After throwing four hitless innings in his debut for Mahoning Valley, Ethan Hankins was brimming with confidence.
Playing around during his bullpen session prior to his second start, the Indians' No. 9 prospect stumbled across a more comfortable grip for his slider, and after another 4 2/3 hitless frames, that confidence has kicked up to a whole new level.
"I was just playing around in the bullpen before the game, and I know that kind of sounds bad, but I was adjusting my fingers on the ball," explained the 19-year-old hurler. "I was talking with [teammate] Cam Hill, he told me to play around with grips and I was, and I found one that was really working for me. I was able to give the slider some movement that's a lot different than my curveball. It was that slight adjustment to get my fingers on the laces and using my leverage from the laces to make it create that hard slider movement."
Hankins, who was named the New York-Penn League's Pitcher of the Week on Monday for his efforts, used his time at extended spring training to create different shapes for his slider and curve, incorporating his lower half more. His mind-set at that time was to use the slider more like his fastball, but that fateful bullpen tweak has him shifting his fingers on his four-seamer to make it more of a cutter-style grip, finding that with his arm slot he was able to get under it and give it a slider look.
He admits the velo wasn't quite where he wanted it to be with that pitch, but by throwing it in games with comfort, he knows that will come as he hones in on being able to make it sweeping or sharp to his needs.
2019 MiLB include
"I had to be able to be comfortable in that situation where I just learned a new grip, but I was going to go out and trust myself, trust my body in that moment," said Hankins, the 35th overall pick in the 2018 Draft. "I feel like as I get more and more into games, I'll be able to throw that more and gain more feel with that grip and that pitch."
This development provides the 6-foot-6 righty with another workable piece of an already impressive arsenal, which includes a plus-fastball that touches the upper-90s.
In harnessing these aspects at such an early time in his development, Hankins continues to build not only his skills, but more importantly, his ability to use them all at his will.
"It's definitely confidence building for myself knowing I can adjust throughout the game. I have the confidence in myself now to be able to carry this into the game," explained the Georgia native. "Just understanding where my body needs to be, having control over my body, especially being 6-foot-6, to be able to be in tune with my body with every pitch, that's something I take pride in."
Nothing for free: Hudson Valley hurler Zack Trageton has picked up where he left off with the Renegades last season. This season the 20-year-old right-hander has a 0.82 ERA and 12 strikeouts without a walk over his first 11 innings. Last season, over three games pitched with the Renegades, Trageton had a 0.56 ERA with 12 strikeouts and no walks over 16 innings. He has allowed only nine hits this season, the same number he allowed at Hudson Valley last year.
Put it in play: Milton Smith II is taking full advantage of his at-bats with Batavia thus far. In the midst of a five-game hitting streak, the Muckdogs center fielder has hit safely in six of the seven games played this season, tallying a .429 batting average in the process. In 21 at-bats Smith has struck out just once and walked once. He has also remained clean in the field on 11 attempts and has yet to err in his two seasons of professional ball.
Two-way ball: The Lowell Spinners pitching staff sits tied atop the ERA leaderboard, alongside Staten Island, with a 2.48 mark. However, they sit second-to-last in strikeouts with 78 total over 80 innings. The Spinners bats have also gotten off to a swift start, leading the league with a .266 team batting average through their first nine games despite striking out 97 times, second most in the league.