PASCO, Wash. — With the Northwest League championship series on the line, the Tri-City Dust Devils turned the ball over to right-hander Nick Thwaits. The 20-year-old, who led the squad in innings this season, got through four innings, but took the loss as Hillsboro claimed the title.
It was another learning opportunity in a year of mixed results for the Padres’ 15th-rounder last year out of Fort Recovery, Ohio. The organization believed in the righty’s upside enough to give him $405,015 to bypass his commitment to Kent State. His professional debut in the AZL went well, as he threw 26 innings with 35 strikeouts against 11 walks for a 2.42 ERA.
“Nick was very advanced for a high school arm, and from what I understand one of the more advanced high school arms in the draft,” said Senior Director of Player Development Sam Geaney after last season. “Everything about him makes him seem older than his age from the way he goes about his work, bullpens, ability to throw strikes and repeat his delivery.”
This season with the Dust Devils Thwaits has a 4-3 record with a 4.66 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 58 innings against 18 walks. He was much better in the Dust Devils’ cavernous Gesa Stadium with a 2.73 ERA than he was on the road with a 6.25 ERA.
“He has very good command and is not going to overpower anyone,” said his manager Mike McCoy on the type of pitches Thwaits throws. “He does an excellent job of moving the ball around and manipulates it well. He does a good job of changing the timing on hitters and has been effective at getting early strikes and a lot of soft contacts.
“He hasn’t had that many tough starts and even when he is getting hit a little bit, he still gives us four or five innings. He keeps his pitch count low and gives us innings. Hitters the next day will wonder ‘how did I go 0-4’, but they will because of the different types of looks that he gives them.”
We caught up with Nick at the beginning of August to talk about his decision to turn pro and moving up the levels of professional baseball.
MadFriars: What made you decide to turn pro instead of attending Kent State?
Nick Thwaits: I thought this would be the best opportunity for me to get to the big league level. My goal has always been to become a major league pitcher not to play Division I baseball.
I thought with the coaching staff that the Padres had along with being one of the best systems in baseball, they were doing something right. I thought it was in my best interests to go now.
Also with the major league clubs paying for your college education if you go back compared to only receiving a partial scholarship to play baseball had to make the decision even easier?
Nick Thwaits: You can negotiate a certain amount for your contract, so yes, it is a good deal.
What pitches do you throw?
Nick Thwaits: I throw a fastball, actually more of a cut four-seamer, changeup, and curveball.
You had a good year in the AZL last season. What was the reason for your success?
Nick Thwaits: I went after hitters. I threw a lot of strikes early and tried to make them beat me. I had some success with that and working with Leo [Rosales, the pitching coach in the AZL last season and this year’s pitching coach with the Dust Devils] and understanding what it means to be a pro.
I tried to make them beat myself and not me beating myself.
Your manager Mike McCoy said that you aren’t someone that will throw 96, but said you did a good job of always trying to make sure that the ball is moving within the strike zone.
Nick Thwaits: My fastball cuts, but it’s still only 88 to 90 this year so I can’t just go out there and put the ball in the middle of the plate. I try to move it east to west or it’s going to be a short night for me.
What is the biggest difference between the Arizona and Northwest Leagues?
Nick Thwaits: The scouting reports start coming out on you. Teams start having an idea of what you are trying to do and make adjustments. You have to counter it, so it becomes a little more interesting.
How much do the scouting reports affect what you are doing?
Nick Thwaits: It’s a fine line because you still want to go with what makes you good. However, you also have to incorporate what you do well with where batter struggles.
You are from Fort Recovery, Ohio, which is right on the Indiana – Ohio border. How far were you from Fort Wayne?
Nick Thwaits: We were about an hour away. I went to quite a few TinCaps games with school and Little League.
So it would have to be a big thrill for you to get to pitch in the park you grew up going too?
Nick Thwaits: That would be. We also played in the [Dayton] Dragons stadium, so that would be fun.
You could be the guide for your teammates on how to play in the “warm” Aprils of northeastern Indiana.
Nick Thwaits: [laughs] Yes, for sure.