Jim Fuller could see the summit. After seven seasons in the minor leagues with three different organizations, the Major Leagues were in sight. The left-handed pitcher joined the Pittsburgh Pirates in the offseason and was flat out dominant after receiving an invitation to Major League spring training. In 10 games, he allowed just one run over nine and two-thirds innings, walking none while striking out eight. It appeared as though his big league dream was finally going to be achieved. But then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed.
“Last year was, by far, one of the tougher years I had to go through,” Fuller recalled via telephone this week. “I got hurt right at the end of spring training. Numbers were great in spring, and everything was feeling real good. All of a sudden, injuries happened and kind of set me back. It was real frustrating just sitting there watching the games and not being able to play.”
Fuller suffered a forearm muscle strain that would keep him out of action until the end of May. After recovering from the injury, he appeared in three games for the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians and allowed two runs in three and one-third innings. Despite overcoming the initial injury, it had residual effects on his left shoulder which had been surgically repaired in 2011 after tearing his labrum. Fuller’s season was over in a flash, and that reality was difficult for him to bear.
“It’s one of the toughest things you have to do in sports,” he stated in reference to sitting out the remainder of the year. “You know you can go out there and compete at a high level, but you physically can’t because you’re injured. It’s really tough mentally. I have good family that love me, support me and give me good words of encouragement. It’s just going out there and knowing that everything is going to eventually be okay, and you just have to fight through this.”
The 29-year-old made the decision this winter to ensure that all would indeed be just fine. The positive support he received during the year, coupled with his strong performance last spring, gave him the confidence to get back up on the proverbial horse and begin his quest back towards the big leagues. Most importantly, Fuller dedicated his time to figuring out what might have been the reason for these injuries and how he could correct the problem.
“I took some time this offseason and really thought about what could possibly be causing me to have the same arm issue year after year,” he noted. “I looked at some video of myself and kind of narrowed it down to these little things that I was doing which were putting a lot of pressure on my shoulder. I really took some time and did a lot of things to help out my mechanics and take a lot of that pressure off.”
The results thus far seem to be exactly what he was hoping for. Although he has yet to pitch in a game, the Massachusetts native is feeling strong, both physically and mentally, and believes he has found his groove once again.
“I’m in a good spot right now,” Fuller said, his voice teeming with excitement. “The ball’s coming out great, and my velocity is really good. It’s probably among the best it has been in my career.”
2017 will present a new experience for the former New York Mets draft pick. After spending eight seasons in Major League organizations, Fuller will get his first taste of the Atlantic League. Even though he does not have a vast knowledge about the league as a whole, the reviews he has been presented with have made him eager to run head-on at this new opportunity.
“My agent had a couple of guys who played on the team last year,” Fuller noted. “He said it’s a really good place to play and that I’ll have a fun time. I know it’s good competition, and I’ve heard everyone who has played [in the league] has said it’s a blast to play there. Honestly, I love playing the game and competing and that’s probably the thing I’m looking forward to the most.”
Fuller has done a little bit of everything in his career. He spent most the first three seasons of his career in the starting rotation and did incredibly well, compiling a 16-11 record and a 2.29 ERA in that span. After missing the entire 2011 season and most of 2012 with his shoulder injury, the Mets organization moved him to the bullpen. Despite the switch, Fuller found success in a relief role too. He posted a 0.84 ERA in 2013 at Advanced-A St. Lucie, went 3-1 with a 2.84 ERA in 2014 with Double-A New Britain in the Twins organization and was 2-1 with a 2.78 ERA while at Nashville (AAA, Athletics) in 2015. The lefty has enjoyed both roles, and though the Ducks view him as a reliever, his versatility could be an asset.
“As a starter, I really liked going out there every five days and getting the ball to throw five or more innings,” Fuller stated. “I like to compete, and I like to have the ball as much as I can. I’ve really enjoyed relieving as well. It’s a little different than as a starter, but I like getting the ball and having a chance to pitch every day. I enjoy that mindset of going out there and just letting it go for an inning.”
With spring training underway among Major League organizations and the Atlantic League season approaching on the horizon, it is nearly time for Fuller to take the mound again. With the frustration of 2016 well in his rearview mirror, it will be important for him to make sure that those negative thoughts and memories remain in the past. One of the key factors in helping him do that will be the relationship he forges with new Ducks pitching coach Billy Horn. After focusing all offseason on altering his mechanics to avoid injury, Fuller will look to Horn to make sure that he is doing all the right things.
“I think it’s important to have a good relationship with your pitching coach,” he opined. “They see things that you can’t see yourself. Any kind of advice you can take from the pitching coach you have, every little thing helps. If he sees something I can’t pinpoint that I’m doing, we’ll work together to try and figure things out.”
In addition to developing that bond, Fuller knows that the onus will be on him to keep his good vibes in place. He took it upon himself to overcome the injuries, figure out the problem and correct it this winter. Now, his mental toughness and focus during the year will be the key in maintaining both health and success. When asked about what it will take to avoid thinking about his past, Fuller was confident in his reply.
“I’m just going to think about what I did this offseason. I put in a lot of hard work, looked at a lot of video and did a lot of work off the mound. I’ve done just about everything. I’ve figured things out, and I think I’m in a good place right now. I’m going to take that into this season and not think about the past couple of seasons.”
With a mindset like that, Fuller just might be able to soar back up the mountain and land at the top.
There has been a flurry of activity surrounding all things Ducks since our last post here on the blog. We will have some more in-depth stories coming up leading into the holiday season. For now though, let’s first recap some of the latest news regarding some former Ducks and other notes going on around Bethpage Ballpark:
One of the biggest stories to break in the last week was that former Ducks pitcher Rich Hill agreed to a one-year, $6 million contract by the Oakland Athletics. It marked the beginning of a new chapter in what has already been a storybook journey for the Major League veteran. We’ve written extensively about Hill before here on “Quack of the Bat,” but it is incredible how quickly things have turned around for him. Just five months ago, he was throwing bullpen sessions at home to stay in shape and figure out how to revive his career after being released by the Washington Nationals. Since that point, he turned two dominant starts with the Ducks into a contract with the Red Sox, five strong starts with Triple-A Pawtucket into a call-up to the Major Leagues and four brilliant starts with Boston into a $6 million contract. WOW! Reports also stated that Hill turned down more money elsewhere for a guaranteed spot in the starting rotation with Oakland. There is no question that the left-hander was one of the best storylines to come out of the Ducks and the Atlantic League in 2015, and we will surely be following his progress in 2016. Looking ahead, the A’s will be making one visit to the New York City area: April 19-21 against the Yankees.
Mickey Makes His Mark
The Arizona Fall League season, and that of another former Ducks pitcher, has come to a close. We’re talking about Mickey Jannis of course, who was chosen by the Mets to play in the league noted for its highly touted prospects. The knuckleballer did not disappoint in the six starts that he made with the Salt River Rafters, going 1-1 with a 2.48 ERA. He allowed just eight earned runs in 29 innings of work and struck out 17 batters. The only start in which he allowed more than three runs was his final one, where he gave up four runs (three earned) over five innings in an outing televised on MLB Network. It remains to be seen where Jannis will open up the 2016 campaign, but he surely made his mark in the Arizona Fall League and was even featured on MLB.com.
We’ll be highlighting several Ducks who are playing baseball in the Caribbean this winter over the next week or so, but this past weekend, several had the opportunity to play at Marlins Park in Miami. The stadium played host to the Serie de las Americas. It was the first time this tournament was ever played, and it featured two teams from the Dominican Republic (Aguilas Cibaenas and Tigres del Licey) and two teams from Venezuela (Navegantes del Magallanes and Cardenales de Lara). Aguilas ended up winning the tournament with a 4-3 victory over Cardenales in the championship game after defeating Tigres 4-2 in the first round. The only former Duck on the Aguilas roster is Donnie Veal, a lefty relief pitcher who was 1-0 with a 1.45 ERA in 20 games with the Ducks this past season. He retired both batters he faced during the series, striking out one in the first round matchup. Bobby Blevins was the only other Duck to appear in the tournament, starting the first round game for Navegantes. However, he suffered the loss in their 6-1 defeat to Cardenales.
More ticket packages for fans have been made available for the 2016 season. The Ducks announced their 10-game mini plan packages for the upcoming season, featuring seven different options to choose from. Each package will allow fans to see every Atlantic League opponent at least once, offer a mix of five weekday and five weekend games and include at least two fireworks shows, the most popular promotional nights of the year. In addition, group ticket packages were also put on sale for 2016. Schools, Boy/Girl Scout Troops, Little League teams and all other organizations around Long Island can now call and reserve an outing. In addition to regular group tickets, options include picnic outings as well as luxury suite, Fan Can and Party Deck rentals. Groups also have the opportunity to take part in a variety of on-field and off-field experiences! Please contact the Ducks at (631) 940-3825 for more information and to reserve your 10-game mini plan package or group outing for 2016.
If you have a story idea or something you would like to see us write about on the blog, please feel free to let us know. Just submit a contact form by clicking the “Contact” button on the upper-right side of the page. Stay tuned for more all offseason right here on “Quack of the Bat”!
The hot stove is heating up as the official start of winter draws closer and closer. The Major League Baseball winter meetings start up soon, which usually signals the height of the baseball offseason for player signings and trades. However, a week prior, many big names are starting to come off the board. Yankees fans saw their team make a splash by signing Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury while Mets fans are eager to see if their team is able to land Curtis Granderson.
One name that’s familiar among Atlantic Leaguers also earned a big contract this week. Left-hander Scott Kazmir was signed by the Oakland Athletics for a two-year deal worth a reported $22 million. This is a dramatic turnaround for a guy who in 2012 was pitching on mounds around the Atlantic League with the Sugar Land Skeeters.
After being released by the Angels following 2011, he signed with the Skeeters in hopes of resurrecting his career and returning to the Majors. The southpaw made 14 starts with mixed results, he earned a contract with the Cleveland Indians in 2013 and began the season on their Opening Day roster. Kazmir also saw dramatic improvement, posting a 10-9 record with a 4.04 ERA and 162 strikeouts in 29 starts. Now he’s cashing in, and it’s thanks to the opportunity he received from the Atlantic League to continue his career.
The League has seen several players earn contracts with Major League organizations already this offseason, and the first Duck to earn one following the 2013 Championship Series is catcher Ralph Henriquez. Today, the catcher confirmed to “Quack of the Bat” that he was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates and earned an invitation to Spring Training. The excitement in his voice was evident, as he will have a chance once again to live out his lifelong dream of reaching the Major Leagues. Even 2013 teammate Ray Navarrete was excited to hear about Ralph’s new opportunity:
— Ray Digmi (@RayDigmi) December 4, 2013
Henriquez spent eight seasons in affiliated baseball after being drafted by the Houston Astros during the second round of the 2005 draft. He played in the Astros, Mets and Mariners organization, reaching as high as Triple-A with the Mariners in 2011 and 2012. However, he was released by Seattle following the 2012 season and hooked on with the Ducks in 2013 to try and get back into affiliated ball. The switch hitter alternated starts for the majority of the year with Ramon Castro, playing in 79 games total with the Flock. He hit .242 for the season with seven homers, 28 RBI and 13 doubles and provided strong defense behind the plate. In fact, he became the primary catcher for former big leaguer Dontrelle Willis and developed a strong relationship with the southpaw pitcher.
“We always worked hard together in the bullpens, and in the game it just showed and we got along good,” Henriquez told Newsday in an interview earlier this year. “From Dontrelle, it was just: Go hard. Every out, every inning, just go hard, you don’t know what can happen.”
Now, the Florida native will be joining an organization whose Major League team shocked baseball in 2013 by earning a postseason berth as one of the National League’s Wild Cards. They even reached the National League Division Series before falling to the St. Louis Cardinals in five games. The Pirates have been building up their young talent from within while suffering through countless losing seasons during that stretch. Last year, they finally saw their long wait pay off with their first playoff appearance in 21 seasons. Now, Henriquez has a chance to be a part of that same organization and the potential success they could have.
As for his experience with the Ducks, Henriquez said in that same interview with Newsday, “I don’t even know where to start. It’s been interesting, not knowing what to expect coming here but being able to play with guys that I watched play, and now I have guys like Bill Hall. I’m talking to him every day to get different ideas of hitting. And having guys like Buddy [Harrelson] on the bench, hearing these guys talk is pretty cool.”
We want to wish Ralph the best of luck as he pursues his opportunity with the Pirates. Be sure to follow him on Twitter by CLICKING HERE. Last offseason, the Ducks had three players signed by Major League teams:
-Mitch Canham: Was signed by the Kansas City Royals and spent the majority of the season with Double-A Northwest Arkansas. He eventually joined Triple-A Omaha during the playoffs and helped them to the 2013 Triple-A National Championship.
-Eric Niesen: Was signed by the Seattle Mariners and invited to Spring Training. After being released by the team, he signed with the Ducks and went 4-0 with a 3.23 ERA in 35 games. He was signed by the Boston Red Sox organization in July and spent time at the Double-A and Triple-A level with them. He’s now pitching with Santurce in Puerto Rico this winter.
-Matt Way: Was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks and invited to Spring Training. He was released by the team and joined the Flock to start the 2013 season. He started 16 games, going 4-5 with a 4.04 ERA before suffering a season-ending arm injury in September.
During the 2013 season, the Ducks had five players signed by Major League organizations:
-Danny Perales: Was signed first by Monclova in the Mexican League and then eventually Double-A Arkansas in the Los Angeles Angels organization. Batted .288 with a 11 homers and 41 RBI in 49 games with Long Island.
-Ben Broussard: Earned a contract with the Royals organization and reported to Triple-A Omaha after batting .302 with eight home runs and 20 RBI in 44 games with the Ducks. He eventually hit .295 with 14 doubles and 24 RBI with Omaha, helping lead them to the Triple-A National Championship.
-Eric Niesen: Pitched in an aforementioned 35 games with the Ducks before he was signed by the Red Sox. He appeared in two games with Triple-A Pawtucket and 12 with Double-A Portland.
-Dontrelle Willis: Dominated on the mound for Long Island, going 5-4 with a 2.57 ERA in 14 starts and earned the start in the Atlantic League All-Star Game for the Liberty Division. Was signed by the Angels and pitched for Triple-A Salt Lake, leading the Bees to the Pacific Coast League Championship Series against Omaha. He was 2-1 in five games (four starts) with the Bees.
-Joash Brodin: Was the Ducks most consistent hitter in 2013 before he was signed by the Diamondbacks, his first ever appearance in affiliated baseball. He batted .307 with 11 home runs, 48 RBI, 79 runs and 21 doubles in 106 games before reporting to Single-A Visalia. He also earned the starting left field spot at the Atlantic League All-Star Game. In Visalia, he played in eight games and will receive an invite to Spring Training with the Diamondbacks in 2014.