One aspect of a team’s farm system that is often overlooked is their reliever prospects. Some of that is due to the fact that it is assumed, often incorrectly, that a team’s best relief prospects are actually starting pitching prospects that are either crowded out of a starting pitching role or have some sort of flaw that pushes them to the bullpen (delivery issues, lack of a third pitch, etc). However, there are a ton of relievers in the majors that started as relievers and honed their craft in the minor leagues without the pretext of being converted starters. The Braves have a really good one with a chance to do just that in Corbin Clouse.
Corbin was drafted in the 27th round of the 2016 draft and quickly became one of the Braves’ premier relief prospects. Over the course of his three years in the minors, Clouse has posted career marks of a 2.01 ERA, 12.3 K/9, and opposing batters have hit just .203 against him while steadily decreasing his walk rate as he has ascended the minor league ladder. Clouse features an arsenal of a two-seam and four-seam fastball (both with good movement), a wipe-out slider, a curve ball that he has relied upon less often given the effectiveness of his slider in pitchers’ counts, and an emerging change-up. His fastball velocity is generally in the 91-94 range, but has ticked up above that at times.
Corbin was kind enough to take some time away from his very busy schedule to talk to us about his development since the last time we chatted. If you want to read his first interview with us, you can read it by clicking right here.
So it is has been about a year and a half since we interviewed you last. Over that period of time, which one of your pitches has made the biggest strides and what adjustments did you have to make to get it to that point?
My fastball has made one of the biggest strides by far. Back in 2016 and 2017, I was trying to be to perfect with it and it lead to a lot of walks. I gave too much credit to hitters. In 2018, I had a goal of attacking hitters and making them try to put it in play instead of trying to trick them and getting them to swing and miss. The only numbers I really looked at this year for myself were innings pitched, walks, and WHIP. I didn’t hit my goal of 75 innings last year but I hit my goal exactly of 25 walks or less and I reduced my WHIP significantly so attacking hitters is definitely my main focus from here on out.
Your walk rate was a bit on the high side in 2016 and 2017, but 2018 saw significant improvement in that regard. What do you attribute that improvement to?
I attribute it mainly to my focus on how I want to pitch. I don’t want to be the pitcher that has a high walk rate because then it will limit how much I pitch and when. I want the ball in the 7th inning on. I don’t want the manager to worry about me walking someone. So in 2018, I really focused on attacking hitters and going right after them with all my pitches. Sometimes pitchers give too much credit to hitters and try to make perfect pitches when you don’t have to. Hitting is hard man. I was talking to Evan Phillips one day during BP in spring training. He told me to watch a batter take one round of BP and tell him how many “hits” they got. Well in a round of 8 pitches, most hitters got 3-4 hits. That’s only .500 at best off a pitcher who is trying to throw it softly down the middle. Then he said imagine how hard it is when one of us is on the mound. They don’t know what is coming at them, where it’s going, what it’s going to do. So that made me think hard about how I pitched and ultimately led to attacking hitters.
You started the season in Mississippi before getting called up to Gwinnett later in the season. What have you noticed is the biggest differences in terms of the hitters you are facing and how you are having to game plan against them?
The biggest difference I’ve noticed in hitters is the amount of patience they have in Triple-A. I’ll never forget my first day pitching in Triple A. My first inning was 1-2-3. Then my second inning could’ve been a train wreck. I was throwing great pitches, but they were taking them for balls. I just remember thinking to myself,”wow back in Mississippi that’s a swing and miss or that’s weak contact right there”. Ended up walking 3 in a row, but then got a double play to get out of it. That’s an example of trying to be to perfect again, though. Hitters in Triple-A aren’t that much better than the guys in Double-A. They just have plans going up to the plate and they stick to them. My game plan is simple: Pitch how I pitch. I got to where I am by pitching my game. I’m not a huge numbers guy that has to see the numbers on hitters before I go out there. It may help me yes, but it may also hurt me. Might cause me to think too much or try to be to perfect again and end up walking them.
Back in 2016, you told us that your two-seam fastball and your slider were your reliable strikeout pitches and that you really wanted to develop a changeup. Well, you are still racking up the strikeouts, so have you continued to lean on those pitches towards that end and have you been able to develop that changeup or scrapped that idea altogether?
My slider will always be my go to strikeout pitch. My two-seam has really taken a backseat to my four-seam lately, though. I realized that my four-seam can be a strikeout pitch, too. I’ve talked to some catchers and they say it moves like a two-seam but not as much. Having control of my four-seam is huge as well since it doesn’t move as much, I can control it. It’s kind of like the saying command > velocity. I’ll gladly take command > movement as well. My change-up is actually really making strides right now. Last year, I forced myself to throw it in games. While I didn’t throw it a ton, I still threw it which gave me confidence in it. It wasn’t until Triple-A that I really figured out how to throw it (thanks to Reid, the pitching coach). He gave me a couple tips on how to throw it and then it really became another pitch for me and not just a waste pitch.
I noticed that you actually started a couple of games for Gwinnett albeit in sort of an “opener” type role when promotions to the big leagues happened. What did you think of that experience and do you see that becoming used more and more in the coming years (not just in your case....talking league-wide)?
Honestly, my first start was awful. I treated it as if it was a start so I was doing all the things a starting pitcher would do. I tried to be someone I wasn’t. It didn’t work out well for me. My second and third starts we’re much better. I sat down with Reid and he told me to not go on the field until 10 minutes before the game started. So we acted like he just called down to the bullpen in the middle of a game and I had to get ready fast to go pitch. It’s kind of like trying to trick your body. I knew I was starting but my body was so used to getting hot quick and under pressure that that’s what it likes now so we tried to create that environment for it and it worked! I did enjoy my last 2 starts because I threw well and I could chill for 6 innings each knowing I did my job, but the bullpen is home. I’ll start more if I have to of course but ideally the bullpen is where I’m most comfortable. As far as seeing “openers” more I don’t know. I think it’s interesting. I can see why teams are trying it, but you’re also putting the starting pitcher in a different spot. Now he has to trick his body into thinking it’s the beginning of the game. I could see it become a trend for specific pitchers but definitely not all.
What have been your areas of focus this offseason? Has it been strictly building strength and just being physically ready for the season or have you had areas of focus in terms of mechanics, specific pitches, etc.?
My biggest area of focus this offseason has been my body. I really want to get into the best shape possible and prepare my body for a long season. I’ve invested into myself this offseason which has been expensive, but is really paying off for me. I’ve never felt this good honestly. I wanted to lose fat and gain as much muscle as I possibly could and I’ve done just that. In terms of baseball focus, I wanted to develop my change-up even more and really get a good handle on it. It’s not where I want it to be yet, but it is still only January. Mechanics will always be an issue with me since I have a tendency to rush a little bit, but the Braves have some of the best pitching coaches I’ve ever been around so I’m not to worried about that right now. Biggest thing for me is getting my arm in shape and ready for spring training. Living in Michigan in the offseason is tough. Very cold weather which means throwing outside isn’t going to happen so you have to find places to throw indoors. Luckily, I am fortunate to have my college Davenport University, and Coach Tidey, a call away to help me out. Also I have places like Diamonds, Elite, and the Baseball Kingdom all available to me. If it weren’t for those places being so kind I don’t know where I would be throwing honestly.
Assuming last season’s assignments hold, it seems likely that you will start the season in Triple-A in 2019. What are your goals for the 2019?
One of my goals this upcoming year is to learn a bunch from veterans. Being in Triple A, majority of guys around you have been to the big leagues. Picking their brains about baseball is amazing. I learned so much from my short time in Triple A because of guys like Chad Bell and Miguel Socolovich. In Double-A, I had Rex Brothers which was awesome! Rex has been around for a while and talking with him everyday for a little bit was huge for me. Statistical goals for me this upcoming year is to pitch at least 60 innings, less than 25 walks and have a WHIP under 1.20.
One last question before we let you go. The Braves have an absolute ton of stud pitching prospects in the farm system. How much collaboration is there amongst you guys in terms of advice and learning amongst one another? Is there any weirdness given how competitive roster spots are?
Being with the Braves has been such a blessing. The atmosphere they have created is unlike anything I’ve ever been around. There is so much talent when it comes to the players we have. The thing I love about us is that we all try to help the others out too. We want to help everyone we can if we can. Touki has been one of my go to guys. We’ve been together since Rome basically. We’re roommates on the road in Double A and sometimes in Triple A. Talking with him about pitching is incredible. The guy knows how to pitch. He also knows how to take constructive criticism. He’ll ask me after almost every start what I had on him that night. And I’ll give him straight answers because I know it’ll make him better. He does the same for me after I pitch. That’s just one guy we talk to but honestly it’s everybody that contributes.
We all want to make it to the majors, we know not everyone will, but yet we still try to make each other better. We are teammates but we’re helping out the competition essentially. That’s what I love about being a Brave. We don’t look at it like that. We’re working on something a lot bigger than us. There is no weirdness at all. Maybe some jealously but that’s always going to be around. You are always going to have a jealous person in the minor leagues I feel like. They don’t really stick around that long though. Touki and I always say to each other, “Don’t like it? Play better.” You can’t do your job when you’re thinking about someone else. Worry about yourself and everything will fall into place. Control the controllable.
Looking forward to this year, man! Should be an extremely fun season. Brave fans, we appreciate all the love and support from you guys! You guys are the best and we hope to give you guys a great season! Thank you for everything you guys have done and will continue to do!!