TAMPA, FL - Coming back from the offseason, no one was more prepared to hit Spring Training than…
Wooten Pulling A Nuno?
"That doesn't matter to me," Wooten said abruptly. "All I care about is going out there and giving my team a chance to win and focusing on getting better every time I go out there."
Wooten has done exactly that for the Yankees since signing a free agent deal with them last June. He posted a combined 1.97 ERA over two A-ball levels last season and reported to Spring Training this year ready to improve his game even more.
"I think Spring Training went well for me this year," he said. "It was good to get back out there. In Spring Training, I added a curveball this year. So the main focus was on the curveball and I did a weight ball program this season."
Once again he has been quite consistent this season, allowing three earned runs or less in all nine of his starts and has posted a solid 3.25 ERA so far.
"He's a better pitcher this year," said Tampa pitching coach Danny Borrell, who also coached Wooten in Charleston last season. "He understands his game a little bit more. The curveball he added since last year [and it] is a nice addition."
"I think this year he's stronger physically." manager Al Pedrique added. "Now he understands what type of pitcher he is so he's working more on his weaknesses than his strengths. The fastball has better life.
"He's locating the fastball better, and he's using the changeup effectively and that's why the fastball is looking harder than last year."
With a fastball that averages 88-92 mph and three secondary pitches that are more solid than spectacular, a 'crafty lefty' is perhaps the best term to use when describing Wooten. The same could be said of current big leaguer Vidal Nuno.
Nuno, originally drafted by the Cleveland Indians before his unceremonious release and subsequent success with the Yankees, showcased similar stuff coming up through the farm system and his rise to the big leagues and comparable back-story serve as inspiration to Wooten.
"Yeah absolutely," Wooten agreed. "Any time you see a guy that pitches like you, similar resemblance, it's always good to look to them, see what they do to get inspiration and just little keys and tricks along the way."
The comparison isn't lost on Borrell either.
"Yeah without a doubt," Borrell concurred. "You know they're both very similar and pretty interesting back-stories. Wooten is one of the better athletes I've ever seen, so anything that puts his mind to, he's going to be able to do it. He's certainly very reminiscent of Nuno."
Obviously there is one glaring difference between Nuno and Wooten; one is pitching in the big leagues and the other in the Florida State League. So what does Wooten need to do to complete the Nuno comparison?
"Improvement-wise...just execution for him," Borrell said. "Since he doesn't throw 95, 96, he's needs to execute down the zone, so the more he does that, the better he's going to be. We'll just continue to work on that.
"He's been good. He's been throwing a bunch of strikes and just been working on his fastball command, but he's been good all season.
"He's anywhere from 88 to 92, so averaging around 89, and got a little different fastball. He's got a lot of zing to it. It plays faster than what it reads.
"Right now slider is his go to pitch. He loves it. He'll throw it at any count. We're trying to get him to almost pitch a little bit backwards, try to get him to use curveball a little bit more and use the changeup a little bit more, that will make his slider even better.
"I think if you put all four of them together, fastball, change, curve, slider, they all play at major league levels. Now you look at them by themselves, I think they all do as well. So he's got a pretty good pitch package."
While none of the pitches themselves grade out as plus pitches, it's the totality of his arsenal and command that flash Nuno-like potential.
"He's showing better command with all three of his pitches," Pedrique added. "He's learning how to use the changeup in fastball counts which helps him to keep the hitter off balance, and I think he's been doing a great job.
"If he stays healthy, being a lefty, throwing strikes, you don't have to throw hard to get people out. That's one thing this year he understands better and now he's convinced if he locates all his pitches, keeps the ball down, working on the count, and uses the changeup in the right situation and right spot, he could be successful at the hard level."
Wooten just needs to keep putting up numbers like he has and remain as consistent as he is thus far in his Yankee career, and perhaps someday he too will get his big league shot like Vidal Nuno has so he can put the finishing touches on yet another reclamation story.
"I hope so. I actually got to meet him last year when he was down in the Himes complex when I first signed. I talked to him, and a lot of people have told me I'm kind of like him in his pitching style, so it would be pretty cool if I could do what he did," Wooten concluded.
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