Prospect Perspective: Louie Lechich on transitioning to pitching

***The following article was written by Louie Lechich, a prospect in the Chicago White Sox system, as a guest of FutureSox. This is part of our ongoing Prospect Perspective series: articles written by the players themselves. Louie has recently transitioned from the outfield to the pitcher’s mound – a process unusual but not unheard of for minor leaguers. The southpaw was kind enough to provide us a firsthand write-up of how that process works. We hope this gives our readers a unique view into a player’s perspective on life in the minors.***

By Louie Lechich

I was drafted in 2014 as an outfielder by the White Sox. Played my first short season for the Great Fall Voyagers where I started very slow with the bat. It was an adjustment period facing new pitchers, playing with new teammates, and really playing baseball for a living. I loved it and embraced the challenge of struggling mightily for the first time in my playing career. I was able to salvage my first short season with a strong second half and carried that confidence into the Fall Instructional League. In Instructs I smoothed out some mechanical things with my swing and tried to bring those changes into the offseason and spring training.

I had a pretty good spring training and was sent to Low-A to play for the Kannapolis Intimidators where I would spend the entire 2015 season. Again, I went through ups and downs, but was hitting 3rd in the lineup, playing center or right field everyday. I played 130 out of 140 games that year and really got to see and feel what “the grind” of a full season is like. I finished the year with pretty pedestrian numbers in my eyes, but was excited about the improvements I could make going forward. Not too long into the offseason I received a call from Nick Capra (Director of Player Development at the time), or “Cappy” as we call him. This was the first time the pitching idea came up.

Cappy and I talked for about 20 minutes on the phone and he just asked me if I was interested in pitching, understanding that I pitched in college just a year and a half prior. He told me the White Sox really liked my arm from the outfield, and paired with my lanky 6 4” frame, the organization thought I would make a good pitcher. Let me make sure to clarify that he was not telling me they were going to make me a pitcher, the organization was simply wondering if I’d be interested in pitching. I was honest with Cappy and said no, I really was not interested in pitching at that time. I always knew pitching was something I might be asked to do, just not quite that early in my career. So, I basically gave myself an ultimatum. I asked Cappy to give me the opportunity to go to spring training and get one more full year to improve and impress the organization, and if after the year they still wanted me to pitch, I’d make the position change.

So, I went into the 2016 spring training with an anxious excitement and confidence to show the Sox organization that I could be a big league outfielder. They gave me every opportunity to do just that. I played in multiple big league spring training games as well as playing with the AA-level work group until the last few days of spring training (which merely meant that I was going to be in High-A once guys trickled down from big league camp and rosters started becoming finalized). Overall, I had a pretty solid spring training and was sent to Winston-Salem where I would hit 2nd and play right field every day. I started very slow and never really got out of that deep rut. Within the first two months of the season, I had played my way out of the everyday lineup and was barely playing a couple times a week as we neared the all star break. The writing was on the wall in my mind and I began thinking if maybe the time to make a change had come.

Sure enough, it had. Cappy came into Winston-Salem 3 days before the All Star break and said it was time to revisit the whole pitching idea. I said, “Yup, I’d agree.” The decision was pretty much made by myself and Cappy on the spot in the coach’s office. He reiterated the fact that the organization thought I could become a very good pitcher if I focused my efforts on just that. It was something they have done with other players in the past. So, after the All Star break I went back to Arizona to start my new path in the game of baseball.

Once I arrived at our spring training facilities I got on a throwing program, which pretty much entailed short catch, long toss, and flat ground work in that order for a couple weeks. I also had to learn the shoulder program to strengthen my shoulder muscles as well as other arm exercises to help with recovery and maintenance from the escalating throwing I’d be doing. Once they felt my arm was progressing as far as stability and strength I was able to throw bullpens off the mound. It really only took me a couple of bullpen sessions to get my feel back. I was able to locate my fastball pretty well and my change-up (which was my best pitch in college) did not take long to come back either.

The hardest thing for me was knowing that it was going to be a slow, methodical process. I knew our pitching rover, Curt Hasler, and the on-site pitching coach, Felipe Lara, and the trainers had a specific plan for me. They were all instrumental in helping me get acclimated back into being a pitcher. I think my progression may have been a bit of a surprise to some of them in that my control was pretty good, and I had one secondary pitch, my change-up, that I felt very good throwing at any time. I threw in four simulated games before I was allowed to see game action. So, about three in a half weeks in, I threw in my first AZL rookie ball game. It felt great to be in a competitive environment again. With each outing came a little more feel and confidence in my pitches. After 5 outings in Arizona I was sent back up to Kannapolis.

There I worked with Brian “Doc” Drahman or “Dre”, the pitching coach (not to be confused with Dr. Dre, the talented musical artist). He was another person who played a big role in my transition and improvement on the mound. Providing tidbits to keep me balanced and directional in my motion, which helped my control. I’d also make sure to stand by him and pick his brain (or just annoy him) in the dugout for the first few innings of the game. Dre had the unique honor, or displeasure, of being one of my first coaches in pro ball when we were in Great Falls together. There we often joked about me being a pitcher and I always told him if we had an extra inning game that I was more than capable of giving him an inning or two in relief. Well, funny story, that’s now exactly what I am doing. I threw a total of 10.0 innings in Kannapolis, making some positive improvements on the mound, but probably more importantly getting the experience of pitching in pressure situations.

From there I went to Instructional League and then, due to an unfortunate injury to one of my good buddies (Connor Walsh), to the Arizona Fall League. There I just continued to try to improve my command and feel for my off-speed pitchers, especially my slider. By the end of the fall league I had a better feel for my slider and will continue to make that a point of emphasis going forward.

Now, I am just working out trying to add some weight and strengthen my lower half. My throwing program will start in the beginning of the new year. As for the White Sox’ plans for me going forward… I am not too sure. I plan on going into spring training a little stronger and focused on my fastball command. From there I will continue to work on my change-up and slider command to the point where I feel comfortable throwing those in any count or situation. I am excited to get back and work with the current and new pitching minds the Sox have in my attempt to progress my abilities and get to the Big Leagues.

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