Wordekemper Perfecting The Split In Arizona

Wordekemper has but one goal in the AFL

Tampa reliever Eric Wordekemper won the Florida State League Pitcher of the Year award this past season after he went 2-0 with 33 saves and a minuscule 0.57 ERA in his first year as a closer. As much as his stuff progressed in 2007, he says he's in the Arizona Fall League to further develop his splitter.

"It was [surprising] because throughout the whole season I knew it was a possibility I could go to Hawaii or Arizona because there was one high-A exemption," Eric Wordekemper said of being selected to go to the Arizona Fall League. "I was hoping I would be the lucky one out of A-ball to come out here but overall I was surprised and it is a great opportunity for me so I was very excited about it."

Considering he was drafted in the 46th round of the 2005 draft, it had been hard for him to get noticed in a pitching rich organization like the Yankees despite entering the 2007 season with a 2.05 career ERA and his breakout campaign with the Tampa Yankees has landed him squarely on the prospect map.

"It's good because it means they recognize me amongst all the pitchers in our organization and we have a lot of good ones," he acknowledged. "It feels good that I was chosen and I know I've got to get this split-finger down and that'll really help my success."

Seeing a boost in his velocity to the point where he averaged 91 MPH with his fastball this past season, and developing a sharper slider, Wordekemper's main task at hand is to improve the command of his split-finger fastball.

"My split did progress as the season went on and then out here in the Arizona Fall League it's getting better as well," he revealed. "Obviously it's tough to control, and I'm such a control pitcher that I want to know where it's going, so I just need to teach myself and learn how to throw the thing and trust that the movement will do its thing.

"I just need to gain confidence with it and trust that it will do its action. I'm out here to get some exposure and to get some more innings to work on that split so next year it can be my go-to strikeout pitch."

This is his second year throwing the splitter, and while it can be a devastating pitch for him at times, he is looking for it to be much more consistent than it has been.

"Keeping it down in the zone," he listed as where he'd like to improve his splitter. "If I leave it up it flattens out but when I throw it down in the zone is when I get my movement on it, just trusting it when I throw it and not hold back on it."

Pitching against high draft picks and the top prospects in the game would normally be somewhat intimidating for a player of his draft status, but Wordekemper sees it as an opportunity to prove himself.

"I didn't really know a whole lot about it [the AFL]," he admitted. "I knew there were high scoring games and with the dry air down here the ball really does fly. Obviously it is going to be a huge challenge for me with all the Double-A and Triple-A hitters down here, and with all the huge prospects in the league.

"Really, with all the teams we play, it's like playing an All-Star game everyday. It's all the three and four hitters from different organizations and then you've also got all the really fast guys from the organizations as well. It's definitely an eye-opener and a good challenge. If you do well out here it definitely means a lot."

Getting touched for five hits and three earned runs in his very first outing with the Peoria Javelinas, while he would like to do well in his remaining time, he is prepared to sacrifice winning results for the sake of development.

"These guys are going to hit you around. They're ex-big leaguers, Triple-A guys, Double-A guys, big prospects - but my goal is to minimize big innings. I'd like to not give up runs obviously but ultimately it's all about the split-finger and if I get hit around with it, it won't bother me too much because I've got to throw it to develop it."

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