PEORIA, Ariz. -- Miami Marlins pitching prospect James Needy was not even signed with a team in 2016. Now he is baffling batters in the Arizona Fall League.
Needy was named the AFL's Pitcher of the Week on Tuesday after a standout performance on Nov. 7 in which he struck out nine batters in only four innings while yielding two hits and zero runs against the Scottsdale Scorpions.
"Just to come out here and perform like I did the other night, it's just an honor," Needy said on receiving the award.
Needy's nine strikeouts are a single-game best in the Fall League this season, and the scoreless outing was his second in a row. He credited his dominant outing to his fastball command.
"I was able to just pound strikes down in the zone with fastballs and then go under the zone with breaking balls out of the same windows," Needy said. "Stuff like that really helps out when you can throw pitches that look the same coming out of your hand. It really worked out for me pretty well the other day."
The towering 6-foot-6 right-hander struggled in his first Fall League start on Oct. 27, giving up five earned runs on six hits in just two innings. Since then, Needy has not allowed a run in eight innings and has held batters to a .143 average.
He pointed to execution as a key to his turnaround, which is something he said he is working on in the Fall League.
"You just got to be able to get ahead of hitters," Needy said. "If you don't get ahead of hitters, it doesn't matter how nasty your stuff is. You have to really execute early in counts or you're going to just put yourself in bad spots."
Needy is enjoying the extra repetitions he is getting in Arizona, which he said are benefitting his game.
"I didn't throw that many innings this year because of coming out of indy ball to start," Needy said. "I started in May, so getting those extra innings is real good for me just to get through, and then facing the competition here and everything like that has been great for me."
Needy has fluctuated through the different ranks of the Minors since being drafted in the sixth round of the 2009 MLB Draft by his hometown team, the San Diego Padres. He was even out of baseball in 2016 due to Tommy John surgery.
He was playing in the independent leagues before being signed in June by the Miami Marlins.
After signing with the Marlins organization, he saw some success with Class A Advanced Jupiter, going 3-2 with a 1.73 ERA before being promoted to Double-A Jacksonville, where he only made two starts. He is currently 44-27 with a 3.55 ERA in his Minor League career.
Although he has played well in the Minors, Needy doesn't think that automatically guarantees him a roster spot anywhere.
"I always have something to prove. Everyone does," said the 26-year-old. "The Marlins took a chance on me out of indy ball coming back from that injury and I respect them for it, but that doesn't mean they owe me anything. I owe them everything. I just got to prove to myself and prove to any other team and the Marlins that I can pitch in the big leagues."
With all of the years of hard work in the Minor Leagues and coming back from Tommy John surgery, making it to the big leagues would mean a lot to Needy. If that day comes, he knows exactly who he will call first.
"I think the first person I'd call is my mother. I'd probably bawl like a little girl," Needy said.
Kyle Wilcox is a senior journalism student at Arizona State University. This story is part of a partnership between MLB.com and ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.