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Straily surprised us -- not his coaches
10/31/2012 2:40 PM ET
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Dan Straily didn't come from nowhere. Everyone comes from somewhere. But that is the question we ask, isn't it? When a relatively unknown ballplayer emerges -- and sticks around for a whole season -- we wonder aloud, Where the heck did this guy come from?

That curiosity exists in the case of Straily. After all, the California-born, Oregon-raised, Marshall University-schooled right-hander went from the Oakland Athletics' 24th-round draftee in 2009 to the Minor Leagues' strikeout leader in 2012.

At 23, Straily started this year pitching at Double-A for the first time in his career. He excelled there, but he was even better at Triple-A, limiting opposing batters in the hitter-friendly PCL to a .172 batting average. And, of course, all those K's. Straily fanned 190 swingers in 152 innings across those two Minor League levels before finishing his campaign in the Majors, where he collected 32 more victims with the A's. No other Minors hurler eclipsed 175.

So it does bear asking, doesn't it? Where does Straily -- described by those around him as soft-spoken, hardworking and humble -- actually come from? Well, in a way, he grew up in Vancouver. There was also immense maturation in Kane County and Stockton. And you might say he became the man in Midland. His three months spent in Sacramento was time well spent, too.

Tyler Austin, Charleston/Tampa/Trenton

Austin, a 13th-round draftee in 2010, reached Double-A the week of his 21st birthday during his first healthy season. He hit 14 homers in 70 games, including six in one seven-game stretch, with Class A Charleston. His level of production -- he also posted a .960 OPS and stole 23 bases in 25 attempts -- earned him the No. 3 slot among the Yankees' top 20 prospects. Voting results ».

VANCOUVER, Canada -- 2009 Canadians coach Craig "Lefty" Lefferts: We had all these new pitchers, college and high school guys and the Latin contingent, come to Arizona. One group stayed in Arizona for instruction and the other went to the Northwest League. Dan was in that extended program, and we isolated him as a potential starter for us. He showed a lot of nice stuff, arm strength, a good sense of his breaking ball. He was someone we really thought we could develop as a starter. Where they're drafted, it's all fine and good -- high, middle or low -- but once they get to us, the Draft doesn't matter as much.

On second thought: It was a progression, where in that first year, he was figuring out how to develop his fastball command and then his breaking ball. He was trying to crack those two. His curve came fast and his slider was behind. He had a great propensity to be able to spin the ball when I first saw him. It wasn't until he came with me to Stockton in [Class A Advanced] in 2011 that I showed him a little different grip for his slider. The middle finger locks onto the seam at the horseshoe, not on the long seam where you get four-dot spin. It gives you larger dot spin, so there's a different look to it from the hitter's perspective. Now, Dan might say on any different day that the slider is his best pitch.

Best Offensive Player:
Darin Ruf (Fans) | Wil Myers (Staff)

Best Starter:
Dylan Bundy (Fans) | Jose Fernandez (Staff)

Best Reliever:
Kevin Quackenbush (Fans) | Ben Rowen (Staff)

Breakout Prospect:
Tyler Austin (Fans) | Dan Straily (Staff)

Best Team:
Hudson Valley (Fans) | Asheville (Staff)

Best Game:
Devenski's 16 K's (Fans) | Hicks' Appy-winning walk-off (Staff)

Promo of the Year:
SAL Home Run Derby | Voting Results

Marks of improvement: I remember a game he pitched later on in that first season in Eugene, Ore., where he is from, and he threw six innings and stuck out 10, then a career high. That was a real nice moment for him.

Sending him packing: He worked on being able to be consistent with four pitches. When I got back with him in Stockton, he ended up being our frontline starter, really started to mature and put things together. I actually told him it's easier to pitch in the big leagues than it is in the Cal League, with the environment, the ballparks, the wind blowing like crazy and the hitters not being well defined there, so it's harder to plan for them. He told me that was true. Obviously, it was somewhat of a surprise to see him pitch in the big leagues this year. Then again, it was not. He's been working hard the last four years.

KANE COUNTY, Ill. -- 2010 Cougars coach Jimmy Escalante: When he came up from our Short-Season club -- we were still in Vancouver at that point -- "Lefty" had had him, and from what I heard, he was a pretty aggressive pitcher and had a clean fastball -- was at 90-92 mph back then.

On second thought: He also had a pretty good breaking pitch then, but when he got to me learning how to throw a changeup was the No. 1 thing we worked on. In college you need two pitches; in the pros you need three, and he really didn't have that. We made him throw his changeups, two or three, maybe four or five, per inning. We were relentless. We must have messed around with five or six different grips until he felt comfortable with one of 'em.

Marks of improvement: The mental side of his game also improved at this level. We used to call him a mental midget because he would get in his own head, and really now he is a warrior on the mound. I remember him saying he was real frustrated before one start, that he didn't have anything but his fastball that day -- but he had one of his better days. He told me, "I really had to concentrate," and he totally dominated.

Sending him packing: He would come over to me while we were on the bus or in the clubhouse in my office, saying, "I felt the grip work that time," or "I felt that I did was doing this..." Old habits do come back, so when I saw him last Spring Training, he saw me and said, "I want you to see what I am doing." I remember telling him, "The longer you keep your back foot on ground the more extension you'll get." What sticks out is you knew he was at home working more than he was at the field. With his Draft number, we didn't think the kid would be up this quick, but I think he did.

STOCKTON, Calif. -- 2011 roving instructor Gil Patterson (assisting since-promoted Ports coach Lefferts): This business is difficult in terms of player development. You need to pay attention to every pitcher you have. Obviously, No. 1 Draft picks, they're going to get -- I'm not going to say more attention, but sometimes they get fringe benefits at times. With Dan, he could do some things right away that we liked. He was aggressive, and he threw strikes. He was a warrior, and that's what we want: We want guys who are relentless and don't make excuses.

On second thought: We really improved his changeup. As a pitching coach, you have eight or 10 different grips to offer a pitcher. Sometimes I show a guy a grip and it doesn't feel good, so I show him others. We happened to show him one in '11 that worked. We were lucky. As a teacher, you have to have more than one playbook.

Marks of improvement: He was able to increase his fastball velocity. I guess the pills I gave him worked. No, I'm just kidding. But that rarely happens. Usually, we just hope our guys maintain their velocity. His mental discipline also improved. I like that he thinks, but guys can over-think when things don't start to go right. His mental discipline is very admirable. We have a pyramid we show to our pitchers, and at the top of pyramid is "Execute one pitch at a time." He did that.

Sending him packing: This was the year when he started to break out, and this past season, it all clicked. He started off well with Schulze, and one time when I was at a big league game, he texted me, "Sorry, Gil." I said, "Sorry for what?" He said Straily threw 30 sliders. We usually like to keep our guys around 60 fastballs, 25 breaking balls and 15 changeups. The kind of kid Dan is, we did things for his benefit. But if you were to ask me during last Spring Training if I thought he was going to pitch in the big leagues and earn that right, I don't think I would have ever dreamed it -- and dreams are limitless.

MIDLAND, Texas -- 2012 RockHounds coach Don Schulze: I really didn't know much about Dan Straily. I think I saw him in instructional league but didn't spent much time with him.

On second thought: He was a fair fly-ball pitcher, but, unless you can blow guys away with your fastball, he had to pitch down in zone. That was one thing I tried working with him on, being consistent, out front, which helped his sinker. We also worked on sequencing, when to use certain pitches. His changuep was something he started improving late in 2011. I told him to not worry about velocity -- hitters will let you know how hard it is. He also started learning how to work the ladder: if a hitter fouls one off, hits underneath the ball, to go right back up.

Marks of improvement: Coming in, we had heard about what a great slider he had. We went and let him go with that and he struck out 15 guys. I told him, "That's all fine and good that you can do that, but I like to keep the health of your arm and want you to work on your other pitches." But that was a fun game. He learned that he could strike guys out at this level.

Sending him packing: He came in with a good attitude, and when things were rocky, he would learn from that. He's a command pitcher, he locates his fastball to all four quadrants, any pitch that he wants to. He turned his changeup into a Major League pitch, got a lot of swings and misses with it.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- 2012 River Cats coach Scott Emerson: All our pitching coaches, we all talk to each other on weekly basis -- Gil Patterson and I are talking more than that. My first impression about Dan was he was a strike-thrower with good mechanics and four Major League pitches.

On second thought: At times, he was bailing out of his mechanics, but he fixes that on his own. My job was to help recognize when that got out of whack. The thing I stressed with him was the power of the fastball. Everything works off the fastball. His ability to learn how to communicate, especially with me was awesome. He constantly asked questions on days he was pitching, on days he was not pitching. When a player takes on his career like that, good things are going to happen.

Marks of improvement: I remember his 13-strikeout game. He had everything working. But, to be honest, this guy struck out 140-plus guys the last two years, so it's not like he wasn't a prospect. There were two reasons Dan wasn't considered a prospect: He was a 24th-round Draft pick, and whoever ranks players didn't put it together. In our eyes, he has been a prospect since Day One.

Sending him packing: The expectations with Dan met with what everyone was talking about. It was easy to finish him off. Being at Triple-A, a lot of times you just let the guys go out there and pitch. I was learning his keys, but you really sit back and watch at times.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.