Sunday, February 14, 2010

Josh Banks is getting ready

The Baltimore Sun has a nice little profile on Astros invitee Josh Banks, whose career can be attributed to a high school coach:

He was good enough to star in Maryland baseball, but McCandless, having higher aspirations for him, brought in a pitching specialist, veteran Anne Arundel coach Clayton Jacobsen, to work with Banks.

In his new charge, Jacobsen saw a thoughtful young man with rare ability but, like most pitchers that age, poor mechanics. He taught Banks a more vertical arm slot and a curveball less reliant on wrist motion.

Like many a prodigy, Banks pleased his tutor but daunted him, too.

"Josh is a great listener," Jacobsen says. "He'd take whatever you taught him and came back the next day, having mastered it. He was an obsessive. I thought, 'I'd better not tell him anything wrong.'"

And Banks learned from a good one: Greg Maddux.

It was Maddux who made the deepest impression. The bespectacled four-time Cy Young Award winner, who was funnier in person than Banks expected, grilled the newcomer on his pitching. He spoke of how strategy on the mound should change as the pitch count changes. He even offered nuggets of advice.

"He said if you throw down and away 95 percent of the time, you'll win 15 games a year," Banks says. "He also said it's a myth that you have to come inside [throw in on a battter to get him away from the plate] to keep hitters honest. I don't know if I can make that work. He sure did. He won 355 games. At the time, I had two."

And he taught himself a hard knuckler:
"It's not like the kind you associate with Tim Wakefield. It's harder, and it drops a couple of feet. I use it when I'm in a jam."