To watch Donnie Joseph pitch with his left arm is to wonder: What the heck is this guy doing with his right foot?
When the Royals' 10th-ranked prospect toes the rubber (as is visible in the video below) he points his right cleat at a near-45-degree angle in the direction of his second baseman. Then, after picking up his knee quickly, he drags that cleat ever so slowly an inch above dirt. Each movement builds his momentum plate-ward, and it starts at ground-level.
"It's a new mechanical thing I've used this year. I used to come set regular, straight arm," said Joseph, who first worked on the change during the 2011 Arizona Fall League. "One thing that's my downfall is always pulling off and flying open, which caused me to be inconsistent. This closes myself off. It helps me command my pitches and makes it harder for left-handers to see -- any advantage I can get."
Joseph, who unlike many pro hurlers never had a personal pitching coach (or a single pitching lesson) growing up, was lights-out at Pensacola (0.89 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings) and anything but a loser at Louisville (2.86 ERA, 22 K's in 22 innings). Then Cincinnati, which drafted him in the third round in 2009, traded him and another legit pitching prospect in J.C. Sulbaran to Kansas City for veteran reliever Jonathan Broxton this past non-waiver Trade Deadline. He pitched in 11 games at Omaha (4.15 ERA, 19 K's in 17 1/3) before helping the Storm Chasers in the ongoing Pacific Coast League playoffs.
And Joseph, 24, has done it all with two pitches.
"We have talked about throwing a changeup, but my mentality is that, if I can just perfect these two," he said, "that will help me get to where I want to be, which is in the big leagues."
MiLB.com asked Joseph to describe and grade each of the two pitches he makes. (His grade is based on a scout's traditional 20-80 scale, 50 being the Major League average.) Here is Joseph, in his own words.
Pitch one: Four-seam and two-seam fastballs
The four-seam is the first pitch I threw growing up. It wasn't until college started that I was messing around with grips. My pitching coach in college suggested the two-seamer, and we worked on it. I had an idea of how to do it the first or second grip I tried. I put my fingers right on the laces and threw it. Being left-handed and the way I throw, I naturally pronate the ball anyway, making it sink automatically.
Purpose: I mainly use my four-seamer. I use it to get a quick out or get ahead. I like to get ahead, go strike one to set up my slider. Every now and again, I'll throw a two-seamer to the outer half of the plate and get them to swing it into the ground and get a quick groundout. I don't really throw it to lefties. Mainly, the purpose is to move it away from righties.
Grip: Traditional -- All my grips are pretty normal. Nothing extreme.
Speed: 92-95 mph -- The four-seamer is a little harder, but I don't see the difference.
Grade: 55 -- Velocity-wise, it's up there. Command is where I have something to work on.
Pitch two: Slider
I learned it my junor year in college when we got a new pitching coach, Russell Stockton
, at the University of Houston. Back then, I threw a changeup and didn't have a breaking pitch. I was down in the bullpen one day when we worked on it. The first time I threw it, it moved way too much. I learn to position my hand differently. I learned to throw it out in front. I was starting then. Once I got that slider, I was closing. In one- or two-inning roles, I felt like I could harness it and perfect it -- and I gained confidence in my fastball as a result. As the season went on, I learned how to to use it and command it. And that's why I got drafted. It has propelled my career until now.
Purpose: I like to go to my slider with two strikes. That's my put-away pitch. Everything I throw is set up to get back to the slider.
Grip: If you look at the horseshoe, my middle finger is on the laces of the ball, and I throw it out front and let it move.
Speed: 83-85 mph -- If I am throwing it 87-88 its not moving too much, and I don't want it 79-80.
Grade: 45 -- Some days I have it, some days I don't. When I don't, I calm down and collect myself. I'll still try to throw it -- I don't want to have just one pitch -- to get it into the hitter's mind.