Last week I sat down with Lakewood pitching coach Brian Sweeney to chat about his Class A BlueClaws pitching staff. He talked about the progress of his hurlers, the improvements made by rising prospect Franklyn Kilome, Alberto Tirado changing roles and levels this season and plenty more. Read ahead for that full interview…
-The starting rotation has had some good success lately. What are your thoughts on that?
We’re on a good little roll right now. Guys are doing things right, attacking the zone with clean deliveries and confidence. They’re fun to watch and I’m glad to see them succeed.
-Is there anyone on the staff you have noticed making the most progress since the season opened?
Everybody’s made improvements and that’s really exciting. At the beginning of the year we had our struggles, so really any step forward was an improvement, but these guys are really embracing the process and I see good things especially from guys in the bullpen. You know, Sutter McLoughlin has stepped up his game, Skylar Hunter (on Saturday) both pitching. Kilome is taking strides. Jose (Taveras) has had those starts, you know the one where he had 15 strike outs and the other day when he went into the 9th inning, so it’s been fantastic. The guys are very coachable and they have promising futures.
-You mentioned Kilome there. He had a rough April and has looked really solid with an exception or two. What has been the biggest difference for him, with turning things around?
Well, he’s got weapons now that he’s using. He’s got a new toy in his curve ball that he’s been able to throw for strikes and he’s got that rocket for an arm. And, you know, with a lightning bolt coming out of there we want to get the thunder. Get the legs working— we get those long arms and legs working together then some good things can happen. And with that will come the consistency. He’s had his growing pains, but he’s worked very hard at getting better.
-Skylar Hunter joined the team late after a drug suspension. Can you comment on him a bit?
You know, Skylar, having him here—he’s starting to pitch some more meaningful innings and he’s starting to learn how to build some outs with his pitches. You know, coming out of college, he didn’t really know how to pitch as a professional. The hitters get a little bit better so he has to learn when to throw his pitches in certain counts and once he started figuring that out, with a clean delivery, he’s been very successful. We’re very happy to have him here. Everybody makes mistakes and he’s learned from them.
-When there are disciplinary concerns for drugs or other legal concerns, in the coaches’ opinion, would you say there’s a level of disappointment that he let the team down? Are you feeling for the guy? What are the feelings toward that?
There’s a lot of emotions. You know, I feel bad for the guy and I only met him in instructional league and I got to know him as a person and to hear about a mistake that happened, I’m happy that, hopefully, he has learned from it and, you know, that he’s moving forward. And having him here– it’s a thing in the past and we’re moving forward and we’re excited to have him.
-I know some guys have moved in and out of key late inning roles in the bullpen for this BlueClaws team. Is this sharing duties by design rather than having totally defined roles?
Yeah, they’re definitely sharing a lot of duties. I think we have four guys with a save at this point and we’re comfortable putting most of the guys at the end of the bullpen at any moment. It’s good for them, at this level, to experience every situation. Come in if the starter goes down in the second inning, or close out the game, or pitch in a blow out in the middle. They’re going to have to do it all because when they get to the big leagues, most likely, they’re not going to go as the closer right away or as the set up guy. They’re going to have to learn to pitch with a big lead or small lead, so it’s important for them to learn how to pitch in all types of situations.
-Tirado began the season in your bullpen, went to Clearwater, then came back as a starter here. What can you share about his season?
He’s had a roller coaster year. It did not start very well at all. He went and made some adjustments, came back here raring to go. I use the words “embrace the process” a lot. He really has! He’s done a fantastic job with his work that we’re doing in the bullpen, mentally, in between games. I couldn’t be happier for the direction he’s going in.
-Do you pay much attention to pitchers at the lower levels at all?
I definitely check the box scores to see what’s going on. I’m not familiar with all the names. I know some of the guys that I worked with last year in the GCL. Adonis Medina’s had an incredible run in Williamsport, you know, doing a good job. I’ve got my hands full here, so I’m just basically worrying about my guys, but the Phillies’ future is promising. They’ve got a lot of good arms.
-Are there any under-the-radar guys on this team that are buzz worthy and deserving of fan interest coming their way?
Well, yeah, I think everybody. There’s a guy that’s been here all year- Zach Morris. He—there was a point where he didn’t give up a run from May 5th or something like that till the end of June. With inherited runners, he wasn’t letting anyone score and he’s just done a fantastic job and he’s probably flown under the radar for where he pitches in the game and things like that. So, there’s a lot of guys to love on this team. Good people, fun to be around and they’re baseball players and that’s what the Phillies are trying to teach them.