2009 Draft Day Spotlight: Tanner Scheppers
In a draft that has very little debate over who is going first overall, there are still many interesting stories to be found. One of the most intriguing story lines revolves around pitchers Tanner Scheppers and Aaron Crow, two first-round talents from the 2008 MLB amateur draft that failed to come to terms with the clubs that selected them.
Scheppers, who suffered a stress fracture in his pitching shoulder before last year's draft, slid to the second round where he was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Crow, despite being selected ninth overall, could not agree on a contract with the Washington Nationals. Both pitchers chose not to return to their respective colleges for their senior seasons. Instead, they each headed off to play professional baseball in independent baseball leagues in hopes of improving their situations in the 2009 MLB amateur draft.
After making his second start of the year for the St. Paul Saints, of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, Scheppers was kind enough to speak with Baseball Analysts before taking to the field for a workout with The Saints. The night before his interview with us, Scheppers pitched four innings of two-hit ball. He did, though, struggle with his control. The right-handed starter walked five batters, although he also struck out six.
Fast-forwarding just over a week, Scheppers' statistics are still not matching the potential that he's shown. Despite some obvious signs of rust - which should be expected after such a lengthy layoff - the right-hander has wowed scouts and there is talk that on a pure talent level, he should go second overall. Some teams, though, will inevitably shy away from the Dana Hills High School alum because of the shoulder injury.
The Laguna Niguel, California native was born on January 17, 1987 to David (an accountant) and Ann (an interior designer) Scheppers. The younger Scheppers' hobbies include body-boarding and playing video games. He spent most of his prep career as a shortstop, but took to pitching in his senior year of high school. The Orioles drafted him as a pitcher in the 29th round of the 2005 draft, but he elected to play for Fresno State University.
In his freshman year, Scheppers appeared in just 12 games as a reliever and posted a 9.00 ERA. He eventually worked his way into the starting rotation in his sophomore year when he made 25 appearances and 15 starts. His ERA improved to 4.74 and he struck out 94 batters in 93 innings of work. Scheppers' game, though, really took off during his junior year before his shoulder problems, when he posted a 2.93 ERA and allowed just 54 hits in 70.2 innings of work. He walked 34 (4.3 BB/9) and struck out 109 (13.9 K/9).
Marc: So, how do you feel the game went last night?
Tanner: Ah, I've definitely had better days... that's for sure.
Marc: You did, though, allow just two hits over four innings, so that must be a positive.
Tanner: Yeah, there were definitely some positives. I mean, obviously when you have outings like that you learn a lot more than, say, if you go out there and do really well.
Marc: Can you put your finger on one thing that you learned last night?
Tanner: Yeah. Last night when things started to get a little out of control and things started hitting the fan, I really sped things up instead of going the opposite direction. I talked to Kerry Ligtenberg and sat down with him to just pick his brain and see what he had to say about the whole situation. He just said I was rushing things and falling forward a little bit. Those were all really good things to learn.
Marc: Have you had more than one opportunity to pick the brains of players like Ligtenberg and Mitch Wylie - guys that have played at a really high level?
Tanner: I actually room with Wylie so I can talk with him every day, which is really good. And Craig Brazell has taught me a lot about the hitter's aspect and what they're thinking up there and stuff.
Marc: And it must be nice not to have to face him. (Laughs)
Tanner: (Laughs) I'd love to face him. That'd be awesome.
Marc: What's the biggest difference between NCAA hitters and the professional hitters that you've been facing recently?
Tanner: So far what I seem to be noticing is that they're a lot more disciplined. They don't chase, really, anything. They have a lot better eyes. The wood-bat thing is a little bit different. You can pitch inside a little bit more. It takes some time to get used to that. Really, they're just more disciplined and developed hitters.
Marc: How else have you adjusted your game plan while pitching to batters now that they're using wood bats?
Tanner: Just pitching a lot more inside. I'm still learning. I've only had a few starts now and every start I'm learning something new. I'm starting to work in the changeup a lot more to keep the hitters off-balance a little bit.
Marc: How did it feel watching how your teammates were doing at Fresno State during the College World Series?
Tanner: It was good to watch; I was part of the team. We had a great run and I couldn't be more proud for them.
Marc: You made a lot of improvement between your sophomore and junior years at Fresno State. What do you attribute that improvement to? Was it just being able to pitch more and getting used to pitching full-time? I know you were recruited by Fresno as a shortstop out of high school.
Tanner: I think a lot of it had to do with repetition. I was getting out there consistently and feeling the game out. I was talking with my pitching coach and he really took me under his wing and helped me out there.
Marc: Do you ever miss playing everyday at shortstop?
Tanner: (Laughs) It's been so long... I love pitching.
Marc: Do you ever have regrets or second thoughts about signing with the Orioles out of high school?
Tanner: Oh, no. I was so young then. I didn't know anything about pitching. I only pitched like 30 innings my senior year. And that was all the pitching time I got. No real coaching at all. If I had signed, I would have been lost out there, I think. College was a good experience. I learned a lot from it.
Marc: Would you recommend, then, for kids - who are drafted out of high school - go and spend some time in college? Or do you think it depends on the kid and the situation?
Tanner: I think it definitely depends on the situation. I'm definitely more on the college side. You definitely don't often see high school players make it (to the Majors) in the first couple of years. To go straight to the big leagues is pretty rare for them. I think you gain a lot more experience by going to college and you get your education out of the way. You never know what can happen. An injury could end your career and then you don't really have any schooling. I have a back-up plan and I think it's a really good thing to have.
Marc: How's the shoulder doing?
Tanner: The shoulder's doing great.
Marc: Have you had any problems with it at all this year?
Tanner: Zero. All the hard work is paying off.
Marc: What sort of rehab did you do to get that shoulder back to where you're throwing like you were before getting hurt?
Tanner: I was at [the Athletes Performance Institute in Los Angeles]... and I worked out there for four months, strictly doing shoulder exercises to really build up the muscle around the [rotator] cuff. It was also about the arm, stretching it out. Ever since, it's been great.
Marc: Do you think the shoulder is stronger now than before the injury?
Tanner: Definitely. It's definitely stronger.
Marc: Did they pinpoint what caused the injury? Was it a pitching injury or was it from lifting weights or doing something else?
Tanner: Ah, no it was pitching. It was over-work. I've seen Dr. [Lewis] Yocum and he said it was normal wear-and-tear on an over-worked arm. I threw a lot of pitches and a lot of games.
Marc: Have you gained any other valuable experiences from spending time with the club in St. Paul, aside from the in-game pitching?
Tanner: Overall, I've just learned more about the game.
Marc: And does that come from just being at the ballpark everyday and being around professional ball players?
Tanner: Yeah, exactly - seeing a ball game everyday. Different stuff happens every game. You can see the different things that happen and how to handle it. With all the different situations you're always learning.
Marc: Obviously this time last year, injury aside, you were a really highly-regarded pitcher. You were expected to go very high in the draft and you still went in the second round to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Are you a better pitcher now than you were then?
Tanner: Definitely. I'm still working off a little bit of the rust, and I'm kind of getting my feet underneath me, feeling the field out there with the crowd. I'm just feeling the baseball game, really. I was a little more in control last year when I was in my prime. But I'm starting to come under my feet and get back into it. I'm starting to feel how I was last year and with the control part, which is nice. Once I get there, everything should fall into place.
Marc: Do you find the game is going really quickly when you're out on the mound right now?
Tanner: No, just in that last inning yesterday. Things sped up more for me a little bit. Other than that, not really.
Marc: What's been the most frustrating or challenging part of the last year?
Tanner: I dunno. It's just been a long period. It was just long.
Marc: What about the rehab? Was that challenging?
Tanner: No. The rehab was the easy part. Doing the work is the easy part... It was people not being able to see me.
Marc: What was the most rewarding part of the last year for you? Has anything positive come out of the injury?
Tanner: You know, I've learned a lot. I've learned a lot from the experience.
Marc: When you're on the mound, do you have a specific game plan, or approach when you're working? Do you try to pitch to contact or do you like to go for the strikeouts?
Tanner: I just try to fill up the strike zone. If they hit it, they hit it. If they don't then you just keep pounding the strike zone. That's what I just keep trying to tell myself.
Marc: Do you put much stock in statistics and in-depth analysis?
Tanner: Oh no, not at all.
Marc: Do you study a lot of scouting reports before your games?
Tanner: I just go over scouting reports on the hitters to see what tendencies they have and if they chase a lot of stuff or if they're a first-pitch hitter or do they hit the fastball... That sort of stuff. But I don't look at batting averages and that sort of stuff.
Marc: When you're facing a hitter for the first time, how do you attack them? Do you go away from their strengths or do you pitch to your strengths?
Tanner: I go with my strengths, because you want to be beat with your best stuff. You don't want to get beat by your second-best pitch. So definitely just attack it... If I get beat with my best, then I just tip my cap to them.
Marc: Then if you get beat with your best against a hitter, what approach do you take the second time that you face that same hitter?
Tanner: It's definitely a feel thing. You go with whatever approach feels right and what's going good for you that day. Every day is different. Some days the curveball is great. Some days it's just not doing that well.
Marc: You've mentioned the curveball. What other pitches do you throw?
Tanner: Fastball, curveball, slider, changeup.
Marc: And what do you feel is your best pitch?
Tanner: The fastball.
Marc: What has the heater been clocked at recently?
Tanner: Mid-to-high (90s) is what I've been clocked at. I've been 94-98 mph
Marc: Now, do you like to just go out and throw as hard as you can or do you try and take a little off to gain more command and control of the pitch?
Tanner: You know, I'm still learning. There are times when I think I'm over-throwing a bit and it causes me to be up in the zone. It's a feel thing and I am still learning a lot.
Marc: It's just two weeks before the 2009 MLB amateur draft. Can you give me a scouting report on Tanner Scheppers the pitcher? What is your biggest strength?
Tanner: I guess that I'm still young and I'm still learning. I have a pretty good fastball. The off-speed stuff is there... And I'm willing to get better, to work my ass off. (Laughs)
Marc: And if you were to highlight one thing that you need to work on to take your game to that next level, what would it be?
Tanner: Command. Command and consistency.
Marc: And what do you think can help you achieve improvements in those areas?
Tanner: Just more pitching.
Marc: Do you have any specific goals after signing. Do you think that far ahead or are you just taking things one day at a time?
Tanner: One day at a time, definitely... Pitch by pitch.
Marc: How close were you to signing with Pittsburgh last year?
Tanner: You know, I'm still confused by the situation. (Laughs) I don't really know exactly what happened there.
Marc: Did you think you were going to sign with them?
Tanner: Oh yeah, I thought I totally made it. But they told me it wasn't going to happen.
Marc: That must have been frustrating.
Tanner: It was definitely a big surprise.
Marc: So then what made you choose to go the independent league route, rather than return to Fresno State for your senior season?
Tanner: I'd rather not comment on that, if possible.
Marc: OK, not a problem.
Marc: So, the last mock draft I saw had you going fifth overall to the Orioles. Do you pay attention to that kind of lead-up to the draft, and the speculation?
Tanner: My teammates joke around about it and stuff but I really don't pay that much attention to it. You can't, really. I got caught up in it a little bit last year, you know, in the heat of everything. Being hurt and everything you realize that you just need to go and pitch and everything will sort itself out.
Marc: Are there specific teams showing more interest in you than others at this point, or are you getting interest from everybody?
Tanner: I think it's just in general.
Marc: Do you have a favorite team or a preference?
Tanner: Oh no, not at all. I'd be lucky to play for any one of them.
Marc: I take it, then, considering that you thought you'd signed last year, that you're looking forward to signing quickly and starting your career?
Tanner: I would love to sign as quickly as possible, get into the system and start off. Hopefully improve out there and just move up as quickly as I possibly can. I'm going to work as hard as I possibly can to make sure that happens.
Marc: Well, that's all my questions. I really do appreciate you taking the time, Tanner.
Tanner: Yeah, no problem.
Marc: And I wish you the best of luck for the season leading up to the draft.
Tanner: Thank you, I appreciate it.
Baseball Analysts would again like to thank Tanner Scheppers for speaking with us. As well, we'd like to thank the St. Paul Saints (and Sean Aronson) for accommodating the interview.
Credit to Keith Kountz for Fresno State photos of Scheppers in action.