You don't have to be big to succeed in baseball, according to Cody Buckel
, but you definitely have to be a big thinker.
The Texas Rangers' right-handed pitching prospect made the jump from Class A Advanced to the Double-A Texas League this season to take his place in the Frisco RoughRiders' rotation.
Listed, perhaps generously, at six-foot and 183 pounds, Buckel relies more on his brains, and six quality pitches, than his brawn.
"I don't think baseball is a game about size," he said. "Baseball is a thinking game. It's about having talent and the ability to approach the game mentally. So I don't really think about size or weight or anything."
It's an approach that has worked so far. Buckel was 5-3 with 1.31 ERA at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach to start the season, and with Frisco he is 1-3 with a 3.32 ERA.
"It's a new level," Buckel said of the Texas League. "Hitters are a little better, umpires are a little better, and fielders are a little better. So everything is just stepped up a notch. It's making that adjustment and saying, 'OK, you can't make these mistakes as much.' "
Buckel, out of Simi Valley (Calif.) Royal High School, committed to Pepperdine but passed in order to sign with the Rangers after they took him in the second round of the 2010 Draft.
"I wanted to play pro ball from the get-go," Buckel said. "I wanted to get into a professional atmosphere as early as I could -- professional coaching -- and I felt I was mature enough to take that step and not have to go through three years to get to where I am now. So far it's paid off very well."
He pitched just five innings in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2010, then opened last season in the bullpen at Hickory in the Class A South Atlantic League.
He wasn't a reliever for long, and in 17 starts he went 7-2 with a 2.04 ERA, 104 strikeouts and just 19 walks for the Crawdads.
"It's a very happy place to be," Buckel said of the Rangers organization. "It's a good feel around the organization, and it's pretty awesome to be a part of that."
Buckel has rubbed shoulders with a few other accomplished pitchers, some in his peer group -- like his good friend Trevor Bauer, who went No. 3 overall to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011 -- and some seasoned veterans like San Francisco's Barry Zito, who taught Buckel his big-breaking curveball.
Buckel has been a Zito fan since 2002 after he saw him throw one curve to the Minnesota Twins. He was introduced to Zito at a private clinic through a mutual pitching coach.
"I think I was nine when I met him and I had to ask him, 'How do you throw your curveball?'" recalled Buckel, who went on to win a pair of Zito's spikes that were auctioned off at the clinic. "That was pretty cool."
Buckel was a Junior Olympics teammate of Bauer's, and they hit it off while hanging by the pool during a tournament in Arizona. As similarly sized pitchers with complementary thought processes, they stay in touch and compare notes during the season.
"We learned we only lived about a half hour away from each other, so we've stayed pretty close over the years," Buckel said.
In addition to his curveball, Buckel throws a fastball, changeup, cutter and two sliders. If you're a thinking man, he said, six pitches can come in pretty handy.
"The slider is a little bit slower, a little bit bigger break, and the cutter is more of a harder version of the slider with a little bit less break," Buckel said. "But yeah, using deceptive timing on the hitters -- each one of my pitches has a different [velocity] -- so being able to work in a range of 30-plus miles an hour, it's going to be very hard for a hitter to time."
Eating innings: The Arkansas Travelers played their 11th extra-inning game Saturday and posted their longest -- a 17-inning loss to Tulsa -- since moving to Dickey-Stephens Park in 2007.
Run aground: After going 7-13 against San Antonio and suffering a four-game sweep to the Missions in the last series at Midland, the RockHounds charged into San Antonio last week to win the first three games of a four-game set by scores of 13-10, 10-0 and, on Saturday, 16-4.
Singular performance: Frisco posted a season-high 19 hits, only three for extra bases, as it rallied to beat Corpus Christi, 11-7, at Whataburger Field on Saturday. Corpus Christi led 3-0 and 5-4 before Frisco took the lead for good with a three-run fourth.