Name: Jack Cassel
DOB: August 8, 1979
Veteran pitching coach Gary Lance has a pet project. He loves the way Cassel approaches the game and is committed to making him a major league pitcher.
How did he reach the assessment after the year he had?
Cassel began the year on the outside looking in. He was released in spring training only to be signed days later and began the year in Triple-A Portland.
In 18 games, including 11 starts, he went 3-5 with a 6.48 ERA. The opposition hit .306 off him and he was demoted to Double-A Mobile on June 30.
"I was a little upset," Portland pitching coach Gary Lance admitted. "I didn't want him to be sent to Double-A. I understand it is there job to see the big picture. But he wasn't just having success in Double-A, he had success with me too. It is just when he fell he fell big and in the PCL those numbers can get up there in a blink of an eye.
"This park, if you don't come with your best game, your ERA will be out of sight before you can get another pitcher up to get him in the game. Jack had success with me but just didn't have it consistently enough to stay there when we were getting guys back from the big leagues and somebody had to go."
It was the best thing that could have happened to the kid. Without pressure and a quality defense behind him, Cassel went on to dominate the Southern League and earned his confidence back.
He went 6-3 over 12 starts with a 2.29 ERA and was a steadying force on the mound for the BayBears. He allowed two runs or less in nine of those starts and he held the opposition to a .224 average.
"Jack came in and was really a stabilizer for us once he got there," 2006 Mobile manager Gary Jones said. "He really did a great job for us. You see a guy who almost was released to begin the season to putting himself back in the picture. He did a very nice job when he came back."
Cassel is a control pitcher that sports a quality sinking fastball with late movement that is conducive to ground ball outs.
His fastball sits comfortably between 88 and 92 MPH but it is the late run that keeps the ball pounded into the ground. He has flirted with a solid breaking ball but it hasn't been consistent with it.
"Jack was just amazing," Mobile pitching coach Glenn Abbot said. "I was really glad that he signed back with us. The guy had a good year.
"He commanded everything and became consistent with his breaking ball. When he came down we talked about what he had to do to become consistent with his breaking ball and he tightened it up and made it a little more crisper than it was. The only time I had ever seen him was in spring training and it was much better."
Consider this – 76 percent of the non-strikeout outs he recorded in Portland were ground balls. With a defense that was sub par, he wasn't getting the kind of help he needed from the people behind him.
Conversely, 77 percent of the non-whiff outs he recorded were of the ground ball variety with Mobile and his defense was one of the better ones in the system with two players up the middle who had great range and athleticism.
Some may recall Cassel's two-year stretch without surrendering a regular season homer, a span of 158.2 innings and 114 appearances.
With batters knocking his balls consistently in the ground, Cassel allows his defense to do the work and he reaps the rewards.
Cassel has flipped between long relief and starter over the last two seasons. The right-hander profiles best as a middle reliever down the road and the Padres trusted Lance in bringing him back as a six-year free agent, staying with the only team he has ever known.
"That is going to end up being a story for me like Clay Hensley was," Lance began, "because – I went to bat for Jack Cassel and said, ‘this guy is going to pitch in the big leagues for somebody. Maybe not for the San Diego Padres but this guy is going to pitch in the big leagues. He is going to come in in the middle innings get a ground ball double play for somebody and out of the game. This is what he is going to do.'
"Jack Cassel is going to pitch in the big leagues. He and I go back to the Fort Wayne days to when I dropped his arm slot down to the low three-quarters it is now. When I saw him it was straight over the top, getting nobody out. We went to work on mechanics in the Fort Wayne days and he is one of my guys. It is a combination of him being one of my guys and I know he is going to pitch in the big leagues."
ETA: This has to be considered the year for the 27-year-old Cassel. Picked by the Padres in the 25th-round in 2000, the team has spent a considerable investment in his career. But the Padres have also had a tremendous bullpen over the last few years – where does Cassel fit? Success will certainly open up the doors for the California native but Lance may have touched upon something when he noted Cassel may not pitch in the big leagues for San Diego.