Minor League Baseball / Gary Klein : Magnante Discovers How to Unwind After Step Up to Double A

Mike Magnante had heard about the bus rides in the Southern League, which are second in duration to only the notorious journeys that are so much part of Texas League lore.

So when Magnante was assigned to Memphis, the Kansas City Royals' double-A affiliate in the Southern League, he felt the best way to become acclimated to what is sometimes 13 hours of bus travel was to spend time on the floor.

"I've tried foam pads and inflatable rafts that you lay on in swimming pools," said Magnante, a left-handed pitcher who was signed out of UCLA in 1988. "Right now, I've got a camping pad that seems to be working. I've been lucky that I haven't had to throw too often after one of those rides like Orlando to Memphis.

"If you get in a bad position on the floor or sitting in a seat, it takes a couple of days to get going again."

This season, it took Magnante several weeks to get comfortable on the mound.

The former Burroughs High pitcher had to overcome control problems caused by a flaw in his mechanics that prevented him from seeing the plate and, in turn, success at the double-A level.

"In college, Mike developed kind of a no-look, peek-a-boo style so he would stay closed in his delivery," said Guy Hansen, the pitching coach at Memphis and the scout who signed Magnante. "It worked his senior year and his first year out at the Rookie League and low-A level.

"But the bottom line was he needed to see where he was going."

Magnante said that he couldn't get a leg up on hitters until he got his own knee out of the way during his windup.

"I was never throwing really poorly, it was just one inning I'd fall apart and couldn't throw a strike," Magnante said. "In college, in order to prevent myself from rushing through my delivery, I used to watch my knee up to the highest point then pick up the plate.

"It was causing problems here. At the lower levels I could get away with bouncing my breaking stuff. Here you can't."

Magnante, who turned 24 on Saturday, is 5-2 with a 3.42 earned-run average. He has allowed 61 hits and struck out 55 in 69 2/3 innings and issued an uncharacteristically high 27 walks.

Last season Magnante started the season at Eugene (Ore.) in the Northwest League and ascended two more levels within the Royals' chain by the end of the year.

Magnante was 1-1 with an 0.56 ERA at Eugene before he moved to Appleton (Wis.), the Royals' Class-A affiliate in the Midwest League. At Appleton, Magnante went 3-2 with a 3.21 ERA and was then promoted to Baseball City (Fla.), the Royals' high Class-A affiliate in the Florida State League, where he closed the season 1-1 with a 4.13 ERA.

Magnante still throws a sinking fastball, curve and screwball he brought with him from UCLA and also has added a cut fastball to his repertoire.

"I haven't changed much in terms of what I'm throwing, but I'm getting better location on all my pitches and making the hitters do the work," Magnante said. "These hitters are much smarter. They have an idea of what they can hit. Early in the count they're not going to swing at something they don't want to hit."

The first cut is the deepest: The odds say it's bound to happen to every pitcher, but for the first 80 innings of his professional career, Charleston (S.C.) reliever Chris Haslock refused to believe he would surrender a home run.

Last Wednesday, however, a batter for the Savannah (Ga.) Cardinals made a realist out of the San Diego Padre farmhand by belting a 2-2 pitch over the right-field fence for a three-run homer in the ninth inning of a Class-A South Atlantic League game.

"I had thrown the guy every pitch I have," said Haslock, who played at Burroughs High and Valley College. "Two pitches before, he had pulled my slider foul for a home run. I tried to throw a cut fastball up and in. He turned on it and mashed it. I guess I should have gone away with the pitch."

Haslock, 24, signed with the Padres last year out of Cal State Dominguez Hills. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander has rebounded from foot surgery to become the closer for a Spokane (Wash.) team that won the Northwest League championship last season.

This season, Haslock is off to a good start with a 3-1 record, 1.71 ERA and six saves. He has 35 strikeouts, 18 walks and has surrendered one home run in 47 1/3 innings.

"I really thought I never was going to give one up," Haslock said of the home run. "I really just couldn't see it.

"I don't think it's going to happen again for a very long time."

Pack it up: Doug Simons has been warned.

Not about throwing brush-back pitches or scuffing up the baseball. Rather, Simons and his wife Julianne have been put on notice by the Visalia Oaks that the Simons may not be long for the California League.

Simons, a left-handed pitcher who is sporting a 6-2 record and a 1.63 ERA, may be bound for Orlando, the Minnesota Twin double-A affiliate in the Southern League.

"I'm kind of keeping a pessimistic attitude," said Simons, who played at Calabasas High and Pepperdine. "We're packing slowly so if it doesn't happen, it won't be a big deal."

Simons, 22, has thus far proved that you don't necessarily have to be big to be successful. At 5-foot-11, Simons keeps hitters off balance with deception that masks a fastball in the low 80s.

"The key to my success has always been hitting my spots and never giving hitters a good pitch to hit," Simons said. "When I first got here last year it was like I was a kid playing in a men's league, but after a while it didn't seem much different than college ball.

"Right now, I'm looking forward to a new challenge."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
50°