Becoming a professional baseball player out of high school can be a real challenge for young prospects. The tremendous talent jump between amateur competition to the skill that’s on display in the lower levels of the minor leagues can be a real culture shock for players who are not totally prepared for that transition.
Understanding this obstacle first-hand, right-handed pitcher Mark Biggs is back to doing what he loves with a totally new approach. After struggling during his first three professional seasons, the prospect made the tough decision to hang it up briefly in 2014.
But it didn’t take long for the former eighth-round pick to decide he made the wrong decision about walking away from the game he dedicated his life to since graduating from high school in 2011.
“Playing professional baseball was something I always worked hard for in my life,” said Biggs. “I’ve devoted my whole life to baseball post high school, so after a brief stint away from the game I realized I wanted to get back to the grind and pursue my dream every day.”
Shortly after returning to baseball is when Biggs made some adjustments to his game with help from pitching coach Jeff Ware. The former major leaguer helped Biggs lower his arm angle to help give more deception on his pitches. This transition has already started to show major progress during his first full season with the Lansing Lugnuts in 2015.
Posting career bests in ERA at 4.28, strikeouts with 43, and groundout-to-flyout ratio at 2.20, it was obvious that Biggs’ new approach to the game was working. While there were many positives to his season, there were still areas to improve as expected with a major change to his mechanics.
Consistency is the biggest issue with Biggs’ game at the moment. When he’s hitting his spots he’s extremely hard to get a hit against as he keeps the ball low and generates a lot of ground ball outs. However if he leaves the ball up in the zone trouble can happen quickly. With limited velocity on his fastball, hitters tend to take decent hacks at balls left up in the strike zone.
Noticing some major improvements with Biggs’ game since implementing the lower arm angle, Lugnuts pitching coach Ware likes the way the 22-year-old’s pitches look as they’re leaving the mound.
“Mark Biggs just needs to find consistency,” said Ware. “Mark started to show that towards the end of the 2014 season. We lowered his arm slot a little bit. He has more sink on his fastball and his slider has more depth. He just needs to hit the sides more and continue to pound the strike zone. Mark is a real asset when you need a groundball double play to get out of an inning.”
Biggs also uses a four-seam fastball and a changeup to go along with the pitches that Ware mentioned. While he uses a four-pitch mix every outing, he admits that he uses his two-seam fastball and slider the most when attacking hitters.
“I feel my biggest strength on the mound is getting groundballs,” said Biggs. “I’m a groundball pitcher. I use my two-seam fastball a lot to get ahead in counts and I put them away with my slider.”
Appreciative of the work that Ware has invested in his career to help him find an approach that will help him find continued success, the righty was excited for the opportunity to work with the same pitching coach for a second season.
“Jeff Ware is awesome,” said Biggs. “Jeff understands my delivery really well. He understands my game really well. We really connect well when we’re talking about pitching and learning new things. It’s been fun working with him the past two years.”
The prospect would have preferred to be further along in his development than Low-A in 2015. But Biggs understands it’s a process and when you sign young it can take longer to find your niche at every level. Luckily for him the Blue Jays are just as invested in his success as he is at finding the right approach.
“My transition has been slow and steady since going pro,” said Biggs. “It’s a big adjustment going pro after high school. There was so much I needed to learn and develop before making the next step in my career. It’s been slow and steady progress. But I’m pretty excited with where I am at right now.”
Moving up a level a year so far in his career, there’s a good chance that Biggs will be joining the Dunedin Blue Jays this April. With a distinct possibly of being a key piece of the D-Jays bullpen, Biggs will work hard to minimize mistakes in High-A as he understands the importance of locating his pitches better as he climbs the ladder.
“The hitters are more disciplined and are less likely to chase pitches out of the zone the higher you go,” explained Biggs. “I really noticed the difference in the Midwest League in 2015. The hitters make you pay for your mistakes more on higher-level teams.”
Blue Jays fans hope that Mark Biggs can continue to adjust to the talent at each level of their minor league system as he keeps playing the game he loves.