It is hard to find someone in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor league system who has had as good of a start as Adrian Sampson. The right-hander got a few starts in Indianapolis at the end of the 2014 season after a breakout year in Altoona, although that Triple-A debut was underwhelming. Sampson has been very strong so far this season, crediting his tempo for the success.
“My tempo is good right now,” Sampson said. “It is causing all of my pitches to be downhill and allows me to get the ball inside and outside. With all of my pitches, if I can keep the same tempo for the changeup and the slider, I am doing a pretty good job for myself.”
In his first eight starts with Indianapolis this season, Sampson has worked 48.1 innings with an ERA of 2.61. One thing that stands out statistically are his strikeout totals this season, with 46, to go with his 12 walks.
Sampson has been looking to use his athleticism on the hill, which allows him to get the most out of his pitch arsenal.
“I am just trying to stay athletic out there,” Sampson said. “I think that I am at my best when I mix some pitching with my athleticism. I think that is when I can be the most dominant out there with moving the ball around and getting a lot of movement on each pitch.”
The movement is something that certainly has helped him earn many of those strikeouts. He had a 5.8 K/9 in 167 innings last year, compared to his 8.6 K/9 this year.
Indianapolis pitching coach Stan Kyles likes the aggressiveness that Sampson is pitching with and knows that he best uses what he has.
“He is pitching to his strengths,” Kyles said. “He is a guy that controls the counts. He pitches to contact and has been able to put guys away when he needs to. That is a pretty good formula for success. He is a very aggressive out there and he is a good animal out there. He is not afraid of contact and that is really what you are after when you talk about young pitchers, how aggressive that they are in the zone.”
Sampson concurred that his game plan involves pitching to his strengths as well, but he also said that he has involved some strategy from hitter to hitter, based on scouting their weaknesses in their swings. Sampson said that this also involves plenty of work with catchers Tony Sanchez and Elias Diaz, who he is nearly always on the same page with.
“You have to be able to trust [the catcher] back there,” Sampson said. “When you go through the game plan, there is a lot of information that you get. Sometimes you forget some things, and luckily they are there to be a fail safe for you. If you are not sure, you trust what they are doing. So far, it has worked out for me. I don’t shake them off too much, and when I do, it is something that I am convicted on throwing before they even put down a sign. They are doing an awesome job and it makes it easy for me.”
Another aspect that Sampson has been working on is making sure that his mind is fully prepared for each pitch and each hitter. He said that doing this has been a focus of his all season long.
“I am just trying to refine some things and just trying to focus every pitch,” Sampson said. “Sometimes, I lose focus out there and that can lead to a base hit at the start of the inning and get a rally for them. You want to limit that the whole game. It is a very complex game, and it takes a lot of mind power to keep yourself focused. We do a lot of things in Spring Training and throughout the season to make sure that we are staying sharp. It is something that you don’t see until a couple of starts later, but it is really working for me.”
With the development of Sampson this season, combined with the injury to Nick Kingham and the slow return for Jameson Taillon, he could end up being the top prospect who could make the Pirates’ rotation by the middle of the season.