If needed, Ty Weber can reach back for more. In a crucial count, when he needs to sneak one by, the Illinois starter/reliever has shown a bit more in the arsenal.
“If he wanted to crap his pants on every heater and throw 93, he could do that,” his pitching coach, Mark Allen, said on a recent phone call.
But the undrafted free-agent signing more lived in the high-80s during his four years in Champaign, seeing more and more success each season as he learned what worked without velocity that blew away hitters. He threw two-and four-seamers to go with a curveball, slider and changeup. He did not strike out many, but pitched to weak contact — ground balls especially — and had grown into the staff ace for the abbreviated 2020 season, pitching to a 1.31 ERA in 20 2/3 innings in four starts.
He’s gotten by more with guile than gas, saying he learned “what pitches to throw when,” impressing the Giants enough that they alerted him prior to the draft they would be interested after the five rounds were up. Yet, they think there’s more for him to work with.
The Giants’ area scout told Weber one of the first tasks will be to put him on a “Driveline program to improve my velocity.” They want the righty, listed at 6-feet-4 and 215 pounds, on an arm-strengthening regiment.
“I know I’m not the hardest thrower, but I know I throw strikes,” the 22-year-old said. “I think that’s a strength. If I can increase my velocity a little bit, it’ll help me move up in the organization a little bit.”
Yet another project for a system that prides itself on maximizing arms and bats. The Giants watched Weber on Feb. 26 go head-to-head with Texas A&M and fourth-overall pick Asa Lacy, Weber twirling 6 2/3 scoreless innings in a 1-0 Illinois win. The Mariners and White Sox also checked in on Weber, but the Giants showed the most interest, filling his email inbox the minute they could on June 14 and offering him the maximum $20,000 signing bonus. The fact Tyler Fitzgerald, a Giants prospect from Illinois who played at Louisville, was included in the welcome video was a nice touch: Weber played tournaments against him growing up.
The Giants have an arm who fits the ethos of the system: He can fill any role because he has filled every role in the past.
He’s “a very mature, been-through-it-all-before kind of guy,” Allen said of Weber, who could have set Illinois’ innings record if he returned to school. “Pressure situations don’t bother him. I think the Giants got a good one in the sense that he could do a couple different things. If you wanted him to relieve, he could relieve. If you wanted him to start, he could start. If you wanted him to pick up long innings of relief, he can do that, too.”
Allen watched as a pitcher he inherited was willing to listen to any advice he had, “perfect buy-in” for whatever the incoming coach saw. Of course, Allen was incoming from the Giants, where he was pitching coordinator last year. Allen said he didn’t steer Allen or the Giants, though he said he had conversations about Weber with several organizations, the Giants included.
“If any organization asked me anything, I’m going to be honest with them,” said Allen, who said Weber’s biggest improvement this season came in pitching in the stretch.
Allen was effusive about Weber the pitcher and the person, who was selfless, “cared about others’ success as much as team success,” who helped the first-year Fighting Illini coach adjust. Allen’s first thought going into the gig was, “I better not screw this guy up because he’s already pretty good.”
For now, Weber, a Wisconsin native, is eagerly awaiting his next move. His signing was announced Thursday before he was formally assigned to AZL Giants Black on Friday. Weber’s father is a high-school gym teacher, and the pair had access to the gym so they could throw indoors while snow blanketed Menomonee Falls, Wis., during the pandemic.
Whenever possible — and that “whenever” is very open-ended — he’ll report and become another guinea pig in a system of them. The Giants will see how much more is in his arm.
“Ty Weber has control and command. He can harness and navigate those pitches. Velo? He does have more upside in velo,” Allen said. I think every pitcher does if it’s done right. … But Ty knows what will win in the end.”