After establishing Baseball Development Group in the spring of 2016, John and I knew that our inaugural winter development program would be a process of trial and error. Although we were on the same page philosophically and had successfully worked together in the past, there were still a number of kinks that would need to be ironed out. From our viewpoints on skill acquisition and mechanics, to the integration of manual therapy into training sessions, it quickly became evident that our development program was still in ‘development’.
Having said that, there was one thing that we were absolutely certain on. Creating the right culture was paramount to us. In our opinion, the environment is critical to success and we were looking for the right players to build it. We wanted guys who were committed, intrinsically motivated, and had a ‘run through the wall’ kind of mentality.
Enter James Mienkowski
James, a 2018 grad, came to us through a PBR showcase, playing for West Toronto MEL, and not having much of a name in Ontario baseball. Despite having flashed an 82-85 MPH fastball in an October PBR Showcase, John and I didn’t even know who he was!
Early into our initial conversations with James we got a strong sense of the culture we were trying to build. We learnt that he was more than willing to travel across the city, that he’d work a job early Saturday mornings to pay for training, and was dead set on learning everything he possibly good to get better at baseball. James was ‘all-in’.
Throughout the assessment process we uncovered some exciting findings. Having never really lifted weights or properly prepared for a season, James training age was virtually zero and he was underweight for his frame. He weighed in at 172 lbs (he’s six foot one and a half), couldn’t squat bodyweight to our standards, had never deadlifted, and could barely manage a couple pull-ups. He moved exceptionally well on the table in our physical assessment and had no history of previous injury. Moreover, he hadn’t grown up with too much pitching instruction or preconceived notions about ‘mechanics’. Essentially, James was a blank canvass. Needless to say, John and I were pumped.
Throwback to when we first met James
As a result of his young training age, we structured his off-season to fill in the big development buckets — get bigger, stronger, and build up capacity to handle a throwing load. Nothing fancy or overcomplicated.
Over the next 4-5 months, James consistently worked his tuchas off. He commuted almost three hours on training days three times a week. He actually spent the time completing his mobility program at home and came to me with updates. He committed to consuming more calories, improving his sleep habits and was constantly asking us questions on how he could get better.
Being a novice in the weight room we took our time in teaching and progressing our staple movements; squat, hip hinge, push, pull and carry. We built his conditioning slowly using a number of tools and methodologies ranging from heavy sleds to continuous step-ups. Over the course of the first three months we saw some incredible gains in the gym.
Keep in mind that this kid had never deadlifted before starting with us in November.
James added almost 20 lbs this off-season. He went from never deadlifting to hitting a 3RM at 415lbs.
And then, on a cold Canadian spring Saturday, he did this off the bump.
Does spiking a 45 foot throw at 92 MPH mean that the job is done? Or that he’s guaranteed anything moving forward? No. It doesn’t. We’ve talked about this in a number of Instagram posts, but at the Major League Level, velocity only accounts for 10.4% of the variance in successful performance (FIP). In other words, Whiteside et al found that 89.6% of what determines a pitcher’s success in the MLB is not velocity.
The ability to throw a baseball 92 MPH off the mound, irrespective of where it travels, is something that almost every high school aged pitcher in Ontario wishes to do. It puts James in a position where he has now reached the basement level for velocity in most collegiate programs. It has eliminated the ‘he doesn’t throw hard enough’ detractor for moving on to the next level.
Does he throw 92 for strikes in games now? No. He’s now sitting 87-90 on good days. But you can’t throw 92 for a strike if you can’t throw 92.
As he continues to gain experience with pitching & solidify his newfound movement on the mound, James’ command will slowly improve. The more repetition he performs, with the mentality of throwing the crap out of the ball, the more stable his pattern of movement will become. Consistency, and therefore command, largely stems from repetition under varying conditions with the same movement intention. Mechanical changes aren’t quick fixes but are dynamic in nature — how you move is constantly being shaped, altered and tweaked.
We don’t expect him to figure it out in 30-40 innings this summer. This is a long term process. Moreover, he’s a 17 year old with relatively little pitching experience. His velocity will wax and wane throughout the season, read Eric Cressey’s great new post on why, and his command won’t improve each start. It’s not a linear process.
But here’s the thing. Whether James sits 84-86 or 88-92, his commitment and desire to get better will remain the same. He’s the kind of player that will put in the work regardless, not satisfied with where he is and always on the hunt to get better. He understands that development isn’t linear. That 92 into the ground isn’t the end goal, but throwing a baseball 90MPH for a strike is a damn good start. Especially when you consider where he was a year ago.
He’s the guy who is willing to do whatever it takes to reach his goals — and we’re very luck to have to him.