This week, Orioles prospect Lucas Humpal took a few minutes to chat with us about his 2017 season, one that has been quietly building toward a very respectable campaign once it’s all wrapped up.
On the year, Humpal has made 23 starts and tossed 140 innings, keeping his ERA at a very steady 3.92. In those innings, he’s allowed 138 hits but has walked just 30 batters, a K/9 rate of only 1.9. It’s been relatively smooth-sailing for most of the year, but Humpal still hasn’t cracked the Orioles top-30 on MLB Pipeline.
Of course, you can chalk some of that up to him being 23 years old in his first full season as a pro (he tossed for four seasons at Texas State). Being above age 22 at low-A ball doesn’t generally translate to prospect status, even if you’ve put up the numbers to overshadow. It’s not entirely fair, but it’s the name of the game.
Still, Humpal has carried on and undoubtedly carved out a role for himself in the organization, steadily posting some of the most consistent numbers on a weekly basis on the hill. When asked about the success, he focused attention on the off-speed offerings and their success over the course of the year.
“I think one of my greatest attributes as a pitcher is that I’m able to locate all four of my pitches in the strike zone,” he said. “Using that to my advantage, I try to mix things up as much as I can to try to keep the hitters off balance.
“When you have breaking ball pitches that you can’t locate in the zone, these hitters are just smart enough to not swing at it because it’s not going to be a strike. So when you have your offspeed pitches you can throw in the zone, they’re not sure what pitch is coming and it could be any of the pitches because all of them could go for strikes.”
It’s a basic approach that sounds fairly common, but it’s one that has become Humpal’s identity on the mound. And when he talks about his fastball, it makes much more sense that the slower stuff has been the bread and butter he’s leaning on.
“I think the MLB average fastball is somewhere around 92 miles per hour. So, in the eyes of profesisonal baseball I have a very average fastball at this point in my career,” Humpal noted. “With my two-seam I might have some sink on it and have a little run, but one of the biggest points with having a fastball that you can’t just throw by people is you have to locate it down in the zone on both sides of the plate so you can maybe get that weak contact and swings and misses.”
From those quotes, we might get a bit of a look into why Humpal isn’t ranked highly among those doing scouting work outside of the organization. With triple digits reading on the radar gun seemingly everywhere you turn, the appeal for a basic pitcher with solid mechanics and low walk totals seems lessened. It makes it a tough road for Humpal to climb, but he’s certainly not worried about time not being on his side.
Last offseason after making 11 appearances at Aberdeen in his rookie debut, the Texas native returned to his home state to continue chipping away at finishing his degree in electrical engineering. He plans to continue to do the same thing after this year wraps up and says he’s on track to complete the program shortly.
With experience on and off the diamond, maturity is the first thing that comes across when chatting with Humpal, probably not surprising but reassuring that he’s on the right track to success. Perhaps the most honest quote of the interview came at the end, when Humpal was asked about his biggest point of emphasis as his career continues. Rather than keying in on mechanics or movement, he took it one step further:
“This being my first season, I’ve had some weaknesses come to the surface,” he said. “I feel like one of those weaknesses was I’d have one or two good games in a row and I’d get comfortable with myself. I’d be going into the third game with maybe 90 percent focus rather than the 100 percent that I had in the earlier two games.
“One of the things I’m trying to do now is have the same focus I have in game 25 of this season as I did in game one… I want to be able to have the same focus as Game 1 of the World Series. It’s just one of those things that I know I can pitch well, and when I do pitch well I have that great focus. I want to be able to be consistent in stuff like that because mistakes still happen, but I don’t want it to be a mistake where I look in the mirror and say, “Wow, if I would have focused more.’”
There are only a few outings left for Humpal in the 2017 season, but it’s safe to say he’s done about all he can do for a 23-year-old to solidify a future with the team. The clock continues to tick, but the best case scenario still remains — continued success, further development, and an opportunity just a bit later in his career to make an impact at the MLB level.