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Inside the breakout and daunting 2020 challenge of Giants’ best pitching prospect

2021 S.F. Giants

This is the second in a many-part series catching up with San Francisco Giants prospects, many of whom had to stay home during the 2020 season. The first feature spotlighted Heliot Ramos.

For Seth Corry, 2019 was about command and control. Both of his body and of the strike zone, which manifested in fewer walks as the season got longer.

Both command and control were needed in 2020, even if there wasn’t an umpire in sight.

The Giants’ best pitching prospect had to progress in darkness. As the best position-player prospects arrived in Sacramento in July to get work at the alternate site, the team didn’t extend invites to young pitchers, feeling that they could better replicate practice sessions on their own; pitchers can throw to catchers and backstops, and technology can reflect pitch patterns, while hitters need to see real pitching to improve.

Corry, the organization’s No. 5 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, was pretty sure he would make the cut until farm director Kyle Haines called to relay the club’s thinking. After a sterling season in which he posted the best ERA (1.76) and the most strikeouts (172) of any A-Ball pitcher, Corry was going to miss a year of reps and grow at his family’s home in Utah rather than Augusta or San Jose or Richmond.

Sure, he had time with loved ones that is unheard of for baseball players who live on the road, but the life he has been dreaming of was about 500 miles away. Like The Proclaimers, he would walk to Sacramento if that’s what were asked of him.

“It got to a point where all I wanted to do was play,” Corry said on a phone call last week. “It did not matter who was there with me — I told my wife multiple times: ‘Hey, I love you to death, but if I get a call and they told me I had to play for three years in a row and I couldn’t bring family with me, I would not care.’ I had to play. I was dying for it.”

The coronavirus pandemic has tested everyone to varying degrees, and Corry is aware he is fortunate. Still, the 22-year-old could not have imagined how much his mental discipline would be appraised — especially after a ’19 season that developed his mind as much as his prized left arm.

Mark Allen knew Corry’s arm before he knew Corry. A longtime member of the Indians scouting department, Allen caught a glimpse of the raw southpaw in the Arizona League in 2018 and wanted to see more.

“I love the way this guy looks,” Allen remembers thinking. “Now, he’s wild as all get-out. … It was almost as if stars aligned. I thought to myself, I would love to work with that kid. They have a talented kid if he ever can throw strikes consistently.”

The stars had aligned, Allen leaving Cleveland to become San Francisco’s pitching coordinator for the ’19 season and, as he went through tape after tape of Giants pitchers, saw the same one who had caught his eye before. Allen quickly connected with Corry and then coaches who had worked with Corry to dig into the person.

He learned of Corry’s past, that the 6-foot-2, solidly built athlete was a high school football star, a safety, who eventually gave up the sport after he tore his ACL. He learned Corry had been committed to BYU before the Giants went overslot to lure the 2017 third-round pick into turning pro. He learned that everyone around Corry praised him as a disciplined worker.

2021 S.F. Giants

In spring training that year, Allen gave Corry three central goals to keep in mind, which the 22-year-old still can rattle off. He wanted Corry to focus on mental discipline; Corry says he’s the type of pitcher who used to beat himself up after giving up a walk. He needs to focus on mastering the strike zone, particularly with strike one. And he needs to concentrate on his flexibility.

“He was so tight,” said Allen, who since has become the pitching coach at the University of Illinois. “Now there’s no doubt that’s one of the reasons why he produces his swing-and-miss stuff … because that’s the way his body’s wired. He’s big and strong. A lot of guys are like that right away in the pro game. It was more of the mental side and starting to trim away the football-player mentality. So if Seth ever got into trouble or he started walking guys, his first reaction was to overpower the hitter.”

As the season started, Clay Rapada, Low-A Augusta’s pitching coach, became the influential voice in Corry’s ear, watching him both dazzle and frustrate. Through 12 starts for the first-year full-season prospect, Corry struck out 69 while allowing just 32 hits in 45 1/3 innings. But he only twice pitched into the sixth inning because he walked 36, a constant source of agitation.

Allen was in town to watch the June 7 outing against Kannapolis, in which Corry struck out four and walked four in two, 50-pitch innings. Corry approached the pitching coordinator in the dugout.

“‘You said in spring training that there was going to be a time that we could take the next step,'” Allen remembers Corry saying. “He goes, ‘I’ve gotten more flexible. Obviously you saw my outing out there, I didn’t get frustrated.’ He wasn’t being a meatstick and trying to overpower people. He was trying to pitch, and he was trying to throw strikes. I could tell it was a valiant effort.”

It was time. Soon Allen and Rapada huddled with Corry and developed a “completely different” throwing program that aimed to simplify everything. Every single throw, from warmup on, that Corry made would be disciplined. He would focus in on the arm slot. Each throw had to be conducted with purpose. In an organization that prides itself on improvement, Corry had to want to improve with literally every arm movement. There were unique drills sprinkled in to ensure Corry controlled his center mass, but it was more a mindset and an awareness and a focus with every rep than an arm tweak.

“If you want to be a strike-thrower, you have to consistently throw strikes,” said Rapada, who will be assistant pitching coordinator this year. “It’s not just something you turn on during a start.”

There were blips the rest of the season, including a five-walk outing on Aug. 22. But in his remaining 15 games, Corry did not leave that mindset, posting a 1.28 ERA in 77 1/3 innings, allowing 22 walks while opponents hit .156 off of him. With a low-90s fastball, “an absolute sledgehammer curveball,” as Allen termed it, and a still-developing changeup, he had emerged as the most impressive pitcher in that league and the highest upside in the Giants organization. And then 2020 came.

Excitement that he would be around big leaguers at the alternate site turned to disappointment turned to determination. If there was a time for Corry’s discipline to be tested, it was fortunate the previous season he had sharpened his No. 2 pencils.

There were no coaches over his shoulder because there were no coaches in his backyard. Every arm movement mattered, as did every pitch, because he didn’t know if a call would come that the Giants wanted him in camp.

For the first half of his quarantine time, he had no technology to gauge improvement and pitch shapes and velocities; he just had to keep training and believe it was working. He kept throwing curveballs and changeups to find the best starting point that would land them in as strikes. The little things became more important — even during the second half of his time at home, when relief came in the form of a Rapsodo, courtesy Haines, so at least his mental pictures could take physical shape.

In his mind, he kept reminding himself that “I know there are going to be guys that aren’t going to work, and they’re going to be like, ‘Oh, there’s no season this year,’ so they’re going to become complacent,” Corry said. “But for me, it was completely the opposite. I knew that, and I knew that wasn’t going to happen [to me]. I did everything in my power to make sure that I wasn’t one of those guys.”

It is a notion that any and every prospect can tout because there was no one there to dispute it. Every player will say he worked hard and made sure he was ready. If the Giants wanted proof of Corry’s discipline, it came in the fall instructional league.

His fastball jumped up, he said, topping out about 96 mph and living about 94-95. He had focused hard during the break on flexibility and being comfortable with his body movement, which began to reflect more of a pitcher and less a safety.

He had disappeared for the entire break and come back stronger.

“I was never too high or too low, I just wanted to come in to Instructs and just really home in on what I had tried to work my best at from a mental-discipline side. Always doing what I needed to do every single day … whether that was a throwing program, whether that was a bullpen [session], whether that was lifting, whatever it was.”

The break is just about over, but Corry is no longer waiting eagerly at home. He’s been working out in Arizona with a bunch of Giants, now with trainers at the ready and coaches closer than a text away.

If he hasn’t already, he’ll get a chance to hang with close friend Logan Webb, who hypes him at every turn. Both were young, high picks out of high school, both deeply passionate about baseball but former football stars, both resistant to anyone outworking them, both loathe walking batters but work diligently on staying even-keeled.

“He’s going to be special,” Webb said earlier this offseason.

Asked what he wants Giants fans to know about him, Corry spoke passionately.

“The only thing that matters to me is winning. I’m a guy who’s always going to be a fierce competitor, no matter what the situation is, whether it’s game 80 of the season or it’s game 162 and we’re fighting for a wild-card game. It does not matter,” Corry said. “I’m always going to give the fans and everyone everything, 100 percent. I’m always going to be competing, and I’m always going to be fierce in doing it. And once I get there, the only thing that’s going to matter to me is winning.”


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