LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. — Last year in Fort Wayne, as MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patiño gathered the most of the accolades and attention of prospect hounds, a lefty out of Manhattan College quietly had a solid year.
That pitcher was Tom Cosgrove — a 12th round pick last June. While his stuff wasn’t flashy, he was a steadying presence on a team that came up one win shy of a playoff berth. Cosgrove led the team in innings pitched with 116.1 and racked up 122 strikeouts, good for sixth in the Midwest League.
This season, Cosgrove got the opening night start for Lake Elsinore and earned the victory against Inland Empire. While he doesn’t have the top prospect pedigree of the hurlers with whom he shares a rotation, his productivity should not be discounted. Cosgrove talked to us prior to his season-opening start.
MadFriars: This rotation in Lake Elsinore is loaded with guys who rank high on prospect lists. How do you feel like you fit in?
Tom Cosgrove: We all fit in great. We all get along well and I’m lucky to be a part of the Padres organization. [They] treat us all the same, regardless of the background, age or prospect status. So I feel like I have an opportunity just like anyone else and I’m gonna try and make the most of it.
You finished last season really strong, only allowing three earned runs in your final 24 innings, and you finished with a gem where you worked seven innings, allowing just one run. What was the big key to you being so successful down the stretch?
Tom Cosgrove: The big thing was not to get too worried or try to change too many things when things weren’t going my way in the beginning of the season. I really tried not to be so result-oriented and I just tried to refine my routine every week. I think that helped down the stretch and kept me feeling good for the rest of the season.
That’s interesting because I have heard a lot of guys talk about not being results-oriented — without focusing on the results, what are some of the things that you can look at to judge an outing as a success?
Tom Cosgrove: For me, it’s putting myself in a position to be successful, rather than actually being successful because if I’m not successful and I’m not putting myself in a position to be successful then I shouldn’t be surprised. But if I am putting myself in a position to have good results and I’m not getting good results, I know that they are going to come and I just need to trust the process as people say.
What are some of those things that you do to be successful?
Tom Cosgrove: A big thing for me at the beginning of the season was that I was really into just pitching to my strengths and not really pitching to the hitters’ weaknesses or certain teams’. Now with all of the tunneling stuff and timing stuff, I think I just really got into speaking with the catchers — [Luis] Campusano, Jalen [Washington] and kind of getting on the same page with them and knowing how I want to attack certain teams each day, rather just going out there and throwing the ball.
Has your focus just shifted from looking at each individual at-bat as its own separate battle as opposed to looking at a game as one battle?
Tom Cosgrove: Yeah, instead of just throwing everything like it’s one big thing, I know what I am good at. I’m going to try to get to my breaking ball as quickly as possible. I’m going to ahead with my fastball early. Rather than just doing that every time, I was trying to play to hitters’ weaknesses more than pitching to my strengths.
Speaking of your strengths, what does your repertoire feature?
Tom Cosgrove: I throw four-seams up in the zone and a curveball. My curveball is my best pitch. I’m really trying to make it a weapon, rather than just a really good pitch. I want to be able to use it in every count, every day, every start. I really want that to be a pitch that I can go to.
Is your goal this year to make it more of a wipe-out pitch; a pitch you can go to when you really need a strikeout?
Tom Cosgrove: Yeah, I want it to be everything. I want it to be a strikeout pitch, I want to be a weak-contact pitch, a swing-and-miss pitch. I want to get really good at knowing what I am doing with that curveball.
The Storm are going with a six-man rotation. That’s a pretty similar setup to college, where you typically pitch one day a week. Does a familiar routine give you any more comfort?
Tom Cosgrove: Yeah, as I said before, my main focus every week is putting myself in a position to pitch well, which means making my arm feel good and my body feel good. So getting on a routine like that is definitely helpful.
Do you vary your routine at all when you have that extra day of rest?
Tom Cosgrove: It’s a little bit of a grey area, depending on how I feel. It depends on how many pitches I threw or what I think I need to work on from the week before, so that’s the part of the routine for me — the throwing part of the routine — for me is something that is based off feel, rather than just a consistent thing that I do every single week, no matter what because for me, if I were to do that it kind of takes away the variables out of it.
So it’s just a matter of ‘If I feel good, I’ll throw more’ or ‘if I need to back off and rest,’ you can do what feels right for you depending on how your body responds?
Tom Cosgrove: Yeah, for sure. Just depending I think is best for me during that week.
When you look around the Lake Elsinore rotation, there is a ton of talent and more coming. What do you need to keep doing to keep up with the talent around you?
Tom Cosgrove: I think I just need to prove to everybody that I am supposed to be here. I know that I am supposed to be here. I know the kind of pitcher I am and I have to just trust that. And trust that everyone else will see that too.
Does getting out of the cold and into the warmer California weather help you mentally at all? Since pitching in cold weather is one less thing to worry about?
Tom Cosgrove: Yeah, I’ve always been used to starting the season in cold weather, being from New York. [The weather] wasn’t really a factor for me last year. I’m not sure how it’s going to be different this year but I’m sure it will be a little easier to out there and enjoy playing when it’s sunny and 75 rather than snowing and in the 20’s.
Do you feel like pitching in the cold weather gives you a little bit of an advantage?
Tom Cosgrove: Yeah, I always say that hitters don’t like to hit in the cold but I never mind pitching in the cold. So for me, I liked pitching against kids in the cold. Especially last season, with a lot of the kids from Latin countries or hitters from down South aren’t really used to ever playing in the cold, I feel like I had an advantage.
But for me, the biggest part of the weather wasn’t when I was pitching but it was those five days in-between, where I was sitting in the dugout watching the game (laughs), so it’s definitely going to be more fun watching the games in California.
Going into 2019, what is the biggest improvement that you feel you need to make?
Tom Cosgrove: I am going to try and fill up the zone with fastballs. I am going to try and throw as many fastball strikes as possible. I want to get ahead of hitters and give myself a chance to put them away quickly rather than throw a lot of pitches.
Going back to your approach, are you going to look at an outing as successful if you throw strikes and get ahead as opposed to looking at a box score and seeing where everything ended up?
Tom Cosgrove: If I am filling up the zone with fastballs for strikes, then I am not going to walk [hitters], then I am probably going to have quicker innings and give up less hits and put myself in counts where I am more likely to have success.
Not to compare you guys, but when you look at the path of a guy like Nick Margevicius — who has a similar background as a college lefty — does seeing him in the big leagues give you any extra motivation or do feel like you just need to make your own path?
Tom Cosgrove: I think that everyone has their own path and that’s fine. Just because some people move up slower or quicker doesn’t really matter. The thing I like the most about it is that Nick helps me a lot. He’s a lot more mature than me, right now, so it’s good to pick his brain and have him teach me some things because we’re pretty close and he just helps me a lot.
Is it nice to have an open line of communication with a guy like Nick as you find your own place in the game?
Tom Cosgrove: Yeah, for sure. As I said before [Margevicius] really knows what he’s doing out there. Obviously, everyone says his fastball isn’t the most powerful fastball in the league –low 90’s, high-80’s — but he knows what he is doing with it. He knows all about tunneling and timing and all that.
When I came here, I feel like I really didn’t. So, for me to learn from him and other dudes like [MacKenzie] Gore and [Aaron] Leasher, [Luis] Patiño, it’s a big help.
When I was out in spring training this year, all of the fields had Rapsodo devices. How much do you look at the data?
Tom Cosgrove: For me, I have definitely looked at all those numbers and just tried to get in there and familiarize myself with the numbers. Obviously, at first, not everyone realizes what they really mean. So when I am looking at the numbers, the thing that helped me the most was looking at the high-speed cameras and the Rapsodo machines, so I was really looking at how pitches looked coming out of my hand because when you are doing it, it’s so quick that you think it’s coming out of your hand one way and when you look at the camera, it’s coming out a completely different way — it’s spinning different that you thought it was.