Out-standing lefty a true find for Phils
With his newfound delivery, prospect becoming one to watch
10/30/2007 2:27 PM ET
By Conor Nicholl / MLB.com
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Josh Outman has a traditional pitching motion. He stands with both feet slightly apart on the third-base side of the rubber, takes a slight step back with his right foot and pivots with his left.
Outman brings his right leg up into the natural power position and steps forward. His left arm lashes downward, and he releases a fastball ranging from 90-94 mph. Sometimes, he delivers a baffling changeup, bending curveball or nasty slider.
It's a motion that's taught, practiced and honed by thousands of youngsters across the nation. In one sense, Outman is just like those kids, learning and developing the craft for the first time.
However, he's had this motion for only three years.
"I am in a little better control of my body and more advanced athletically at age 20-21 than someone who is 12 or 13, but I am still learning the same things that they are," Outman said.
Outman used unorthodox, non-traditional mechanics that were taught by his father, Fritz Outman, in high school and college. A few months before the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, Outman decided to change his motion because the left-hander believed that he would have a better chance of making the pros.
"It wasn't something that was projectable in the minds of Major League Baseball," Outman said, "so I had a choice to keep on with it or try and get drafted, and I took a choice."
So far, the choice has yielded impressive results for the Phillies and Team USA. As a 10th-round pick out of Division II powerhouse Central Missouri State, Outman posted a 12-7 record and a 2.99 ERA at two Minor League levels in 2007. Only 23 years old, Outman posted a 2-3 record and 4.50 ERA in seven starts at Double-A Reading.
The new motion has yielded some command issues, but the Phillies are very pleased with Outman's electric stuff and overall development.
The southpaw is the third-youngest pitcher in the Phillies organization to reach the high Minors this season, trailing Carlos Carrasco and Fabio Castro.
Mike Arbuckle, Phillies assistant general manager, called Outman "a work in progress," and he said Spring Training will determine whether Outman will start the 2008 season at either Double-A Reading or Triple-A Ottawa.
"I think that he is a guy who is going to pitch in the big leagues for us before very long," Arbuckle said. "His stuff is definitely very good quality, and for him, it is just a matter of being more consistent throwing strikes and commanding his secondary pitches. When he shows us that he can throw strikes consistently and command his secondary stuff, then I think he will be in the big leagues."
Currently, Outman is matching each of the four other starters on Team USA. Outman is the second-youngest (behind Tigers prospect Dallas Trahern) and least-experienced starter on the national team's roster, but he tossed two solid innings of one-run ball in his first appearance on Saturday afternoon against the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League.
Outman will make his second and final appearance vs. AFL opponents on Thursday before the national team heads overseas for the International Baseball Federation World Cup on Nov. 6-18 in Taiwan.
"He had a nice clean delivery and had good command of three pitches," Team USA pitching coach Marcel Lachemann said.
Outman was a far different pitcher at Lindbergh High School in suburban St. Louis and at Forest Park (Mo.) Community College. His father wrote a book called "Over Powering Pitching," which details the Outman methodology.
Fritz Outman spent more than two decades studying biomechanics, and he formed what he believed was the perfect motion that would reduce strain and increase velocity.
"It was something my dad developed to help protect my arm and my brother's arm, and which other pitchers decided to use," Outman said.
The delivery starts with the pitcher raising his arm vertically with the ball, then bending it over his head until it almost reaches the opposite shoulder. The humerus is positioned straight over the head. The pitcher, who starts in the stretch, pivots with his front foot and follows through with a walking-step forward.
Outman wasn't allowed to pitch his sophomore year of high school because his motion was so unique. However, after a summer league performance, Outman returned to the mound, dominated hitters and he eventually went to Forest Park, where he earned All-American honors. Outman, who called the motion "a lot less conventional" than most, could still hit 93 mph on the radar gun.
His power arm joined Central Missouri State, based in Warrensburg, Mo., which has won the 1994 and 2003 national titles and had collected at least 50 wins in five straight seasons. Outman joined one of the greatest collegiate pitching staffs.
Darin Hendrickson, Outman's coach at Forest Park and Central Missouri State and the current coach at Division I St. Louis University, said that "he would never have another [staff] like it."
The staff featured five pitchers who were picked in the first 11 rounds of the 2005 Draft, including Outman and Division II Pitcher of the Year Danny Powers, currently at Double-A New Britain with the Twins.
Outman started slowly in 2005. The left-hander realized that he had to change his motion to progress as a pitcher and made the transition in the spring.
"That was when I started getting a lot of exposure to professional scouts and made a switch," Outman said. "So it has kind of been a learning process since then.
"I really had to learn how to pitch again."
Outman started the season 0-2 before he won his last 10 straight decisions, including eight strong innings against Delta State University in the Division II College World Series. Hendrickson called the performance "one of the greatest I had ever seen."
However, many scouts saw Outman earlier in the season, when the left-hander was still developing his new mechanics. He dropped to the Phillies in the 10th round. Hendrickson believed Outman could have slotted much higher and said the left-hander would be the quickest Central Missouri State pitcher to make it to the big leagues.
"I think he was a steal in the 10th round," Hendrickson said. "He was the special guy on a special staff, but he had the other intangible: He was a left-handed arm that was going to get better and better."
Outman would have been picked further down if he hadn't changed his motion and mechanics.
"I think it's probably fair to say that he would have been drafted much lower, because people would have been afraid of the injury factor and so on," Arbuckle said. "I think that making a change to a traditional approach definitely benefited him."
The delivery presents some yearly challenges. At every level, Outman has struck out at least 7.29 hitters per nine innings, a strong indicator that he has quality stuff and can frequently miss bats.
On the other hand, Outman's walk rate has been at least 4.14 per nine frames, a sign that he's still developing. Outman believes his control is more of an issue with the new motion than mechanical problems.
"I struggled every season a little bit trying to figure out what I am doing," Outman said, "because at the same time, it is not easy to learn something new and then face the caliber of hitters that I was.
"[The control problems] were more of a function of learning what I was doing and learning how to use my body in a certain way."
Still, it's that new way and that overpowering stuff that has put Outman on Team USA and the fast track to the Major Leagues.
Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com.