When Kevin Brady’s fastball is at top velocity, the radar guns behind home plate register 96 mph.
Velocity is where the conversation begins with Brady, a junior, whose arm is so intriguing he was drafted in the 17th round by the
Cleveland Indians last June despite being limited to 23 innings by a forearm injury.
Velocity is what fans will witness today as Brady earns the start against South Carolina (6 p.m., Riley Park). Brady might be the best Clemson arm since Daniel Moskos, who was selected fourth overall in the 2007 draft.
“Velocity is margin for error. That’s all it is,” said Clemson pitching coach Dan Pepicelli. “If I throw a bad pitch in a bad spot throwing 87 mph, my margin for error is pretty small. If I miss with a pitch at 97, my margin for error is much greater.”
Brady brings more than velocity. The Maryland native also has pinpoint command of his fastball.
Brady walked just one batter while striking out 33 in 23 innings last season. He’s walked two batters in 10 innings this year, allowing just one earned run and striking out nine.
What do you have when you combine command and velocity?
“Pitching,” Pepicelli said. And Brady is still learning how to pitch.
While velocity is a pitching gift, it can also slow a pitcher’s development if he becomes too reliant on overpowering batters.
“Everyone can hit,” Brady said. “You have to be able to locate the ball and throw secondary pitches. You have to respect everyone who steps in the box. You can’t take any hitter for granted.”
Two years ago, Brady only had confidence in his fastball. He didn’t trust his off-speed pitches and essentially became a one-pitch pitcher. Brady allowed 47 hits in 37 innings and had a 4.58 ERA.
“All these hitters see velocity,” Pepicelli said. “Your ability to move it around and change speed off of it (is key).”
Brady was pitching in relief in the 2010 College World Series, with the baseball world watching, when Pepicelli forced his hand.
“He really never had a lot of confidence in his breaking ball,” Pepicelli said. “We called a couple of really good breaking balls, which I’m sure is not what he wanted to do, but I think he realized when he saw some of the swings that ‘Wow, I have a pretty good breaking ball.’ That sticks in a guy’s head. He kind of goes back and starts using it during summer and fall ball.”
Brady’s curveball is now an above-average offering to go along with his four-seam fastball. The next step is implementing a changeup to go along with the fastball, which can complete the transformation of Brady from high-velocity thrower to high-velocity pitcher.
After helping South Carolina win its second consecutive national championship last season, Michael Roth had a career stat line in the College World Series that any pitcher would envy.
In seven appearances over two World Series that included five starts, he pitched 381/3 innings, allowed 22 hits and 12 walks, and had 26 strikeouts with a 1.17 ERA.
But in the Major League Baseball draft, Roth was just another guy from the perspective of pro scouts. He was selected in the 31st round by the Cleveland Indians. While there is nobody else USC coach Ray Tanner would rather have on the mound in a big game, Roth is not considered a can’t-miss pro prospect.
A big reason: Roth doesn’t throw nearly as hard as pitchers like Clemson ace Kevin Brady, who faces Roth and the Gamecocks tonight in the rivalry series opener at Riley Park. Roth, a senior left-hander, insists he doesn’t feel any more motivated to beat a team when it starts a pitcher who scouts project as a better pro.
“I don’t really need any extra excitement or extra motivation,” said Roth, who is accustomed to these situations.
“He’s faced a lot of guys in our league that have ceilings, supposedly, that he doesn’t have, guys that may do well in pro baseball,” Tanner said.
Most recently, in the final game of last year’s CWS when Florida started freshman Karsten Whitson, the ninth overall pick in the 2010 draft.
Despite his success in the 2011 CWS, Roth felt his legs tire in the last third of the season, perhaps, he said, because he did too much rigorous weightlifting. He cut back and entered this season five to 10 pounds lighter. (He is listed at 210.)
“I feel like that last third of the season I could be a little bit more effective than I was last year,” he said.
He is also trying to develop “a legit curveball.”
“I still haven’t really thrown it that much in a game,” he said. “That’s still a work in progress. The thing that makes it more effective is that follow-through (on the release). Sometimes, I just cut it off and I don’t let myself get out there fully with the pitch. I kind of get an alligator arm, instead of getting full extension.”
He works on his curveball frequently with pitching coach Jerry Meyers, but doesn’t want to overexert his arm while practicing the pitch.
“Obviously, you don’t want to go out there and snap off 50 curveballs every day, or even every other day, when we’re in the middle of a season,” Roth said. “But it’s gotten a lot better from where I was, and so hopefully I’ll be able to break it out every now and then.”
Maybe he will improve his draft stock this season. Maybe he won’t. Either way, Tanner gets the sense Roth feels fine about his situation.
“Very few guys in all of college sports make a living playing their sport,” Tanner said. “It’s just the reality of the situation. I think he probably understands that better than anybody. He looks at reality and that this is what I’m doing now, have fun with it, make the most of it and don’t put a lot of undue pressure upon yourself.”