We are here with right-handed pitcher Robbie Aviles with the Cleveland Indians. We are very excited that he is joining us at the Pitching Lab. By way of background, Robbie is from Suffern. He was a high school phenom having received multiple offers from multiple colleges for multiple sports, including football, basketball and baseball.
At graduation from Suffern, Robbie was ranked 21st overall in the country by Perfect Game and was gunned at 94 mph just prior to graduation. He was also 2010 Rawlings-Perfect Game 1st Team All-American. He was on his way to being a 1st Round draft pick. However, unfortunately just before the 2010 MLB Draft, Robbie found out that he would need Tommy John surgery. He was ultimately drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 7th Round where he has been playing for the past seven years. Robbie is the real deal and he knows his craft.
We’re going to talk a little about his experience with the Indians, his performance this year, his thoughts on pitching in general and his approach to working with young pitchers.
Nunzio: Hey Robbie, thanks for the time, really appreciate it. We are very excited that you are joining us this year. Frankly, someone with your experience will be a great addition to the Pitching Lab. You have been training here for the past two years. You know pretty much everything that we are about. Not to mention, that you are still throwing heat and playing ball. I think the guys will really relate to that in a big way.
You’re pretty well known locally so I won’t bother you too much about your background. But, you have been with the Indians since you got drafted in 2010. That’s kind of unusual to be with one team for such a long time, isn’t it?
Robbie: Hey Nunz, thanks for having me. First, I should say that I am really excited about joining the Pitching Lab. I grew up learning from a great instructor, my dad. And I am looking forward to passing on the knowledge and working with the young guys. I have learned a tremendous amount these past seven years as a professional. Although pitching is the same as it’s always been, there are many new and progressive methods for teaching young pitchers out there and I can’t wait to get going. It’s going to be great.
As for the Indians, yeah, it’s a little unusual. I am the last one left in my draft class with the Indians. Most have either been traded, released or retired. I got off to a slow start with the Indians as you know. I tore my UCL right before I was drafted and then the recovery took a while. I was also a young high school kid and it took me a little bit to get going. So, I kind of had a slow start. But I have been with the Indians for seven years now. They are a great organization. I love playing baseball and I have been progressing every year, getting stronger, pitching better and smarter. As long as they offer me a position I will keep playing.
Nunzio: Let’s talk about this past year. You are in AA at Akron and you finished your year there with a 3.12 ERA. Sounds like you had a great year. Tell us a little about that.
Robbie: Yeah, I would say this was my best year so far. I think it has a lot to do with my training in the off-season. My workout regimen here helped me stay strong all year. I never went through the dead arm phase in August, towards the end of the year. We call them the dog days of August. But it didn’t really bother me this year. I was consistent all year which showed on my stat line. It isn’t everything but it’s always good to have good stats.
Nunzio: Was this your best year statiscally?
Robbie: Well it’s hard to compare AA to low single A. But, I definitely consider this my best year.
Nunzio: Did you do anything differently on the mound this year?
Robbie: I pretty much kept everything the same. But my pre-game activation and preparation was much better going into the game. Frankly, based on much of the stuff I learned here I think was more prepared when I took the mound.
Nunzio: Let’s talk a little about how have you have evolved as a pitcher? I know you still throw very hard… what are you around 95…
Robbie: Yeah about low to mid-90s…
Nunzio: Are you a different pitcher today vs. when you were drafted?
Robbie: Definitely, I have matured a lot. Growing up, there were two ways to pitch, throwing gas and commanding the ball. I have tried to grow into a powerful pitcher that can throw hard and also locate the ball. I am much better at commanding the zone.
Nunzio: What’s your best pitch after your fastball?
Robbie: I think it’s my change-up.
Nunzio: I know we hear and read about velo all the time and it certainly seems to be much more center stage these days. But you are in the thick of it, how important is velo?
Robbie: You know velo is very important. You can’t really go far in your career if you don’t have velo behind your pitches. I know several guys that have extended their careers because they throw hard. But, however important velo might be, you still have to command the ball. But ultimately, velo is the most important factor. You can’t survive without it.
Nunzio: Are there a lot guys throwing in the 90s in the minors? Does everyone?
Robbie: Yeah, pretty much everyone, especially the right-handed pitchers. But the guys that make it to the big leagues can harness that command and locate the ball much better above that 90 mph marker.
Nunzio: Let’s talk pitching a little bit. Fastball, Curveball, Slider, Change-up? What do you think is the best pitch in baseball?
Robbie: Well, you obviously have to go fastball first. The hitter has to respect your fastball so he can’t just sit back waiting on off-speed pitches. But as far as breaking balls go, I think it’s the change-up, by far. It keeps the hitters honest. You have to maintain that fastball arm speed which creates an illusion for the hitter. It’s almost impossible to sit back if you throw a quality change-up. So, I have to go with change-up second, after the fastball.
Nunzio: With so much emphasis placed on velo these days it almost seems like young pitchers aren’t really learning how to pitch? Just, how to throw hard. What do you see coming up in the ranks?
Robbie: Coming up you see all this new generation data coming out and it’s all about velo with the new guys. They know they have to throw strikes but velo is top of their mind.
Nunzio: With velos in the 90s how important is it to know how to actually pitch? What do you think young pitchers should focus on? Velo? Learning how to pitch? Both?
Robbie: To be honest, I think a pitcher should work on his athleticism first. You have to be athletic through the delivery. That allows you to throw hard but also command the ball. You have to command the ball.
Nunzio: I know you have given lessons in the past? But let’s talk a little about how you approach young pitchers? Every pitcher is different, and every young pitcher hears and reacts differently. How do you think is the best way to communicate with young pitchers?
Robbie: Well, you know growing up with a highly respected pitching coach as a dad, I learned that you have to develop a good solid relationship with the athlete first. They have to trust you first. Then, you have to keep each other accountable while you are together. And also, I think it should be fun for both of us, the instructor and the student. I want to see them happy to be there, and actually want to come, ready to learn. So, I think building a good relationship with them from the beginning is very important.
Nunzio: As a pitcher that has obviously pitched in a lot of different places and in front of a lot of different people, what are you most excited about as far what’s happening here this off-season.
Robbie: You know Nunz, I honestly wish I had what you offer here when I was growing up with all the training and analysis that goes into each pitcher’s delivery. Starting off with an in-depth mechanical review before you even begin working with a pitcher is such a huge thing. It gives the teacher a great blue print. I am big believer in what’s going on here, both in the weight room and in the nets. I have experienced it first-hand the last two years, myself training here. I pretty much do the same program here for myself that these guys are going to be following. I think it’s unbelievable that it’s even available to them.
Nunzio: Thanks a lot Robbie. Really appreciate your time with us and I am looking forward to seeing you, not only working out and training here this off-season, but also helping all the young guys coming up through our Pitching Lab program.
You probably wouldn’t say this, but given the Indians line-up above you, you may have already been a major leaguer on another MLB team. But that’s the way it rolls with professional sports and baseball. Thanks again.
Robbie: Thanks Nunz. I appreciate it. It’s good to be back.
By Nunzio Signore (BA, CSCS, NASM, CPT, PES, FMS)