I saw Jason Creasy a lot last year in Bradenton. The pitcher I saw was a sleeper candidate, with strong control of a four seam fastball that could reach up to 95 MPH. That was enough to envision him as a guy who could have success in the upper levels and reach the majors. However, he was going to need to further develop his other pitches, including adding a strikeout pitch to get him out of key situations.
Creasy had some strikeouts last year, with a 6.1 K/9 ratio on the season. However, that’s not a number that projects well in the upper levels, and his curveball didn’t always show the makings of an out pitch. With a decent out pitch, Creasy has the stuff to be a back of the rotation starter in the majors. Without that, his upside is limited to a bullpen option.
On Thursday I saw Creasy in Altoona for the first time during the 2015 season, and on this night, the curveball looked much improved. He used the pitch early in counts to get ahead of hitters, along with using it for strikeouts. The pitch was sharper than it had been last year, and helped to make up for a lack of fastball command on this night.
“He’s worked hard on it,” Altoona pitching coach Justin Meccage said. “I think towards the end of last year you saw glimpses of it. And now you’re starting to see some consistency with it. I don’t know that he threw a poor one today. I think he dropped a couple for strikes, and he put a couple guys away with it. But it’s something he’s been working hard on.”
Creasy’s catcher, Jacob Stallings, said that the pitch had more movement on Thursday than he’s seen. Stallings has been catching Creasy ever since 2012 in State College, and caught him all year last year in Bradenton.
“He’s always had the good break,” Stallings said. “But I think at times last year we got in trouble because he would hang it 0-2. Make it too good when he’s ahead in the count.”
The curveball helped Creasy get out of some jams that were started by his poor fastball command on the night. The biggest instance of this came in the fifth inning. Creasy walked two batters, leaving him with runners on first and second with two outs in a 1-0 game. He threw a first pitch curveball for a strike looking. The second pitch was a low curveball, which got the hitter swinging. The third pitch was the same thing, catching the runner swinging on a ball that bounced in the dirt. Three pitches, three curveballs, three strikes, and Creasy was out of the jam.
Creasy was using his two-seam fastball a little more often on this night, and that was leading to the control problems. He normally uses the pitch as a situational offering, but was throwing it about 50% of the time against Akron.
“It was running a lot today, and I was having trouble keeping it over the middle,” Creasy said of the two-seam fastball, while noting that his problem was that he was late in his delivery. “I wasn’t breaking my hands in time, which causes me to be late.”
Stallings said that he might set up down the middle, rather than on the outside, when the pitch is running. This would give Creasy a better early target that would allow the pitch to end up in the right spot.
“Like his curveball, when he gets that pitch on, he’s going to get a lot of ground balls with it,” Stallings said.
Ultimately, the two seam needs to have cutting movement. Creasy’s offering was just running from right to left, and going too far. When the pitch is on, it will still run, but will cut and drop down at the plate, rather than staying flat.
Last year, if Creasy had a day where his command was off, he would struggle. On Thursday, he threw five shutout innings, despite issuing three walks and going deeper into counts than he normally does. That’s the importance of Creasy’s curveball showing improvements. Creasy relies on strong command of his fastball to get ahead of hitters and ultimately he retires them by pitching to contact. When that command is gone, he will need a strikeout pitch. He had that on Thursday. If this trend continues, he will have the upside to be a back of the rotation starter or a depth option for the Pirates, similar to the role that Brandon Cumpton played in 2013-14.