FORT WAYNE, Ind.–“He’s a thinker.” That’s what TinCaps manager Anthony Contreras had to say a couple of weeks ago about Nick Margevicius, the Padres seventh-round selection in last year’s draft.
He could have easily blathered on about Margevicius’ smooth transition to full-season ball, his sensational strikeout numbers (59 K in a mere 46 innings), or even his sterling 2.35 ERA, but instead, he chose to emphasize a much simpler and perhaps more accurate descriptor. And the fact of the matter is that Contreras couldn’t have been more on point because as spectacular as the 6’5” southpaw has been this season, it’s his cerebral approach to pitching that stands out.
Now, given his experience and age, it may not be abnormal for a college pitcher like Margevicius to exhibit more maturity at the Single-A level than the competition, but the Cleveland native, who has not yet reached his 22nd birthday, possesses a rare ability to analyze and adapt his attack from hitter to hitter.
“[Nick] makes a good adjustment on what he is trying to do…,” Contreras elaborated. “and when he gets in the game, he has this tunnel vision where he’s locked in and competing better than most…his ability to make adjustments and analyze hitters is huge, and if he’s doing it this well already, it’s only going to get stronger as he works his way up the minors.”
The Underlying Keys to His Tremendous Success
Similarly, Nick Margevicius himself was quick to direct attention away from the numbers and towards the process, saying, “I think the key has really been not focusing on those numbers. I think the more you look at the results the more it is ‘how did it happen like that.’ I kind of just take it batter to batter and only worry about facing that hitter and the numbers take care of themselves.”
It is difficult to argue with that approach given the results as Margevicius has yet to allow more than three earned runs in a start and boasts a staggering 59:8 K: BB ratio, which is even more impressive with the knowledge that five of those seven walks came in a single outing.
According to Margevicius, the success he has had this year can be traced to a couple of adjustments he made between last season and the most recent offseason.
First of all, he has worked considerably on diversifying his arsenal after primarily being a two-pitch pitcher because doing so is a necessary evolution to keep hitters off balance a second or third time through the order. “Last year, I really was just fastball and changeup,” said Margevicius, “but I started throwing a curveball in the summer after I got drafted and worked on that. So far this year, I’ve been attacking with the fastball and have been able to get a lot of strikeouts with the curveball this year and that’s been a change for me.”
The curveball itself wasn’t entirely a new pitch for Margevicius, who threw a fringe breaking ball in high school that he called a curve, but it’s the first time he’s truly been confident in the pitch. “It was actually kind of like a cutter in high school…a cutter, slider…it was just a breaking ball,” Margevicius laughed. “I threw a slider for sophomore and junior year of college because they thought that would work better for me, but I started throwing the curveball last summer and said this offseason that it’s what I was going to do. I’m feeling really good with it right now.”
Not only is it encouraging, then, that Margevicius is relying heavily on his new breaking ball in virtually every start, but considering his primary goal entering the season was that he wanted to have the confidence to throw his new curveball to a left-handed hitter in a 3-2 count, it is astounding that he has already fulfilled that goal on a number of occasions, providing him the fortitude to use it at will.
In addition to broadening his arsenal, Margevicius has found that the transition from college to professional baseball has enabled him to hammer away at hitters on the inside edge of the plate. “Moving from college to pro ball, the inside of the plate as opened up,” he explained. “You go to college with the metal bats, and you can give up a lot of hits with those metal bats, but in pro ball, there is a lot less lee-way for hitters. If you don’t square up an inside fastball with the wood bat, you’re probably not getting a hit. I think the move has worked tremendously for me because my command to both sides of the plate plays up with wood bats.”
Yet, that isn’t all that has changed for a young left-hander who had an epiphany of sorts in short-season ball last season. “A lot of hitters since I moved into pro ball are taking the launch angle approach. They’re trying to lift the ball and the opens up the top part of the strike zone… I would say in college the hitters are not as advanced. I don’t think they were focusing on launch angle; they were just trying to hit the ball.”
With the explosion of home runs across baseball the last couple of years, it may seem like incoming pitchers should be prepared for the permeation of the launch angle revolution, but organizations across the league are still tinkering with different approaches to counter this new trend, so it should be no surprise that Margevicius didn’t really encounter it until his first start against Toronto’s short-season affiliate.
He’s seemingly responded with an effective strategy, working in elevated, high spin fastballs that are tougher to hit for players that have an uppercut swing adept at hitting balls mid to low in the zone.
“It’s important to recognize that if we are playing a game against a team I might face later in the year, I should look for that [upper cut swing],” Margevicius elaborated. “I’m watching every swing they’re taking, and its ‘oh there swing path is through the bottom of the zone and that opens up an opportunity above the belt.’ I think it’s our job as pitchers to take advantage of it and force them to adjust to us throwing the ball there.”
And, I think that if there’s an opportunity to throw one up in the zone and they adjust to that, then it opens up the bottom of the zone again to a changeup or curveball.”
Success Rooted in Preparation
As the ace of the TinCaps’staff alludes to, there’s a significant amount of planning and analysis that goes into preparing for each outing.
“I think it starts with just watching games,” Margevicius said. “We have a great group of guys, a great group of starters, bullpen everyone…but in the dugout, all the starters there are talking about the game as its going on…about what we were seeing, like ‘I didn’t like that pitch” and it doesn’t matter who is on the mound… it all starts right there in that learning process of just talking with the other starters in the dugout.”
In the minors, starting pitchers also typically spend the two games prior to their start in the stands, alternating between charting pitches and handling the radar gun. This gives them a focused look behind the plate to scrutinize opposing teams as well as gain a closer look at what is or isn’t working for their teammates. “That’s when I’m really getting a good idea of how I’m going to attack a team,” Margevicius uttered, “but I think more than anything, learning what works for me comes from watching other players pitch in those games.”
While that kind of dialogue from a pitcher oozes maturity and advancement, those things were even more apparent as Margevicius discussed preparing and adjusting in the midst of starts. He outlined his process for us saying the following:
“After every inning, I like to come back in the dugout and take two minutes while the other pitcher is warming up to review my pitches from the last innings –what counts I threw in, what I did execute well and what I didn’t, what I would do next time I faced that guy, or If I saw a hole in a hitter’s swing. I think about that for two minutes and then I just leave it and watch the next half inning. When I get back out there, I’ve got these three guys and what happened last time. If ‘this’ or ‘that’ worked really well, I’m going to do it again, and if this didn’t, I’m going to try this instead.”
To paint an even clearer picture, Margevicius hearkened back to a wrong decision he made in a previous start, saying, “I gave up a triple to Fairchild in Dayton last week on a 1-2 fastball that was up in the zone and I beat him on two fastballs before that. I threw him a fastball, and I beat him on the high fastball as he took it, but when I tried to go back to the high fastball, he hit it.”
“I thought about it and I think if I would have executed the pitch better…maybe I would have gotten him out, but I should have went with something in the dirt. That’s what I would do next time. I didn’t face him again but if I had, that’s what I should have done. I probably would have thrown him a curveball in the dirt. My approach is just to adjust and learn from the mistakes.”
With such marvelous success in the early going, it’s unlikely Nick Margevicius hangs around Fort Wayne all season unless the logjam of pitchers ahead of him doesn’t clear; yet, he remains unhurried, instead focusing on sharpening his game by solidifying his three-pitch mix now that he’s acclimated to the competition and honed the curveball.
“My goal has shifted to incorporating all three of my pitches throughout the game,” Margevicius shared. “I’ve been pretty much fastball and changeup dominant, but now I’ve been fastball, curveball, and changeup here and there. Although my changeup is probably still the better pitch, I want to get to the place where I can throw any of those three pitches in any count, and throw them for strikes. The three pitch mix, for now, is the biggest goal and having a sense for when I should be throwing those pitches.”
While his raw talent may not be on the tantalizing level of a MacKenzie Gore or a Michel Baez, he is more than making up for any shortcomings with a cerebral approach and a willingness to submit to the developmental processes, setting and achieving these essential benchmarks in hopes of growing into a player that can stick at the back of a rotation. And as of right now, his solid floor may be one of the most encouraging revelations from the players the Padres selected in the 2017 draft.