Prospect Notebook: Sampson’s Early Inning Jitters, Benedict’s Off-Speed Stuff

Adrian Sampson has struggled early in games this year, but has a lot of potential once he learns to control his emotions.
Adrian Sampson has struggled early in games this year, but has a lot of potential once he learns to control his emotions.

One of the starters I was looking forward to seeing this year in Bradenton was Adrian Sampson. I heard a lot of good reports on him from last season, and saw him pitch during instructs. He received a somewhat aggressive promotion to Bradenton this year, and has made all three starts on the year at home, giving me three chances to see him in the early part of the season. In all three starts, the story was the same. Sampson started off rough, allowing a lot of early damage.

In his first start Sampson got into jams in the first two innings, but escaped with only one run allowed. He didn’t escape in the third, giving up five runs and leaving with two outs after a two-run homer to cap off his outing.

In the second start Sampson gave up three hits to start the game, leading to two runs in the first. After those three hits, Sampson retired his next 13 batters before giving up a walk and a single with one out in the fifth inning and being pulled for Robbie Kilcrease.

The third outing was similar to the second. Sampson started out giving up a leadoff walk, which were soon followed by two one out singles to bring in a run. In the second inning he gave up a leadoff double, and the run scored on a two-out single to center. He gave up another run after two straight hits to lead off the third. After that, Sampson settled down, retiring his final six batters, including striking out the side in the fifth to give him seven strikeouts on the day.

“My stuff’s good enough that I can get guys out,” Sampson said. “In the beginning it’s all a mental thing. I have the stuff to do it, and if I can get past the mental side I can do pretty good.”

Sampson mentioned after each start that he was dealing with early inning jitters. I spoke with Marauders pitching coach Justin Meccage about how he might get around those early inning problems.

“I think the natural thing for a young guy in the league is for the effort to be a little bit more than usual. I think the last couple of outings you see that [in] the first, second, and third innings, where the effort is more than what we’d like to see. I think what we need to continue to do is to help him mentally to control his thoughts and to control his effort.”

Meccage also mentioned that Sampson was a young guy who was fired up to pitch in the Florida State League, which is another contributing factor. Meccage is no stranger to Sampson’s stuff and ability. He was the pitching coach last year in State College where Sampson threw 42.2 innings. So he already knows that Sampson has the makings of a good three pitch mix, and already has a curveball which is already a great out pitch.

“It would help if he used that earlier,” Meccage said of the curve. “He waits too long to use that curveball. He has the ability to throw that in any count. And I think if he goes to that earlier, it calms him down a little bit and gives him some comfort.”

Meccage noted that the fastball is still a work in progress, and isn’t consistent, but that there are times when it is downhill. He did note that Sampson is doing a better job of pitching inside this year. He also has seen improvements in the changeup from last year to this year.

“It was a little firm last year,” Meccage said, noting that the pitch would be in the 85-87 range last year, but was slower this year. “The biggest improvement is there’s a little bit of sink-life to it at the end of it. It’s something that he can use in any count as well. He’s comfortable doing that.”

Sampson has a good mix of pitches, but he’s currently being held back by those early inning jitters. Once he gets past that, he could develop into a solid pitching prospect. We’re already seeing evidence of that with his 56 strikeouts in 54.2 innings as a pro. He’s shown his potential in the later innings of the last two starts after settling down. It’s just a matter of getting him to the point where he’s settled heading into the start.


Matt Benedict Focused on His Off-Speed Stuff Over the Off-Season

Matt Benedict has a 4.61 ERA in 13.2 innings this season. However, his stuff has been much better than that. The sinker ball pitcher has been hurt at times by the poor defense behind him. In his first game of the year he gave up seven runs, with only two earned, and was bounced after three innings. In his next two starts he combined for five earned runs in 10.2 innings, although most of those runs were due to errors that were ruled as hits. He also has an 11:2 K/BB ratio in the last two starts, which is definitely a positive sign.

“I feel like so far my stuff’s been good,” Benedict said. “I’ve been aggressive with it. I’m pretty happy with the way I’ve been throwing overall. A few mistakes here and there, but I feel like I’m getting better and just building on it.”

I’ve seen Benedict’s last two starts, and was impressed with each outing. In the past I’ve seen Benedict and considered him more of an organizational guy. He was a sinkerball pitcher with no off-speed stuff, which led to high ground ball rates and low strikeout totals. That’s not a good combination for success in the upper levels. Benedict focused on his off-speed stuff over the off-season, and feels that the pitches have been good this year.

“I think my first couple of years here I didn’t really use any off-speed pitches,” Benedict said. “Just a few here and there during the game. But I learned last year that I need to throw them more during the game and I’ve got to get better with them.”

He did throw a changeup before. That was one of his better off-speed pitches in college. His curveball looks good this year. It’s a very loopy pitch, and comes in around the low 70s. Because of the big break, it looks much slower than it is, adding some deception. His sinker isn’t thrown very hard, working in the upper 80s, but the separation between the two pitches speeds up the sinker after watching the slower curve.

I’m not sure if Benedict has an easy path to the majors. The odds are against low-velocity guys who get by on their ability to pitch more than their stuff. I do know that Benedict looks much better than he did two years ago in State College, and last year when I saw him in Spring Training.