more strikes. Any time you start getting some losses or hit a little bit, you have a tendency to aim your pitches, shy away from contact or just try a different approach. I think as he got to the last month of the season, he realized he has great stuff but it's a matter of him challenging hitters, getting ahead in counts and putting hitters way.

Secondly, he's got to believe in his fastball. He's got a really good fastball with plus movement and yet sometimes he believes more in his slider and curveball. Just like with any young pitcher, he needs to develop more confidence in his fastball and go after hitters. I really believe he'll have a year in 2009 that is totally opposite to what happened this year. I'm excited about him because it's tough to pitch at the big major league level unless you have adversity and you figure out some things about yourself and the changes you have to make, but he had adversity this year and really learned a lot from it.

Inside Pitch: There is a lot of buzz building around Jeurys Familia. What are the strongest parts of his game and what is the approach you are taking with him?

Waits: I think the main thing with him is that he's learning on the job. He is a big kid, strong, flexible and an incredible hard worker. He wants to throw every day but he's a starter, but he understood right from the beginning the need to throw strikes no matter what pitch it was. Another plus for him is that he gets stronger as the game goes on. When you have a young kid like that who understands his delivery—and there are kids who all have deliveries—but he understood what his delivery needed to be. That's what we were trying to discover this year.

He didn't have a changeup before the year and now he's got a good changeup that he knows how to use. His breaking ball got sharper and he'll throw it for strikes and a fastball with natural movement. That's something I love about him—nothing he throws is straight. But we need to careful with him, not rush him, let him learn on the job and let him get innings. Next year, he'll have a normal season of innings and for him he'll get to understand the five-day rotation no matter what level he's at.

Another plus for him is that he's an incredible competitor. He'll give up a run early in the game and that'll be all he gives up because he gets tougher later in the games and gets tougher when he pitches in the lead. We really like this kid. He may be young and inexperienced on the mound and yet you wouldn't notice that when you see him pitch.

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