Kuo More Confident in Second Season

A self proclaimed shy 19-year-old, Fu-Lin Kuo signed with the Yankees in 2010. He had a great first extended spring training, lost his way when he started the Gulf Coast League, then found his swing again in August. Kuo had a busy winter and comes into the 2011 season with some improvements ready to show.

Signed a year out of high school, Kuo was in the midst of his first year at the National Taiwan College of Physical Education when he chose to play overseas. A native of Guiren Township, Taiwan, Kuo says his first year in America was different to say the least.

“Last year, I was really shy because everything was new to me,” Kuo says through a translator. “I kind of closed myself off and didn’t want to bother anyone.”

At the Yankees’ minor league complex, you would never guess it. Kuo can be seen socializing with teammates, aided by his personal translator, and working with coaches. He says it’s due to a change in his attitude coming into his second year playing in the U.S.

“This year I’m more open-minded,” says Kuo. “I want to know my teammates and be more Americanized and know the culture of Americans.”

From a baseball perspective, Kuo is fitting in just fine. He had an up and down year last season, but his coaching staff and teammates see how hard he works and can see the constant improvements. Staten Island Manager Tommy Slater says that the up and down quality carried into this year, but he’s starting to find his groove again.

“He had a really good extended [spring training] but he had a rough start to the GCL but then he had a good August,” Slater says. “In August he got back to using the whole field. In the past week he’s started using the whole field again, and that’s really great to see.”

Slater alluded to a recurring problem for Kuo. He has a quick stroke to the ball and can generate some power (four home-runs and four doubles last season), but when his swing isn’t working, he focuses too greatly on pulling the ball. This leads to his front side pulling off the ball and missing good contact. By focusing on putting the ball up the middle or into right field, it focuses Kuo’s swing, making it more likely that he’ll have harder hits.

The coaching staff is key in helping Kuo improve his swing. He says they’re a constant positive even when he’s going through a rough stretch.

“The coaching staff encourages me a lot,” Kuo says. “They tell me the same things every day. They push me really hard and tell me to never give up.”

Kuo’s fielding is also an interesting topic. Last year, his foot work needed help and he committed 16 errors in 36 games. But coming into this season, he looks like an above-average defensive prospect. The coaches have him attacking ground balls and playing with a recklessness that he said is important.

“I’m playing very aggressive. I’m never passive,” says Kuo. “I’m not afraid of making errors this year so if it’s a high hopper or anything, I just go for it. I don’t think too much.”

In an extended spring training game on May 19th, Kuo had three hard hits at him in the 6th inning. His improved footwork was apparent. He fielded a couple very tough short-hops and also a hard sinking line drive. His fielding doesn’t look to be much of a weakness right now, though consistency, Coach Slater said, is the key.

“I think what we’ve seen [in his hitting and fielding] have been improvements,” Slater added. “And now we just need to see it consistently, day after day.”

For Kuo, the consistency is linked unto his mindset. The Taiwanese 20-year-old has a bright future if he can continue to improve at his current pace.

“If I have a strong confidence then everything’s easy for me,” Kuo says. “I know I’m a good player, so I’m not scared. Everything’s mental in this game.”

This article was originally published here at pinstripesplus.com


Marshall Starting To Pick It Up

Brett Marshall’s last two starts have been gems. On May 2, at the Clearwater Thrashers, he struck out nine batters in five innings. On May 7, he allowed just one run through six innings while holding Lakeland to a .105 batting average. Based on those two starts, it’s hard to imagine how Marshall’s ERA is still hovering just under seven. But it is and apart from those two appearances, it’s been pretty ugly.

Marshall, a sixth round draft pick in 2008, was ineffective in April, pitching to an ERA of nine through the first month of the season. His troubles hit a peak on April 22 against Dunedin when he only made it through 1.2 innings while allowing eight earned runs and not striking anyone out.

It should be noted that this isn’t the typical Brett Marshall. The 21-year-old managed an ERA of 2.57 last season in his first stint with Tampa, with a strikeout to walk ratio of 70:26. It’s hard to put a finger on what’s been troubling the righty.

“I’m trying to get back the arm action and mechanics and get back to last year,” said Marshall. “It takes some time to get back but I’m starting to find it a lot better now.”

Although the physical may play a large part, one of the biggest improvements Marshall has made is in his mental game. He says the focus he brings to the mound is key to the consistency and effectiveness of his pitching. Although the focus is a broad idea, he says he’s working on honing on specific aspects of concentration.

“I’m really focusing on each pitch I make,” he says. “Each pitch I make is valuable.”

Marshall’s repertoire consists of a four-seam fastball, a two-seam sinker, a change-up, and a newly developed slider.

The slider is a pitch that Marshall stopped throwing for two years before beginning again last season. He says that in the 2009-2010 campaign, it wasn’t nearly as effective as it is now.

Tampa’s pitching coach, Jeff Ware, agrees and explains that when Marshall came into the Yankees’ organization, the slider was a similar velocity to his fastball, which made the pitch more of a cutter than an off-speed breaking ball. Once a few miles per hour were taken off the pitch, it became the strikeout pitch it is today. Ware says the slider was the key to Marshall’s May 2, nine k performance.

“He’s able to use his secondary pitches in fastball counts. That keeps hitters off balance,” says Ware.

The strikeouts are a bit of an anomaly though, as Marshall’s usual game-plan involves quick at-bats and quick outs. Ware says that a goal he and Marshall have for every at-bat is to record an out within three pitches.

His sinker is his most reliable pitch, and he recorded 1.7 ground out for every fly out last year. Ware says that Marshall has the stuff for big strike-out numbers, it’s just not an efficient way to go about their business. They would rather have him go seven or eight innings with a low pitch count than five innings with eight strikeouts.

Ware, who’s in his third year working with Marshall, isn’t shy when discussing what he thinks of Marshall’s collection of pitches.

“He’s got a power arm, a good fastball, he’s got a good, hard, true slider, and he’s got a change-up that has some bottom to it,” Ware says. “So when he’s throwing those three pitches for strikes, he’s very difficult to hit.”

Although his previous few outings do lend themselves to optimism, the Tampa Yankees’ record sits at 10-21 and Marshall’s at 2-4. He isn’t the only one struggling to right a very tumultuous April, which could be viewed as a negative point. Marshall sees it opposite.

“It’s good that we’re all struggling instead of one person or one part,” Marshall says. “At least it’s all as a team and then eventually we can all turn that around. And I think we will; we’re working really hard.”

Marshall is working exceptionally hard this season, watching film, working on his muscle memory (to repeat his delivery, says Coach Ware), and even watching catching drills to be more in sync with his battery mates.

Wins have been few and far between for the Yankees, but he continues to look to improve, and there’s still a lot to be learned and gained from his first seven starts. His ERA won’t stay above six for much longer says Coach Ware, but either way, Marshall is going to keep pushing, working, and pitching.

“I don’t worry about my numbers right now,” Marshall says. “I like to go out there and pitch as well as I can and try to help get a victory for our team.”

This article was originally published here at pinstripesplus.com