Prospect Interview: D-Backs’ Mason McCullough Seeing Hard Work Pay Off

After battling command issues earlier this season, Arizona Diamondbacks pitching prospect Mason McCullough is finally reaping the fruits of his labor.

Arizona Diamondbacks pitching prospect Mason McCullough might already have the stuff to get big league hitters out. At least that is what MLB Pipeline has to say about the 25-year-old right-hander after ranking him as the No. 30 prospect in the D-Backs farm system. The Diamondbacks drafted McCullough in the fifth round of the 2014 First Year Player Draft.

But in order to succeed at the big league level, McCullough has worked on limiting walks.

McCullough, who played college baseball at Lander University in Greenwood, South Carolina, finished his first professional season in 2014 with a 3.55 ERA in 13 games for Class-A Short Season Hillsboro. But, he struggled the next two seasons, averaging a 4.55 ERA in 78 apperances (85.1 IP) between Class-A Full Season Kane County and Class A Advanced Visalia.

Following a phenomenal first few months with Visalia last season, McCullough made his Double-A debut on June 24. As a member of the Jackson Generals bullpen, he went 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA in 24 apperances (24.0 IP).

McCullough said better preparation helped him succeed in 2017. “Everybody says you need to take a break at the end of a long season and I did but only about a week and then got back to it” McCullough said. “I think just knowing how well you’ve prepared gives you a mental and it is maintaining that throughout the course of the season.”

Major Changes

Before last season, McCullough switched the grip of his slider. This allowed him to gain better control with it. He used it more it and batters do not see it very well.

He also abandoned his four-seam fastball in favor of a two-seam sinker. This helped him miss the barrel of the bat at a higher rate and it made the slider even harder to hit. As a result, he struck out 14.1 batters per nine innings last season, up from his career average of 11.1 innings.

Arizona @Dbacks prospect Mason McCullough sits down with @joejacquezaz and discusses his refined approach to pitching in the sport's higher levels.Click To Tweet

“I didn’t really experience a drop in velocity when I went from a four-seam to a two-seam,” McCullough said. “So it was kind of like if I can throw one with the same speed and have it move why not do that.”

McCullough has continued to get batters out this season. In 10 apperances for Jackson, he owns a 2.70 ERA. He has allowed three earned runs with 12 strikeouts and opponents are hitting only .184 against him. Hits have been hard to come by against McCullough. Opposing batters have hit only .188 and have struck out 217 times against him in his 166 career minor league innings.

Keep It Simple Stupid

But in order to accomplish his ultimate goal of pitching in the big leagues, McCullough said he needs to throw the ball in the strike zone more consistently.

“I have tried to simplify everything,” McCullough said. “Only going out of the stretch…working a lot on (throwing) fastballs down in the zone and focusing more middle (of the plate).”

His 1.39 career WHIP is high for a reliever and so far this season, he has walked nine batters to go along with those 12 punch outs. His stuff helps him pitch in and out of jams, but he knows constantly getting in trouble will come back to bite him more often than not against big league hitters.

After walking eight batters in the span of five appearances between April 12th and the 24th, McCullough has only issued a free pass once in his last three appearances.

Mason McCullough’s coaches said it all comes down to believing in himself. “Just to keep everything simple and trust my stuff,” McCullough said. “It may be one of those things where I am focusing more middle of the plate on days where I did struggle to hit certain spots.”

Follow McCullough on Twitter @mason_m_32

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