Talbot refining impressive skills

Talbot refining impressive skills

ST. PETERSBURG -- Joe Maddon looked at the scouting sheet that described Mitch Talbot and quickly grew interested in watching the right-hander pitch.

Talbot didn't disappoint the Devil Rays manager.

"Mitch is really nice -- whew!" Maddon said. "We have those sheets on everybody and there were so many positives about [Talbot]. A fairly big list of strengths and I saw them all -- they're there. All those strengths are there. He's kind-of nice."

Talbot came to the Rays, along with shortstop Ben Zobrist from the Astros, in exchange for infielder Aubrey Huff and cash on July 12. At the time of the trade, Talbot had a 6-4 record in 17 starts with a 3.39 ERA, including 96 strikeouts in 90 1/3 innings at Corpus Christi of the Double-A Texas League. He finished the season with Double-A Montgomery and posted a 4-3 record with a 1.90 ERA in 10 starts, helping the Biscuits claim the Southern League crown.

Last summer's trade looks good for the organization and it has the chance to develop into an even better deal based on how Talbot projects. Right now, he's close enough to the Major Leagues that he can smell the nachos at Tropicana Field. All he lacks is a little refinement.

Talbot is experiencing his first Major League camp this spring.

"It's been great," Talbot said. "I can't complain. It's baseball, but it's a lot better baseball. It's a lot more fun. It's a lot more intense -- everybody's playing for a spot. And I like it a lot."

While the Rays have a healthy list of pros for Talbot, the 23-year-old was asked what he felt were the things he did well.

"I think, mixing in pitches," Talbot said. "I never do the same thing twice. [I] just use my pitches well. I've always had the same pitches -- pretty good location. End of last year I kind of learned better sequences with them -- how to use them against certain hitters. I mean that's when my ERA and everything went really down and my strikeouts went up."

Talbot enjoys how the game between pitchers and hitters becomes more mental the further up the chain he advances.

"[Opposing players] watch video and all of that, see all your little things," Talbot said. "It's just something I'll have to adapt to. I have video on them, too."

Talbot throws a fastball, curveball, slider, cutter and a changeup. Most pitchers looking to earn a spot on a Major League roster would likely cull one or two pitches to concentrate on having the necessary command of at least three pitches a pitcher must have to be a starter at the Major League level. But the fact is, Talbot has control of all five of his pitches.

"I was lucky, my control came around a lot sooner than it does for a lot of guys," Talbot said.

Which doesn't mean Talbot won't have to polish what he has in order to get to the show.

"Right now I need to get my slider down -- that's a new pitch to me," Talbot said. "I just started throwing a slider at the end of last year. They really want to work on that with me. That's all they've really talked to me about. So I think [about] just developing that, and we'll go from there. I'm just trying to find a release point, but my curveball and cutter are going pretty good."

Talbot was optioned to Triple-A Durham on Tuesday. In two innings pitched this spring he allowed one earned run, but clearly he made an impression. It's easy for the Rays' management to project a future rotation, including youngsters such as Talbot and Jeff Niemann to add to Scott Kazmir and James Shields. The timing just isn't quite right yet, which the Rays knew going into Spring Training.

"I want him to get his feet on the ground," Maddon said. "I want him to be King Kong. There are all the strengths he has, but there were other things we want him to conquer. And then when he's ready, we'll bring him up at the right moment."

Judging by the skills Talbot put on display this spring, his call could come at any moment.

"Mitch Talbot's stuff is really, really good -- very composed," Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "He throws strikes. He has the ability to change speeds. He could project as a very good Major League starter."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.