Embedded at the bottom of this page is scout footage of top Nationals prospect, right-handed pitcher Blake Treinen. Included are high-definition clips of Treinen’s start for the Harrisburg Senators on 4/28/13, in a game against the Bowie Baysox.
In that game, Treinen out dueled Baltimore Orioles number-one draft pick Kevin Gausman. He tossed 6.2 shut-out innings, while allowing only 3 hits and six total base-runners over that span. He also struck out six batters. His premium fastball sat firmly in the 94-97 mph range, clocking 98 and 99 several times in the third and fourth innings while never falling below 93 mph. He also threw an impressive slider in the high 80′s, that he commanded precisely, and a changeup with good arm speed.
Owning a unique background, Treinen came to the Nationals via the Mike Morse trade, along with AJ Cole and Ian Krol. But that’s not the odd part…
Before re-tooling his delivery and committing himself to improving his strength and athleticism, Treinen was actually cut from varsity team at Baker College and forced to play JV ball. Coming out of Ossage City high school, though he was an honorable-mention all-area pick as a senior, he wasn’t highly regarded by recruiters. And at Baker, though he threw hard enough to scrape 90 occasionally, his mechanics and secondary stuff were JV-level. After a couple of years there, he decided to try his hand at Arkansas, hoping he could catch-on there.
But Arkansas didn’t work out either, and Treinen stopped playing baseball altogether when he didn’t make the Razorbacks’ team. At that low point, the twenty-year-old decided to turn things around and he made it his mission to get on a division-1 mound.
He started working out at his high school in Ossage City, hitting the weight room hard and tirelessly working on his technique. He chiseled his physique into stone, and built a stock of hard, lean muscle in his shoulders and trunk while also improving his flexibility and endurance. His velocity began to climb and his pitches started to jump out of his hand with the added arm strength and improved flexibility and balance.
And then one day he caught Treinen caught a break. While practicing on the mound, he ran into former All-American and minor league pitcher Don Czyz, who’d been running a baseball clinic at the school. Czyz spotted potential in Treinen, and decided to help the kid fight his way to the top. He coached the young hurler and helped him clean-up his delivery and tighten up his breaking ball, while also teaching him the mental side of the craft. The former teammate of South Dakota State University baseball coach Ritchie Price, Czyz’s even put in the recommendation and paperwork to get Treinen a spot playing D1 ball in Brookings.
After a year of grueling training, Treinen and Czyz’s hard work paid huge dividends. In a fairy tale, everyman-to-hero fashion, Treinen found himself throwing in the mid 90′s by the end of his lay-off from the mound. He then took his re-tooled game to South Dakota State, and proceeded to light-up radar guns and opposing hitters there too.
Treinen posted solid numbers in 2010 as a member of the Jack Rabbits’ rotation, and his performance and electric stuff began to draw attention from pro scouts in the mid-west region. The Oakland A’s, a franchise with front office/scouting department personnel renowned for their ability to find value in unlikely places, saw his tools and became on of his closest followers.
Come draft day however, the Marlins initially beat Oakland to the punch, and snatched Treinen in the 23 round of the 2010 draft. At the time, the kid had only one season of division-one pitching on his resume. Before Treinen and the Marlins were set to shake hands on an over-slot pro deal though, a routine physical revealed some troubling evidence of rotator cuff inflammation. Florida was scared enough of the MRI report to void the contract, and Treinen even had to repay his travel expenses in order to regain college baseball eligibility from the NCAA.
The Marlins ended up missing out big time, and through the A’s, the Nationals have become the ultimate benefactors. Treinen returned to South Dakota for one more season, and used the extra college experience as an opportunity to polish his game. After posting a 7-1 record and a 6.10 ERA in 2010, Treinen improved his numbers dramatically. Through 13 starts and 84 innings he posted a 3.00 ERA–less than half his junior-season mark–and struck out 84 batters while only walking 25. He ranked among Summit League leaders in multiple pitching categories and topped the circuit in winds.
Entering draft day this time around, Treinen was considered a legitimate early-round prospect, and while he ended up falling a bit, the Athletics still selected him relatively early, in the 7th round.
Since turning pro, Treinen has continued to develop at a whirlwind pace. After getting his feet wet in 2011, he put together a very strong performance in his first extended look against advanced pro hitters last season. Pitching for the Stockton Ports in the most hitter friendly league in full-season professional baseball (affiliated), Treinen managed a relatively impressive 4.37 ERA and a 4.00 K/BB ratio.
Now in the Nationals’ system, Treinen has taken yet another step forward this season, essentially legitimizing his place on top prospect lists. Just a few years removed from a three-year lay-off from baseball, Treinen is putting together an excellent campaign in double-A. Through 86.1 innings pitched, he’s sporting a 3.44 ERA and has whiffed 63 batters. His ground-ball/fly-ball ratio sits at a remarkable 3.43/1, and opposing hitters are having fits trying to loft his hard fastball and cutter.
A closer look at the right-hander’s stats indicate an even more dominant 2013 campaign. Not only does Treinen have a spectacular ground-ball rate and a nice K/BB for a hard-thrower, but if it wasn’t for two particularly bad starts to open the season, his ERA would sit at a sparkling 2.29 and his K/9 would improve to 6.9. Furthermore, Treinen has actually improved with every month of the season, and that trend has culminated with a 0.79 in June.
Since arriving in Harrisburg, Treinen has shown superb stuff. His fastball is one of the best in the Nationals’ system, and that’s saying something considering how many hard throwers they have in their system. His four-seamer clocks consistently in the mid 90′s, and often reaches 97-98 mph. He repeats his mechanics well, and shows fluid timing, which not only promotes endurance by reducing stress on his shoulder and elbow, but also helps him spot his pitches and maintain consistent velocity throughout his starts. He has a clean arm, and a quiet, balanced delivery, and he absolutely pounds the strike-zone with his fastball. More importantly, he’s becoming adept at throwing quality strikes with the pitch on the zone’s lower edges–leading to tons of ground-balls and swing-throughs.
Typical of a Nationals’ farm hand, Treinen employs inverted-W mechanics and generates elite-level velocity consistently. Despite the MRI that led the Marlins to void his contract a couple of years ago, his recent physicals have indicated nothing abnormal in the shoulder for a baseball pitcher. Despite the inverted-W’s bad wrap, there’s little valid evidence that indicates it’s a purveyor of arm injuries. And Treinen’s superb timing–showing a cocked-up arm just as his stride-foot touches the ground–minimizes the stress places on his elbow and shoulder.
Ultimately, Treinen may be destined for a the bullpen considering the Nationals’ overflowing stock of starting pitching and his nasty-though-simple repertoire. Along with his clean, balanced mechanics though, Treinen’s frame also fills the prerequisites of the modern day big league starting pitcher’s profile. Surprising for a guy that didn’t even get a shot to pitch for a D1 school until arriving at South Dakota State, he’s also a very strong athlete. He’s very loose on the mound, but appears remarkably efficient and consistent on the mount, repeating his delivery pitch after pitch. He also looks the part, possessing the long and lean hoss build that scouts look for, and he has big hands and powerful core and trunk. He has wide shoulders, and has a lithe and balanced musculature in his physique, helping him stay lose and fluid in his delivery. He employs his well-developed lower-half and abdominals to generate electric velocity, by leading toward home-plate with his front hip and keeping his shoulders perpendicular to the plate as his lower-half opens.
Treinen’s delivery is a bit a-typical in some ways. Rather than dropping low-and-driving towards the plate, he’s fairly stiff and upright–actually popping up some as he breaks toward the plate. He could stand to employ his legs more, however he does show solid use of his core with nice hip-shoulder separation. His mechanics also appear deceptive to opposing hitters–according to batter’s eye footage–and the ball has some extra hop as it leaves his hand.
Treinen’s slider is his primary secondary pitch, and he shows good feel for it in the 87-91 mph range. He throws the pitch with a near identical release to his fastball, and does a great job placing it on the hands of opposing hitters. He likes to drop it off the table for a swing-and miss, but is also adept at using it to jam left-handed hitters. Along with his well-placed four-seamer, his slider draws tons of weak-contact grounders.
In the past, Treinen has also thrown a softer breaking ball in the low 80′s with some depth. He’ll still dust it off a few times in each his starts, but apparently isn’t confident enough in the pitch to rely on it extensively.
Treinen lacks variety in his repertoire, as he works primarily with two hard pitches and relies heavily on his heater. While two quality pitches and solid command will player very well as a big league starter, in this day in age, pitcher’s need to change speeds. Treinen’s slider, though displaying above-average potential, is a little bit short for a big-league strikeout pitch right now. It acts more like a cutter at the top of his velocity range, and he’ll over-throw it and lose it in the dirt when he’s pressing. He does throw a changeup, showing nice feel and command this year, but it’s still not strong enough to push him into the top tier of prospects. Still, he profiles as a strong mid-rotation starter as is, and if moved to the bullpen, he has the stuff to be a closer. If he does become a late-inning reliever though, there’s no telling how his inexperience will work in high-leverage situations that generally call for an ice-water nerve.
Overall, Treinen was a great pick-up for the Nationals and he’s continued to develop at an astonishing pace. And that’s important, as his late arrival to the mound means he’s on the older side for a prospect getting his first taste of double-A baseball. He has the ingredients for a very successful big league career, exhibiting mid-to-high 90′s velocity as well as smooth mechanics and nice command. His makeup appears to be a plus as well, and he’s the kind of late-blooming prospect that’s ticketed for big things as he matures. At this rate, if his feel and pitching IQ continue to develop, he could even be an front-end guy some day.