On every short-season minor league team, there is usually a pitcher or two that splits their time in the rotation and the bullpen. For the 2018 Staten Island Yankees, that pitch has been right-hander Shawn Semple. Semple was the Yankees’ 11th Round Pick out of New Orleans University back in 2017.
In seven games (four starts) this season, the 22-year-old is 1-4 with a 3.73 ERA and has 29 strikeouts to eight walks in 27.1 innings pitched. Whether it is as a starter or a reliever, Semple has not had trouble this season keeping the same routine and doing whichever role is best for the team to win as he keeps the same mentality.
“I kind of take the role and run with it every time I pitch. Be ready for every opportunity. Last summer, in the GCL, I was the closer, so I got that relief experience. In college, I started all the time. Both I’ve gotten used to and I know my body and how I warm up. I act like I am starting a game,” said Semple
Going back-and-forth from the rotation to the bullpen is never an easy task, but pitching coach Travis Phelps has talked about how he has handled the transition and mentioned how he had been going deep into games in starts in extended spring:
“It’s a tough transition. He’s doing a great job with it. The big thing I preach to him is just throw strikes. Be aggressive, get ahead of hitters. When you get a 0-2, 1-2 count, put those guys away. He’s done a great job and I expect that to continue. Unfortunately, we haven’t had the innings up here early on for him to get there. But, going forward, you will start to see more of that as his pitch count goes up.”
Semple has a fastball that is between 89 and 91 miles-per-hour, but it can get up into the mid-90’s in velocity. Also, he features a changeup and curveball in his pitch arsenal and those are two pitches that he has continued to develop since extended spring:
“After this year working on everything, my pitch arsenal is pretty good with a three-pitch mix. My changeup is finally coming along. I’m not throwing such a hoop fat curveball anymore, it’s more of a hard, down-angle curveball. I think my arsenal is pretty good because I have always had pretty good location with my fastball.”
Semple did mention that his curveball has gone from more of a hoop curveball to a hard down-angle breaking ball. As he starts to go deeper into games in the New York-Penn League, manager Lino Diaz talked about how it is important for him to establish those secondary pitches:
“He’s got to develop that secondary pitch. He’s almost there and continuously developing and getting better. Continue to develop that changeup and breaking pitch he has. He can throw strikes. With the life that he has on his fastball, he can be pretty tough.”
While with the Gulf Coast League Yankees last season, Semple pitched solely out of the bullpen and was on the field for the final out of the GCL Championship Series when the East squad clinched the title. For Semple, it was a memorable experience:
“It was incredible. It was a long season from college to being drafted. Throwing that last pitch, it’s like now its time to relax, and going out with a nice win like that. A lot of the guys on this team I played with in the GCL. It was fun to have that experience in my first professional season bu winning a championship.”
That game capped off a good first professional season for Semple. The 11th Round pick out of New Orleans University in 2017 went 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA and gave up two earned runs in 18 innings while having a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 22:1. The 22-year-old right-hander talked about his draft experience:
“It was a little hectic. When I got the call from Mike [area scout] telling me I was going to be drafted in the 11th Round, it was a lot better at that point.”
Semple was born in Voorhees, New Jersey, and no he is not a big fan of scary movies in case you caught the Friday the 13th reference. He was a Phillies fan and grew up watching the late Roy Halladay when he was dealt to Philadelphia. One of the things that stood out to him on Halladay was his presence on the mound:
“He [Halladay] was stone-faced all the time. He never let anybody read him at all with his emotions. He was one that stood out to me.”
Now, Semple wasn’t set to go to New Orleans from the beginning. He mentioned that he was going to go to James Madison, but that fell thru and then he got a call from the Privateers with a week to go until the season began.
In the Southland Conference, he went 9-3 with a 3.07 ERA in 15 starts in 2017. He had 109 strikeouts in 93.1 innings that season and his best start came on May 5 against Houston Baptist. In a complete game, he gave up one run on nine hits and struck out 15 batters. So, what was working on that particular day?
“The fastball was working that day. Being able to locate it and to throw first-pitch strikes. Having good location for my 0-2, 1-2 pitches, just being able to locate the fastball was huge in college for me. It was one of the best moments of my baseball career.”
When you talk about Semple, command is the first word that comes to mind. In the outing I saw him pitch against the West Virginia Black Bears, he threw first-pitch strikes to eight of the first nine batters. Phelps mentioned his ability to throw first-pitch strikes in breaking down his season:
“He’s been fantastic throwing first-pitch strikes and getting ahead of guys all season long. He’s been terrific, he’s been able to move the ball around, locate it, throwing his secondary pitches off of his fastball. He’s doing a good job starting to read swings and he’s come a long way.”
As Semple continues to develop as a pitcher, Phelps mentioned that it is his work ethic that will stand out as his career moves forward when he mentioned the expectations for him the rest of the way:
“Continue to do what he’s doing. Continue to mature and grow as a pitcher. He’s got tremendous work ethic and I think you will see a lot of the same from him going forward.”
When you talk to Semple about his goals, he talks about always competing and that is a good sign for any pitcher that takes the mound every 5-6 days:
“I just want to be able to compete. I want to be able to get the person out 0-2,1-2, and not worry about losing them. I want to keep my walks and ERA down.”
As the final month of the season begins for Staten Island, keep an eye on Semple’s development as a starter. Whichever role he is in with the Yankees, the precise command of his pitches could take him a long way in the organization if it continues as he moves up the system.