Making the transition to professional baseball from college baseball can be extremely challenging for a young pitcher. In professional baseball, pitchers need to learn how to command their off-speed pitches more effectively and work out of certain situations as the hitters they face at the next level are more polished and have a better plate approach than some of their college counterparts.
Right-handed pitcher Jon Wandling understands this transition first hand, as he has made some adjustments to his game since joining the Toronto Blue Jays organization in June of 2014.
Preparing for the next level at the University of Southern Indiana, Wandling was a standout as a senior, and was named a Division II All-American. He was a key piece of the Screaming Eagles National Championship squad where the righty took home regional MVP honors.
But despite the success he enjoyed in college, Wandling wasn’t high on many teams’ draft boards. Unselected during the 40-round amateur draft, the former collegiate standout received the news he was waiting for shortly after the draft concluded, as a representative from the Blue Jays organization called and offered the young pitcher a professional contract.
“Being signed by the Blue Jays was awesome,” stated Wandling. “Anytime you get an opportunity to achieve one of your goals and work towards one of your dreams, it’s pretty cool. It was a very special moment for me and my life. It was really cool that I was able to share that moment with my family and parents as well.”
What made the moment even more special for Wandling was the fact that he worked extremely hard at Southern Indiana to achieve the opportunity to pitch at the next level. Viewed more as a thrower than a pitcher in high school, Wandling re-invented his game thanks to the help of his pitching coach Jeremy Kuester.
“Southern Indiana prepared me well for professional baseball,” explained Wandling. “Pitching coach Jeremy Kuester did a very good job with me. I was basically just a thrower and Jeremy really turned me into a pitcher. He taught me how to throw in-and-out. He also helped with my off-speed pitches in terms of locating them better. He taught me that your off-speed pitches don’t have to be the best out there as long as you can locate them and work out of jams with them. I learned how to approach the game one pitch at a time. The program showed me how to compete and win at a high level. That’s something you can take anywhere you go. Hard work always pays off in the end.”
Taking the knowledge he learned in college and applying it to his first season of professional baseball, Wandling split time between three teams in 2014. Seeing action with the GCL Blue Jays, Vancouver Canadians, and Dunedin Blue Jays respectably, Wandling maintained a 1.38 WHIP between the three clubs, as he was making adjustments to the professional game.
Looking for a promotion in 2015, Wandling entered Spring Training with one focus — to move up the organizational ladder. The pitcher knew it was going to take consistent improvements from all five of his pitches to achieve this goal. The prospect made sure to focus on what older pitchers were doing to find success in professional baseball.
“Spring training was an awesome experience,” explained Wandling. “The cool thing is that you get to see some of the older guys. You spend time with the AAA guys and the big leaguers come over to throw a couple games. It’s cool to experience that and as a player you take in as much as you can. Being at a lower level you basically become a sponge and soak up as much information as possible. You learn different tricks from different pitchers. Everybody’s 2-seam fastball is different and it’s cool to mold your game more during that time. I took away as many tips as I could implement into my arsenal. It’s really helped me a lot this year, especially with my changeup.”
Seeing action on three clubs again during his 2015 campaign, Wandling made stops with the Dunedin Blue Jays and the Vancouver Canadians before finishing up his season with the Lansing Lugnuts. Hoping to get a shot in the Midwest League during spring training, the 23-year old pitcher was thrilled when he received the news that the organization wanted him in Lansing.
“I was very excited when the organization told me I was coming to Lansing,” said Wandling. “One of my goals this year was to get here and pitch well. Being able to finish up in Lansing was a blessing and I just wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Putting up his best numbers of the season with the Lugnuts, Wandling went 1-0 with a 4.08 ERA in 17.2 innings pitched. The prospect also had season-best numbers in opposing batting average at .212 and WHIP at 1.36.
Obviously the prospect enjoyed the fact that he performed better than at his other two stops, but the aspect he enjoyed the most was being closer to home. A native of Evansville, Indiana, Wandling enjoyed the fan support he received at each of his starts in the Midwest League.
“Yeah I get a lot of support when I’m pitching in the Midwest League,” said Wandling. “A couple of my buddies, family, and parents have been to every one of my starts in Lansing. The drives varied between three to seven hours depending on where the team was playing. It’s a lot better than them flying up to Vancouver to see me every outing. It’s always great having fan support at games, especially during away games.”
Wandling feels his success in baseball comes from his ability to locate his pitches for strikes. Using a two-seam sinking fastball, a four-seam fastball, a circle changeup, a curveball, and a slider. Wandling admits he tries to use all five pitches every outing, but if one isn’t clicking that day he’ll drop to four.
“I try to use all of my pitches,” said Wandling. “If my curveball isn’t working one day. But my slider is I’ll drop the curveball. It just depends on how things are going.”
“My biggest strength is that I’m able to go inside to any hitter, Wandling added. “That’s an area of my game that really helps me a lot, because I’m not a really hard thrower. I’m usually between 89-92 mph. I’m not a guy who throws 97 and can leave it over the middle. I’ve molded myself into a pitcher that’s going to have to hit spots. It’s worked and I’m going to continue doing that moving forward.”
A major transition he’s made in professional baseball is using his off-speed pitches early in counts. Getting ahead with the fastball in college, Wandling has noticed that professional hitters are more likely to swing early if they see a pitch they like, so he’s adjusted his approach to get into the batters head more.
“In professional baseball I’ve really developed the first pitch off-speed,” stated Wandling. “I’ve really learned how to flip them over a curveball early in the count. Depending on how hitters are taking at-bats that’s important to know how to flip them a curveball, or a changeup to get that swing-and-miss, or ground ball right away. Guys will try and ambush you and swing at first pitch. But for me it’s about locating off-speed. Instead of just throwing it, I’m putting it low and away, or up and in. That’s a big thing for me and has helped me a lot in pro ball.”
Understanding the importance of taking advantage of opportunities as they’re presented to him, Wandling has made a great connection with pitching coach Jeff Ware. With a wealth of knowledge from his playing days, the prospect feels it’s important to use Ware as a reference to better his game.
“Jeff is awesome,” stated Wandling. “I first met him in 2014 when I was moved up to Vancouver and we clicked well. Jeff really knows baseball. He’s very likeable. He’s a player’s coach. Jeff works with you and is willing to take time out of his day to help you get better. It’s great picking his brain, because he’s been there and done that in his career. Jeff is just one of those pitching coaches you can’t take for granted. I really appreciate everything he has done for me so far in my career.”
Noticing the improvements that Wandling has made since signing his professional contract, Lansing Lugnuts pitching coach Jeff Ware feels the prospect is continuing to make the right decisions on the mound for success moving forward.
“Jon Wandling handled his role well in Lansing,” stated Ware. “It was a step up from pitching in Vancouver. Jon has made some adjustments in Lansing. He’s learned how to pitch off his fastball more. He’s also used his fastball more to help set up his off-speed to get outs. He’s really learned how to pitch in certain situations and not just try to trick everybody. Jon has shown some success here this season. He was a little up-and-down at times, but he shown success and that’s what we’re looking for from him.”
The prospect will be looking to join a full season club right out of camp in 2016. Depending how his development goes during spring training fans could see Wandling join either the low-A Lansing Lugnuts, or the high-A Dunedin Blue Jays.
But wherever Jon Wandling ends up next season expect him to continue being tough on hitters as he works inside the zone and keeps hitters off-balance all year.