Don't be confused by the surname. Noah Syndergaard was born and raised in Texas. So he patterns his pitches, at least in part, on you-know-who.
"Nolan Ryan," Syndergaard said. Why? "Because he was a big-time flamethrower."
With his own fastball hovering just below 100 mph, Syndergaard -- the Blue Jays' first-round pick in 2010 and top-ranked pitching prospect entering 2012 -- has little trouble seeing a bit of himself in the Hall of Fame hurler. Now he's just trying to be himself.
Still a pitcher-in-progress, the 19-year-old right-hander said he's open to adding a slider to his four-pitch repertoire as he prepared for 120-130 innings of work this season. Including extended spring training, he logged about 100 frames in his second pro season last year, 59 across three levels in the Jays system. He won five of seven decisions in 13 starts and recorded a 1.83 ERA to go with a 68-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Last week, MiLB.com asked Syndergaard to describe and grade each of the pitches he throws. (His grades are based on a scout's traditional 20-80 scale, 50 being the Major League average.) Here is Syndergaard, in his own words.
Pitch one: Four-seam fastball
: Since Little League.
Purpose: I have always learned that the best pitch in baseball is strike one. Throwing my fastball the first pitch to a batter gives me the best opportunity to get to that point.
Grip: Standard four-seam grip.
Speed: The fastest I have topped out at is 98 [mph]. Other radar readings have been higher than that, but I think they were a little bit askew. I average 94, 95.
Grade: I'd probably give myself the benefit of the doubt and give it a 70.
Pitch two: Two-seam fastball
: I have always thrown it; I don't even remember when I picked it up.
Purpose: I love breaking bats, and when I want to break a bat to a right-handed hitter I'll throw my two-seam inside and just let it work. It breaks in. ... I throw my four-seam and two-seam about half and half, 60-40 in favor of the four-seam, if anything.
Grip: Traditional two-seam grip, in between the two laces.
Speed: Around the same as my four-seam, like 94, 95.
Grade: I'd give it a 70 as well.
Pitch three: Curveball
: In high school, I didn't really throw a curveball at all. There was one game, a 15-strikeout game, when I had to revert to my curveball because [batters] were all over my fastball. I just had to improve it quite a bit when I got to pro ball because it got high school hitters out; it didn't do much -- have much effect -- against pro hitters.
Purpose: I mostly go with the curveball in two-strike counts. Sometimes I can throw it 12-to-6, but more often it has a slide to it, more 1-to-7 action to it.
Grip: Traditional curveball grip.
Speed: 78-79, but I will add a little a velocity here within the season.
Grade: Some people say it's a "plus curveball," but this past year that was what I was working on the most. This year was more of a "feeling" year, to get a feel for my curveball. I have been working on it a lot this offseason and it's getting to be a pretty good pitch in my mind. I'll give it a 50.
Pitch four: Circle changeup
: I don't really remember when I first learned it. Since my Little League days.
Purpose: To keep hitters off-balance. ... I mostly go with the curveball in two-strike counts, but if it's a 3-2 count and I know the hitter is sitting dead-red fastball, then I'll throw a changeup.
Grip: Just a typical circle-change grip.
Speed: Around 84. I can get it up to 88, but that's a little too fast for my liking.
Grade: I'd give it a 65.