Q&A with Savannah Pitching Coach Marc Valdes

Valdes likes Kyle Allen's promise

SAVANNAH, GA - Now two months into the season, Savannah Sand Gnats pitching coach Marc Valdes sits downs with InsidePitchMagazine.com for a Q&A session regarding his young staff. What has made Jeff Kaplan so impressive this season? What positives does he see in Jeurys Familia? What does he think the future could hold for Kyle Allen? Find out the answers to those questions and more.

InsidePitchMagazine.com: Kyle Allen has a good fastball and a strong changeup, but how is his breaking ball coming along? How important is continued improvement with his sequencing? What is one area of his game that needs improvement that will be key to his success? Kyle has spent time as both a starter and reliever for Savannah what is his current role on the team and where do you see that taking him in the future?

Marc Valdes: His breaking ball is coming along. I'd say right now it's his third best pitch but it's not too far behind his other two good pitches. Right now he just needs to get innings in and be consistent. If he does that this kid can be something special.

He's coming along nicely but Kyle is still very young and it takes a while and a lot of years of experience. He's gotten a lot better with his sequencing and the more pitches he throws the more we'll be able to see him come along.

I think that once you get into this setting here you want to see consistent outings each time and I think that so far he has done that. We like to teach all the pitchers to get quick outs on three or four pitches and when he is able to do that consistently I think he will be able to bring his game to a whole new level.

Right now he's getting experience in all areas. He's getting experience coming into the start of the game and setting the pace and also coming in the middle or late in games when the game is tight or with runners on base. This kid has a chance to be a starter in the big leagues for a long time.

Inside Pitch: Robert Carson has the good fastball/slider combination, but how is his changeup coming along? He has demonstrated very good command of the strike zone this year - what steps has that required and what do you continue to focus on with him?

Valdes: Like Allen, his changeup isn't far behind his other two pitches. He's getting a lot more comfortable throwing it behind in counts and in situations with guys on base when hitters are gearing up for fastballs.

We're going to continue to focus on first pitch strikes with Carson. He's definitely getting better at throwing his off speed pitches early in the count for strikes, so if he keeps doing that your going to see him elevate his game.

Inside Pitch: What has allowed Jeff Kaplan to be so dominant this season? He's known for sinking fastball what other pitches are in his repertoire and what are your thoughts on them? He is great with runners on base, explain his focus in tough situations.

Valdes: His mound presence and his focus have been a big part of his success this season. He's an older guy and he's able to understand situations and know when to throw certain pitches in certain counts and situations. He has a good grasp of when to go fastball and when to mike in off speed pitches. He's playing as well as anybody on the staff right now. He is the total package and he's not far along from moving up.

His fastball slider and changeup of course are his three big pitches, with his changeup being his third best pitch right now. He's been working on his changeup and as most guys at this level, that's a pitch that is still early in its development with young pitchers. In college you don't want to throw that many with those aluminum bats because hitters can get cheap base hits. Him coming along with that changeup is going to allow him to have success at a higher level.

Kap is definitely a bulldog out there. When he's got guys on base he steps his game up to another level. Not to say he doesn't when runners aren't on base but when he has one or a few guys on with one or two outs, he elevates his game to a different level. That focus and concentration is something that a lot of the younger guys on the staff can learn from.

Inside Pitch: Conversely, Jeurys Familia is a very young pitcher who is having a lot of success in this league? What about his repertoire has allowed for that success? His walk ratio is a bit high, what approaches are being taken to give him a little better command?

Valdes: With his stuff, he's been a pleasant surprise. I knew he was going to do well because he has good stuff, but his ability to avoid and limit having those bad innings is a compliment to him. His ability to get out of innings with runners on base as well as go after the first hitter is a plus and good for his development.

He's got a plus fastball right now and his breaking ball is looking shaper from when I saw him a few months ago in extended. His changeup is really coming along. He's been throwing it a lot more and he is really getting command of it, both early and late in counts. It has got him quick innings, getting out in 10 to 15 pitches and that's always a plus.

When you got a young guy like this, he just has to focus and take it pitch by pitch in order to get those walks done. If he is able to minimize those walks, there is no reason why he can't go up to the eighth inning.

Inside Pitch: Elvin Ramirez is a hard-thrower with good movement on his fastball, but can you describe the development of his secondary pitches? How have they helped him find success in his second year in Savannah?

Valdes: His secondary pitches are coming along. His changeup has improved to compliment his fastball. He's working on getting his breaking ball over the plate early in counts, that way he doesn't get too predictable.

Some of these guys sit fastball and if he can get that breaking ball going then he can keep hitters off balance and that is the key. We like all of our pitchers to keep the ball low and he has been able to do that so far.

Inside Pitch: Eric Beaulac entered the system with a good fastball/slider combination, but how has his changeup improved and played into his success? What makes him a good finisher of at-bats?

Valdes: His changeup is improving tremendously. This is a kid that came out of college and only had about two pitches and didn't learn how to pitch in certain situations and with runners on base and he has really been able to come into his own this season.

He is probably one of the better athletes in our organization as well as our pitching staff, so he's improving quite a bit. The other day he gave up four runs in the first inning and usually guys at this age and at this level can recover from that but he showed he could and came back and pitched four solid innings. These guys have to know that they can win or lose the ballgame in the first couple of innings or late into the game and he has been able to do well with that and keep his composure and he's done a great job so far.

Inside Pitch: Josh Stinson is a former starter, but how is he taking to the full time role in the bullpen? He is a guy who had four pitches when drafted, but how have you slimmed down his approach to maximize his success?

Valdes: He's definitely a leader on our pitching staff, he's been here a few years now. He's got a good curveball and a good slider and he's fastball is consistently in the low 90s. He is definitely a guy to keep an eye out for in the future because of his size and his ability to throw any pitch at any part of a count.

He still has all four pitches but it's tough when you're in the bullpen and you try to not get beat with your third or forth best pitch. Not to that he has a third or fourth best pitch, they're all good. He's got two different breaking balls that he can go to at any part of the count so that's what makes him special.

Inside Pitch: Jimmy Johnson is not a hard thrower, but has been so valuable and productive and not just as a specialist. What makes him so capable of beating hitters on both sides despite limited velocity? What do you like about his approach that makes him so effective?

Valdes: He's definitely not just a specialist. He's one of the best guys on the staff and you know what you're going to get out of him time after time. His fastball isn't going to blow by a lot of guys, but when you have control over your three pitches and your locating and thinking about what pitches to throw to what hitters, that's something that makes him a good pitcher. He's definitely Mr. Consistent for us.

He throws the ball hard when he wants to and can reach 88. Hitters can't be anticipating an average fastball that's 85 to 86, they have to look out for the breaking ball and the changeup. His changeup is effective because all of his pitches come out of the same arm slot and that can be tricky to deal with as a hitter.

Right now it's the old saying, if it's not broke don't fix it. We continue to work with his flack ground work and he's working on that on his own but we're happy where he is right now.

Inside Pitch: Chris Schwinden has been a swingman for you guys. He has a good fastball but his secondary pitches needed to come along this season. Have you seen the progress? What further steps does he need to take?

Valdes: Coming out of spring training, he was maybe one of the best pitchers in our entire organization the way he was throwing the ball. When he came here he started off the same way he did in spring training going seven innings before getting a little setback with a tired arm. We were very cautious with him, because we think highly of him and aren't going to throw him out into the fire without us knowing he is ready to go.

Right now I see him coming out as a starter. He's a guy that's got that's got four pitches and he's normally in the strike zone quite a bit.

Hopefully he will be back in the starting rotation sometime later this week and hopefully he'll be able to do as well as he did before he went on the DL.

Inside Pitch: Finally, give your overall thoughts on the pitching staff's performance to this point in the season?

Valdes: Right now I can't ask anymore from these guys. These guys show up every morning for weights and a pre stretch. So I'm very happy about how this staff is coming along. They are dedicated and have good work ethic. Overall, they are all coming along nicely.

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