Confidence is everything in baseball

Cardinals prospect Jimmy Reed reflects on his progress through season

As my teammates and I had said the whole second half, we knew the Florida State League playoff field would be decided on the last day of the season. We had exchanged spots atop the standings with the Bradenton Marauders the entire second half, but finally the Pirates affiliate secured its first-place finish in the Southern Division. Our prediction proved true. 

Despite our missed chance at a championship, I think I personally had a solid season. I won six out of my nine starts while pitching for high Class A Advanced Palm Beach, finished fourth in the organization in wins with 10 and worked almost 140 innings.

For now, I'm going to make up for lost time with my family and friends before heading to Austin, Texas, for offseason training. For me, this first full season has taken more of a mental toll on me than a physical one. But I expected that. I trained all offseason to handle a full season. 

In college, a regular season is about 56 games, spread out over the course of four months. This year I played 56 games in half that time. When you've got a game almost every day of the month with little time off, you can get worn out.   

I've started to feel some of those effects.

Within the last month, I've found myself mentally exhausted after games. Baseball is just as much a mental game as it is a physical one. The concentration level of every player on the team has to be high to be successful. Mental fatigue late in the season is no surprise. It's just something I'll have to learn from.

I've already learned plenty this season; I've played for three different teams across three different levels this year. I've played for three different managers, had three different pitching coaches and been around three different groups of players and teammates that I learned from.  

I could write a novel if I explained my lessons at each stop. But there was one constant message that I got at every level from both my managers and pitching coaches: Compete with everything you have, every pitch. It sounds simple, but it helped me have a successful season.

As a pitcher, it doesn't matter if you throw 100 mph or 80 mph; if you're not pitching with confidence and conviction then you have no chance. My pitching coach puts it perfectly here: "You have to throw every pitch with the mentality that it's not going to be hit."

For me, mental toughness is the biggest part of pitching. Having sound mechanics and command are certainly a big part of being a successful pitcher. But being mentally tough takes precedent over everything. The guy who has all the talent in the world isn't worth anything if he crumbles under pressure or doesn't have the confidence to get hitters out without his best stuff. 

My most satisfying game this summer came under one of these circumstances. I hadn't picked up a baseball in two days and I had spent a whole day traveling to Oklahoma from Florida to make my Double-A debut the next day. I knew that I wasn't going to have my best stuff, but I made the choice to tell myself that I'm a good enough pitcher to get hitters out without my best stuff. I won my debut and threw six innings, giving up one run.

It's a good memory to build on for 2015.

Jimmy Reed, a 2013 graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, pitched for four years for the University of Maryland. He is from Gaithersburg, Md. For the rest of his blog entries, please visit the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.