Texas notes: 'Hounds Fillmyer finding success

Oakland's No. 12 prospect making strides on mound with Midland

Heath Fillmyer is 2-2 with a 3.63 ERA and 27 strikeouts over 44 2/3 innings this season. (Tammy Tucker/MiLB.com)

By Troy Schulte / Special to MiLB.com | June 2, 2017 10:30 AM

Heath Fillmyer always wanted to be an infielder. He's smart enough, however, not to argue with the experts.

After he was initially drafted by the Rockies as a pitcher following his freshman year, despite throwing under 10 innings at Mercer County Community College, Fillmyer decided to stay in school with a change of heart.

He went to the mound full-time, picking the brains of coaches and teammates on technique, and three years later he's at Double-A Midland and ranked No. 12 among A's prospects.

"When you see the light," Fillmyer said, "you kind of want to go toward it."

So far Fillmyer's 2017 season, his first to open at Double-A, shows he's headed in the right direction. After making eight starts at Midland to end 2016, he's 2-2 with a 3.63 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 11 starts (44 2/3 innings) this year.

The first steps Fillmyer took in that direction came four years ago, when an area scout near his New Jersey home suggested he try the mound. Fillmyer played mostly in the infield as a freshman for Mercer, until he was drafted in the 28th round by the Rockies, and scouts indicated his future was on the mound rather than behind it.

"Me and my dad figured that if I threw seven innings and got drafted, let's try a full season and see what happens," Fillmyer said. "They said, 'Hey, you might have a future here,' so we said, 'Let's take it.'"

A dominating sophomore season at Mercer -- he was 9-0 with a 0.68 ERA -- led the A's to take Fillmyer in the fifth round in 2014. After a rough first full season at Class A Beloit -- 3-13, 4.98 ERA -- he had a 3.29 ERA in 24 starts at Class A Advanced Stockton in 2016 before finishing the season at Midland.

Fillmyer knows he's not yet a finished product as a pitcher, but he's learning as fast as he can.

He used mostly a fastball and curve in college, then a teammate showed him how to throw a changeup. Last winter, he watched a video of Max Scherzer detailing how he throws his slider, and now that's part of the repertoire, too. Along the way, Stockton pitching coach Steve Connelly has offered advice on technique, and others have helped him develop a strict routine.

"For the community college in my area, my stuff was easy to get away with," he said. "It wasn't until my first full season with the A's that I started learning about the differences between a pitcher and a thrower."

That progress continues this season at Midland, where Fillmyer has been good outside of the first inning. Of his 18 earned runs allowed, 10 have come in the opening frame, as well as four of his five home runs allowed.

Fillmyer said that might require an adjustment, which he'll figure out as he goes, similar to how he's handled everything else during his short journey as a pitcher.

"It's still a work in progress," he said. "It's still something I'm learning."

In brief

Good fill-in: Arkansas outfielder Chuck Taylor has made the most of his chance at the leadoff spot created by an injury. The 23-year-old Texas native has 13 hits in the last six games while hitting leadoff through Wednesday's game, his fourth consecutive three-hit performance. Taylor has raised his average to .388 and his on-base percentage to .481, both of which are tops in Double-A.

Here comes Buehler: Walker Buehler has made a good first impression in the Texas League. The Dodgers' first-round pick in 2015 missed that season and most of 2016 following Tommy John surgery. Five good starts to open this year at Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga earned him a promotion to Double-A Tulsa, where he's 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings. He had his longest outing of the season Sunday, holding Corpus Christi to one run in five innings to earn his first Double-A win.

Texas-sized turnaround: San Antonio's reversal in May has lifted the club to the top of the South Division standings. The Missions were 10-13 with a 4.22 team ERA through April but 20-8 with a league-low 2.12 ERA in May before Wednesday's games. San Antonio finished with the fewest wins in the league last year and tied for the fewest in 2015, but Tuesday's victory at Tulsa made them the first Texas League team with 30 wins.

Troy Schulte is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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