Cody Buckel – A Second Chance
Cody Buckel is a 22-year-old young man who is getting a second chance to play AA baseball for the Frisco RoughRiders. The average age of a AA baseball player is 24-years-old. Buckel is getting a second chance at AA, at 22.
Let that sink in.
There are so many minor league players that never even see AA ball, so many high school kids that dream of playing minor league ball and never make it in, let alone to AA. Cody Buckel is 22 and getting to do it for a second time. That alone should tell you about the perseverance this kid has. The will to win, if you will. The mental toughness, if that is your cup of tea. Ok, ok, enough of the cliches.
After being drafted in the 2nd round of the Amateur Draft out of high school in 2010, he debuted in Frisco on June 24th of 2012 as the Rangers #6 overall prospect. He was the 5th ranked overall prospect in the Carolina League with Myrtle Beach before his promotion to AA Frisco. When he arrived in Frisco, he was ranked as the 14th best prospect in the Texas League. He was four years younger than the average AA player was. That’s how good he was.
Need more? Baseball America rated Buckel as having the best control in the Rangers system after the 2011 season AND rated him as having the best breaking pitch in the entire Carolina League in 2012. That is no cake walk award. Pitchers such as Yordano Ventura, T.J. House, Danny Salazar, Dylan Bundy, and Kevin Gausman were throwing in that same league.
He was the Rangers #4 overall prospect to begin the 2012 season and was the second best pitching prospect behind Martin Perez. The guy was damn good, a stud. There were even rumblings that he could crack the Rangers big league squad in 2014 if he dominated 2013 like he did 2012.
Then, IT happened.
Buckel was the Opening Day starter for Frisco to start the 2013 season. He lasted just 2.2 innings, giving up five hits, seven runs (all earned) with two strikeouts and five walks. FIVE. He threw 71 pitches, only 34 strikes. Chalk it up to Opening Day jitters? A little rusty for the first game of the season?
Unfortunately, the answer is no.
His next outing, 1.2 innings, no hits, two runs both earned, and SIX walks. He threw 50 pitches and only 21 of them were for strikes. Buckel’s AA time lasted just five starts. In what would be his final AA start of 2013, Buckel never even recorded an out. He gave up just one hit but allowed six earned runs, two hit batters, three more walks, and threw only nine strikes. His AA season ended with a relief outing that was the same story – three runs in a third of an inning, three more walks and only five total strikes thrown.
In 2012, Buckel averaged just 3 BB/9. By the end of the 2013 season, that number increased by almost 1,000% to an astonishing 29.5 BB/9.
It seems as though Buckel has developed a problem. The Yips.
Yes, the Yips is a real thing. The most notable players to develop the Yips are Mackey Sasser (ESPN ran a 30 For 30 on Sasser and the Yips), Chuck Knoblauch, and Steve Sax. Very few players apparently ever recover from it. As a matter of fact, no pitcher has ever come back from the Yips to my knowledge. It’s such a mental hurdle that most players just cannot overcome it. It’s not just pitching, as you can see by the names of the players listed, it’s throwing the ball in any capacity. Reports have surfaced over the last few months that Pro Golfer Tiger Woods has a case of the Yips with his golf swing, so the Yips aren’t just limited to baseball. By definition, anyone can get it, in any profession.
Buckel took some time off in 2013 to make sure that there was no injury, and to rest his mind. He returned in August to the Arizona Fall League Rangers where the results were no different. In two games, he allowed seven walks, a hit batter and four runs in just 1.1 innings.
Buckel was shut down for the remainder of the year.
Buckel walked away from baseball that winter. He needed to. He needed to clear his mind and start over. In an interview with MiLB writer Danny Wild, Buckel said:
“This offseason, I took some time away from the game, took a deep breath, forgot about baseball for a month or two, got my ping pong game up to par. I returned to a clear mind in my workouts and not fearing failure.”
Buckel came back in 2014 refreshed and ready to go. He started the season at High A Myrtle Beach and eventually spent the entire season there. He walked the first batter he faced. Buckels first three starts were much like his 2013 season. He walked four, six, and four over a combined 6.2 innings. After his first start of the season, Buckel was asked about his mind set after walking four:
“Last year, I would have been there thinking, ‘Oh, God, here we go again. I felt great in the ‘pen, I felt like my old self. I walked the first few hitters, but I said, ‘Stay within yourself, take a deep breath, get ahead.'”
Buckel was moved to a relief role. The results showed up immediately. In his first relief outing, he walked just one batter while throwing 16 pitches in an innings worth of work. His second outing? A full inning, no walks. NO WALKS.
Buckel was getting his confidence back.
The rest of the season didn’t come without bumps in the road however. He did have a stretch where he allowed 10 walks over four innings in four games. Perhaps the most encouraging stretch came at the end of the season where he had just one walk over his last six plus innings of work.
He was getting better. No one expected him to go back to being the second best pitching prospect in the organization right away, or at all for that matter. This is a stepping stone in the recovery process. This isn’t an overnight fix.
“That’s something that wasn’t in my mind last year — staying within yourself and trusting yourself. Last Spring Training, kind of near the end, I got a little too technical, I was thinking too much with pitches. And mentally, I’d never really experienced mental failure before. It’s something I didn’t know how to handle.”
Buckel finished 2014 with a 8.4 BB/9 rate – significantly down from 2013 but still not where it needed to be. The bright side to that season, was he was still able to miss bats with his devastating curveball. He managed 11 K/9 on the season.
His curveball ended up being his fall back pitch because it was the pitch he could command the most. When his fastball was flat, he went back to the curveball. When Buckel was at his best, he was showing a four pitch mix adding in a slider and changeup to go along with his fastball and curve.
At this point, it would have been easy for Buckel to sit back and be satisfied with the progress that he’s made. It also would have been easy to give up before the season even started. But he didn’t. He wasn’t satisfied with just making progress.
Cody Buckel wanted to fight, he wanted to get over the hump and back to what made him a top five prospect in the Rangers system.
Buckel got a plane ticket with fellow Rangers prospect Kellin Deglan and headed off to the Land Down Under to play in the Australian Baseball League over the off-season. Both Buckel and Deglan shined. Deglan set the ABL Home Run record and Buckel went 2-2 with a 2.93 ERA in 46 innings of work to go along with 41 strikeouts and 19 walks. His walk numbers are inflated because of one bad outing where he walked six but never walked more than two in any other of his 12 games.
This brings us to the present day. Buckel is back in AA baseball playing for our Frico RoughRiders. At the RoughRiders Media Day, I was able to sit down with Buckel for a few minutes and talk to him about his journey.
SDI – What’s it like being back in Frisco now?
“It’s definitely a blessing man, it’s kind of like a second chance sort of feeling. [I] worked really hard last season to get back into a comfortable state of mind, get my mental side back functioning fully and clearly. [I] went to Australia in the offseason and I think that really helped. Kind of got me away from everything, a new place, new people, new teammates. Just kind of got to be myself again, relaxed, and carried that back into Spring Training and I guess it was good enough to get me back here.”
SDI – What was Australia like? What did it do for you as far as clearing your mind and mentality?
“It was amazing. The people there were probably my favorite part. The people are just so genuine, so accepting and they really want to see you do well. They really didn’t know too much of my back story or my past so I kind of, ya know, kept that to myself. Australia really helped as far as getting a clear state of mind and getting to perform with not nearly as much pressure. Just kind of find myself again and it was nice having Kellin Deglan down there as well. A former teammate, he was my catcher in Hickory and my catcher in Myrtle Beach last year, so having a familiar face and a guy that I can be familiar with down there was ya know, really awesome.”
SDI – What’s been the most helpful process or advice you’ve received along this journey?
“It’s really as simple as never give up. It’s just keep going, if you want it bad enough, if you love it enough, you’re going to find it again. Ya know it’s been a grind, I’m not gonna lie, it’s been tough but it’s gonna be all for the better. It’s going to be kind of my story, it’s going to be, ya know, what pushed me to get back to where I needed to be. I feel like it was hard to see at the time but now it’s starting to seem like a blessing in disguise as far as me learning and me becoming a person and me maturing in the game, stuff like that.”
SDI – Was it anything in your mechanics, was it something mental or just random?
“It was, ya know having the Yips isn’t something that’s really explainable. I couldn’t really tell ya. Obviously it did become a mental thing but how it started I think it was just I put too much pressure on myself to be perfect, to try and be the best at everything and now I’m trying not to put nearly as much [pressure] on myself, I’m trying to let things go a little better. If I have a bad outing, I don’t let it carry with me the next few days. I have my night where I might be upset or whatever but the next day it’s gone. So the biggest thing for me now is being able to let go, even the good outings. I have that good outing that night, the next day, it’s in the past. I’m moving forward.”
SDI – That complete game you threw in Australia, that had to be a big confidence booster for ya.
“Oh yea. I think that complete game was a double header game anyways so it was only seven innings but the one that really got my confidence back was another [one where I] went seven innings, I think I had 12 strikeouts and one walk. That one I could command all my pitches, I can do this and I can do that. That was the big push that said I can still do this.”
SDI – At that point it’s not even about the competition is it? It’s more about the command aspect? A walk is a walk at any competition level right?
“In 2012 I was having my really good year, I’ve always been a guy that’s had OK control, I’ve had decent control but I was still going to walk, I think three per nine which is about normal for me. I wasn’t a guy that was going to go out there and walk nobody every game, that’s just me. Obviously I’d like to go out there and not walk anybody and strikeout 10 every game but walks are just part of the game so unfortunately I walked more than I’d like to in 2013 and 2014 but I ended 2014 a lot better [in] the last couple of months, mostly the second half. Then going to Australia, really battled down, really got back to where I’m pretty comfortable.”
SDI – Ok, let’s have a little fun. Let’s play a game. I know a lot of the minor league players love Chipotle, so would you rather have free Chipotle for a year or free McDonald’s for a lifetime?
“Chipotle. Chipotle because if I have free McDonald’s for life, I wouldn’t make it past 50.”
SDI – Rickey Fowler or Rory McIllroy?
“I gotta go with Fowler, we’re both Puma boys.”
SDI – Yea, Puma boys, what’s the deal with that?
“Yea, so my rookie year I was sponsored by Puma, I had Puma cleats I was ready to go and then they stopped making baseball cleats the next year. So I still wanted to be affiliated with them somehow and I talked to the agent and I said look I like to golf too, is there any way we can get connections with golf too and they sent me a bunch of hats, bunch of shirts, and a bunch of pants so it was pretty cool. You should see me around here when I come to the ballpark, I’ll be dressed in colorful outfits.”
SDI – I saw you tweet a while back about the Lego Movie being snubbed at the Oscars so which do you prefer, Lego Movie or Big Hero 6?
“Lego Movie, for sure.”
SDI – Well everything is awesome, everything is cool. Thanks for your time and good luck this season.
One thing that stood out to me with Buckel is that after the interview, I told him that I had been following his story since it all started and that I was really rooting for him to succeed. He was genuinely appreciative of the support and said to know that people still support and believe in him is refreshing and it means a lot to him.
Buckel was shelled in his first outing of 2015 to the tune of seven hits and five runs, all earned. The good news is he only walked one, the bad news is he couldn’t command his fastball. But the even better news is that he has had two clean outings since then. No runs, one walk, and two hits over two innings.
I don’t know if Buckel will ever the be prospect he was in 2012, but I for one am certainly rooting for the Cali Kid to find his groove again. If you want to support Buckel, follow him on twitter @cheatcode07. I’m sure he would appreciate the words of encouragement.