Turning up major heat

High schools: Mount St. Joseph's Gavin Floyd has the potential to make it to the big leagues. Will he follow the path of other area pitchers who have made it or those who have burned out?

May 21, 1999|By Pat O'Malley | Pat O'Malley,SUN STAFF

If Gavin Floyd of Mount St. Joseph were a senior, scouts say he would be a lock as a first- or second-round choice in the upcoming major-league free-agent draft, with big bonus bucks waiting.

Floyd has all the tools -- size, loose arm action, fluid delivery and a natural release point that allows him to get maximum velocity -- but he's only a 16-year-old sophomore.

Who knows where the 6-foot-4, 185-pounder will be in terms of pro potential two years from now? When you are just a 10th-grader and throwing 90 mph, what do you do for an encore?

Floyd is just the latest area pitcher to face that question. What he does in the next two years will go a long way toward determining if he follows the path of a hard thrower like Moose Haas to the majors or ends up a case of unrealized potential.

"It's my goal in the next two years to hit 100 mph on the [radar] gun," said Floyd, a Severna Park resident who is 10-1 for the Gaels this season, with the distinction of posting a win over each of eight foes in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference.

"Like every kid, my goal is to make it to the majors. The attention is great, but I won't let it go to my head."

It was in Euclid, Ohio, last summer at the Continental Amateur Baseball Association High School Eligible World Series that Floyd was first clocked by a herd of scouts while pitching for the Maryland Orioles.

"Everybody was impressed with his velocity for a 15-year-old and how poised he is beyond his age," said coach Dean Albany.

Floyd is focused on throwing harder and getting better while comparisons with other hard throwers will intensify.

"I know I need to build up my legs and will do some weightlifting this fall and do a lot of running year around," said Floyd, who takes two months off throwing in the winter.

Most flamethrowers in the big leagues have extremely strong or thick legs. Examples: Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens.

Realizing potential

There are a lot of reasons pitchers with Floyd's potential make it and a lot of reasons why they don't.

Greg Arnold and Haas, the two Baltimore-area high school right-handed pitchers who came the closest to throwing 100 mph, offer a comparison.

Haas, an All-Metro pitcher at Franklin, made it to the majors and Arnold didn't.

Arnold signed with the Orioles right out of Baltimore's Southern High in 1966.

"Arnold's ball hissed and had a lift to it," said Jim Foit Sr., who coached Arnold on the Dewey Lowman American Legion team.

Veteran umpire Frank "Jocko" Svoboda, who just turned 73 and has seen, coached or umpired practically everybody on this article's accompanying list of hard throwers, said that Arnold was the fastest. Arnold "scared" Svoboda when he was behind the plate because his ball had so much velocity and movement.

During Arnold's minor-league career, his off-the-field antics included performing as an Elvis and Tom Jones impersonator. Arnold was so talented that Baltimore promoter Lou Grasmick booked him for a gig in Las Vegas.

Jim Palmer was coming up in the Orioles organization at the same time and once said, "I wish I had Arnold's arm."

Arnold's minor-league career ended with arm problems at Triple-A Rochester. He is currently living in Severna Park and producing cable TV shows.

Nearly 10 years later, Haas exploded onto the scene at Franklin, thanks to the tutelage of his late summer coach, Sheriff Fowble.

At Franklin, Haas was 7-0 his senior year with a perfect 0.00 ERA. Drafted and signed by the Brewers in '74, Haas made it to the majors in 1976 and went on to a 12-year career record of 100-83 and pitched in the 1982 World Series.

Losing the heat

Arnold, Haas and others on the flamethrowers list could bring it in high school and beyond, but there have been those who lost their heat during or after high school.

A prime example outside the metro area is Wootton's Joey Popovich, who beat Arundel, 2-1, in the 1996 Class 4A State final before an overflow crowd at Cannon Stadium in Harmans.

Popovich also was a 16-year-old sophomore throwing 90, but he never pitched consistently at that rate again. His velocity fell off, and he has been relegated to short relief at the University of North Carolina.

Some scouts say that he simply pitched too much over his final two years, particularly in the fall, when he was basically working out on weekends only.

"I think a lot of young pitchers throw too many breaking pitches, cut fastball, cut this, cut that, and are not as concerned today with changing speeds," says Frenchy Letan, one of the hardest throwers of the 1950s while at City, according to veteran umpire Jerry Komin.

Letan, who coached and scouted for several pro clubs, says he's "not convinced that weight training is conducive to pitching and that there is a lot of over-coaching."

Things that come naturally should be left alone, he says.

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