BRADENTON, Fla. – Adrian Sampson’s 2013 season was something of a trying campaign.
The Issaquah, Wash. native had an impressive resume coming into his second professional season.
The Pittsburgh Pirates had made him their fifth-round draft pick in 2012 out of Bellevue Community College, and he posted a 2.95 ERA during his stint with the low-A State College Spikes, averaging 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
Pittsburgh’s front office noticed Sampson’s success, and in an unusual move the right-hander skipped an entire minor-league level in 2013, spending all of last season in high-A ball with the Bradenton Marauders.
With the level jump and an increased workload, the results weren’t pretty for the 22-year-old who threw 140 innings for the Marauders. Sampson’s ERA ballooned by over two runs.
“Bradenton was pretty tough right away,” he said. “The hitters are just so much better.”
Sampson came into professional baseball sporting a fastball and curveball, with little else. This was fine with the Spikes, where he only saw “a bunch of college guys.”
That’s why Sampson spent much of 2013 developing his third pitch, a change-up. He worked with Marauders pitching coach Justin Message, who also coached the right-hander during his stop in State College, every day during the season.
The right-hander said he mastered the changeup about halfway through last season, and the results can be seen in his first- and second-half season splits. His second-half ERA of 4.76 was almost a full run lower than the first half, and he also threw a complete game in late August.
“[The changeup] just made all the difference,” Sampson said. “I thank Justin Message a lot for that.”
Heading into 2014, Sampson wants to fine-tune his mechanics.
He’s aiming to induce more ground balls, which he believes can help his pitch count stay low. In addition, the right-hander has been toying with adding a two-seam fastball into his repertoire to help with that.
Most importantly, Sampson wants to keep his emotions in check, something he struggled with for much of last season. He attributed the struggles to his intensity.
“It’s tough to control your emotions when you’re very competitive,” Sampson said. “I would always be up and down, wanting to make sure I did really well during the game.”
No matter where he ends up pitching in 2014, Sampson seems ready to forget last year and approach the coming season with a fresh attitude on the mound.
The 22-year-old appears ready to make his mark in a Pirates system that is stocked with young pitching talent. He knows what he has to do to be a success.
“Great players have an even-keel emotion throughout the whole game, and the whole season,” Sampson said. “If you get that [down] I think you can go far in this game, and have a long career.”