Wordekemper relies on control and mechanics
Not many Yankee hurlers can boast the type of numbers Eric Wordekemper had with the Charleston Riverdogs this past season. Going 4-3 with a 1.81 ERA in 39 games in the South Atlantic League, he often gets overlooked in what has become a pitching-rich Yankee farm system and Wordkemper says he's used to it.
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"It was a good season," Eric Wordekemper said of his 2006 season. "It was a good experience for my first full season. I learned a lot. Scott Aldred was my pitching coach this year and I felt him and I got a lot accomplished. Overall it was a great experience and I felt I definitely made strides forward."
A 46th round pick out of Creighton University in 2005, he put up solid numbers in his professional debut with the Gulf Coast League Yankees that same year, going 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA.
Not exactly armed with overpowering stuff, Wordekemper is a control artist who focuses on command and mechanics.
"Scott [Aldred] and I mainly focused on my mechanics," he listed as the biggest lesson he learned in 2006. "I was cleaning up my delivery to make my pitches more consistent."
Posting an inflated 5.88 ERA in his first two seasons with Creighton, he went a perfect 6-0 with an ERA of 3.12 in his final year of school before beginning his professional career.
Getting better in each subsequent season since that time, and now owning a career 2.08 ERA in 51 professional games, he credits his improved command as the big reason for his turnaround.
"Definitely my command and l like to think my mental preparation and mound presence has a lot to do with it too," he listed as his biggest strengths. "I've always focused on the small stuff and details. Definitely command and working on the little things make yourself better."
Armed with a four-seam fastball that sits comfortably in the 88-91 MPH range and tops out at 93 MPH, he compliments his repertoire with a sinking two-seam fastball, a rapidly improved slider that sits 83-84 MPH, and a developing split-finger around 81-82 MPH.
"I don't really say I have a best pitch," he admitted. "I always just like to say my command. I feel like I can throw my fastball whenever. I also felt my slider was a big improvement this year. I'm starting to feel like I can throw it in any count, which is great. I'm still working on that split-finger."
What has caught the attention of the Yankees has been Wordekemper's ability to consistently throw strikes and avoid the disastrous outings. He allowed more than one earned run in just three of his forty appearances (he made one appearance with AAA-Columbus) this past season.
"Consistency," he listed as his top goal for 2007, "just picking up where I left off this past season. It was a great experience getting up to triple-A and even having a chance to throw. I'm not going to try and change anything."
"I'm going to stay consistent with what I did last year. If there a few bumps in the road, we'll make adjustments, but as far as goals, just consistency out of me and fine-tuning everything."
One of Wordekemper's other strong attributes is his versatility. Making four starts in 2006 and seven starts in 2005, he can be used as both a middle reliever and a spot starter, a role he relishes.
"It was great this year, I loved everything I did," he said of being able to start and relieve. "Ultimately I think I'm going to be that middle relief guy. I don't know if I'll quite be a closer. I'd like to think I could be with my mound presence, but I don't have that electrifying stuff, so they say. I think ultimately I'll be in middle relief, but if I can pick up a few starts here and there, that'll be fine too."
While he understands his limitations stuff-wise, Wordekemper realizes there's more to pitching than lighting up the radar guns. He knows he can more than make up for his lack of stuff with guile, command, and strong mechanics.
"Growing up I always liked [John] Smoltz. Obviously he's one of the great ones. But his mechanics are real smooth and I like his mound presence. He was a starter and moved to the bullpen for a while. Granted he throws a little bit harder and whatnot, but I think our mechanics and presence are similar," he said when asked to compare his game to a big leaguer.
But because he doesn't exactly throw hard or put up the high number of strikeout totals, Wordekemper gets lost in the shuffle of an ever-developing pitching organization.
"I think so," he said if he thinks if the Yankees farm system is deep with pitching prospects. "I think it's very strong. I think we've made a good draft all-around. I think in all the leagues this year, we were pretty solid [pitching-wise] as an organization. It's great, but I don't look at other guys and judge myself off of other guys ever, because ultimately you have to look at yourself and that's all you can worry about."
As a later-round draft pick, he realizes he will need to continue to put up the numbers to inch his way closer to the big leagues. And while he might not get the attention he deserves along the way, he also acknowledges the fact he could sneak up and surprise some people in the future, something he's used to doing.
"I don't try and think about that stuff," Wordekemper said when asked if he felt he was underrated. "I came from a very small high school so I guess you could say I'm used to it. I kind of like it. You don't have tons of pressure on you like some of these other kids have. It's not a problem for me. If I can fly under the radar and make it up there [to the big leagues], it makes for a better story I guess."
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