The Arizona Diamondbacks fifth-round draft pick is having success at the Class-A Short Season level
After throwing only two innings in the Arizona Rookie League, the Arizona Diamondbacks saw enough from Matt Mercer to promote him to High-A Hillsboro.
Since joining the Hops, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound right-hander has compiled a 2.57 ERA in eight starts across 14 innings pitched. Despite giving up 13 hits, Mercer has posted a 15/2 strikeout/walk ratio and zero home runs given up.
Staying true to his strengths
As most scouts will say, many young pitchers in the lower levels of the minors tend to have control and command issues for a while until they adjust to pitching at the professional level. But despite just being drafted three months ago, Mercer has displayed a commanding mound presence and a desire to attack hitters, something Mercer credits a change in the way he approaches each at-bat.
“In Hillsboro I have been pitching to my strengths instead of my opponents weaknesses,” Mercer said. “I throw a four-seam fastball so I tend to pitch up in the zone more with the spin rate to get hitters to swing under pitches.”
But in college at Oregon, Mercer was taught to do the exact opposite. “I was told and I thought the best way to pitch was down in the zone,” Mercer said. “That is just what I have been taught my whole life.” Later in his college career, Mercer had an epiphany.BBE's @joejacquezaz spoke to @Dbacks prospect @mattmercer360 about his transition to pro ball and how to pitch in the higher ranks.Click To Tweet
“I am a four seam pitcher, I throw hard, so I need to be up in the zone in order to miss bats,” he said. “I figured that out a little late, but now that I am able to do that in pro ball, it has helped me out a lot.”
Since being drafted, Mercer has also made one other big change to his game.
A new secondary pitch
Mercer threw a slider as his primary off speed pitch because it played off his fastball down in the zone.
But in order to complement the fastball up in the zone, Mercer has abandoned the slider at the professional level in favor of a curveball and a changeup. “They work better so it helps keep hitters off (balance),” Mercer said.
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Similar to Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Mercer throws a 12-to-6 curveball and that is by design.
“You want all your pitches to come out the same way,” Mercer said. “A curveball looks like a fastball up but then it drops off the table. That is why I think they pair well together.”
Then, Mercer said he throws his changeup to both right-handed and left-handed batters.
“It has a lot of sink to it,” Mercer said. “When I don’t throw a fastball up, if I throw middle or even down, then I can pair it with the changeup which looks like the same pitch and then drops off the table, and I get swings and misses.”
I have been pitching to my strengths instead of my opponents weaknesses.
Commitment and confidence leads to consistency
One bad outing against the Vancouver Canadians on Aug. 2 does not speak to the overall success he’s had. In his first six outings for Hillsboro, he did not surrender a run on and gave up only five hits, but in the outing against Vancouver he allowed six hits and gave up four runs.
For a 21-year-old fresh out of college, who has had to adjust to life as a minor league player on and off the field at the same time, his ability to bounce back after a rough outing speaks to his confidence and conviction in his stuff.
Overall, seven of his eight starts for Hillsboro have been scoreless.
Ultimately, Matt Mercer is committed to the new school age of pitching up in the zone with a high spin rate and he believes in it which has allowed him to be successful.
“I am anxious to get stretched out a bit, use more off speed pitches and continue to increase my feel for my curveball.”