New York City - For all the mechanical stuff that players work on, they have to train their minds just as often.
The long season can play tricks on their minds, as well as their bodies. For young prospects who've not yet secured a career in the major leagues, they're battling for a job. Knowing themselves and staying the course with consistency is crucial. Changing positions makes that harder, adding another challenge.
For Orioles prospect Matt Bywater, that was the case when when he went from a starting role to the bullpen.
Drafted in 2010 in the 7th round- the lefty said he thought he'd go higher, but was excited just to hear his name at all- he was converted last season when he was bouncing between Low-A Frederick, High-A Delmarva and Double-A Bowie. He said that it's motivating, while also being disappointing to be demoted to Class-A after getting a taste of Double-A. Many guys make the jump to the majors from there. It's always possible, particularly if a team is heading for playoffs contention and, even better, if you're a reliever. Teams always need extra arms in September and in the post-season.
Bywater,23, took in the full experience, while trying to still get the hang of being a guy who can come in with the game on the line.
"It took some getting used to," he said from his home in California. "But I actually learned to enjoy it."
He was used in a number of roles including long relief and as a closer, proving he could be of value in many late inning situations. He was also called on to be a lefty specialist, a role that leaves almost no room for error.
"It's not like when you're a starter and you can get away with walking two guys. If you're brought in to face one guy and you walk him, you've failed to do your job."
He admits there was also a moment of disappointment in being converted to a reliever. Boys don't grow up wanting the ball in the 8th. But he had a lot of success quickly and throughout the season.
For Delmarva he pitched 17 innings, striking out 9 batters. The bulk of his work was with Frederick, where he logged 46 innings. He finished the season with a 4.21 ERA and 68 innings overall.
In 2011 Bywater began in the Gulf Coast League, but that didn't last long. He went on to pitch 45 innings for Delmarva, and stayed away from the home runs, surrendering just 3. He struck out 68 between both levels. But the walks were high, with 41 allowed to end the season. That was something he wanted to lower in 2012, in part that meant taking a few miles per hour off his velocity. That resulted in his allowing just nineteen walks all season.
Currently working on finishing his degree in advertising at Pepperdine, he's not planning on throwing again until December. The lessons from 2011 to now are huge.
"I really changed how I throw. Not because I couldn't get outs, but I needed to throw strikes. Losing some velocity was part of that, but that will come back."
He goes on to say that, "I hope I have more velocity in 2013, closer to what I had when I was drafted. But the main is trusting and knowing I can get guys out."
The boyhood dream might not be to become a middle reliever, but that's all beside the point, according to him.
"I just love to pitch."