After a masterful college career at Texas A&M, left-hander Asa Lacy sputtered in his first professional action with High-A Quad Cities last year.
A persistent shoulder issue severely dampened the debut season for the third-ranked Royals prospect. He was shut down in July after posting a 5.19 ERA with 79 strikeouts and 41 walks over 52 total innings across 14 starts.
Lacy returned for the Arizona Fall League, during which he showed more of the stuff that made him worthy of the No. 4 overall pick in the 2020 Draft. He struck out 15 and allowed two runs (2.35 ERA) in 7 2/3 innings over four appearances with Surprise, his fastball often hitting triple-digits for the first time.
The No. 65 overall prospect discusses the work that went into correcting the issues he saw in his first professional season, the use of analytics in his preparation and working with Jim Morris -- the pitcher whose incredible journey was immortalized in the 2002 movie, “The Rookie” -- while growing up in Texas.
MiLB.com: I understand you've arrived at the Royals' Minor League camp in Arizona. How did the ramp up to Minors camp go for you?
Asa Lacy: Yeah, I spent my offseason in College Station, Texas. That's where I basically call home for now. I train at Texas A&M in the offseason. It's a great atmosphere. We've got a couple of pro guys I train with, and the progression is really smooth going into -- I guess right now we're calling it open camp. The plan was to get down here a little bit early this year. Last year, I couldn't because I had COVID. It was a convenient 10 days right before Spring Training starts last year. I'm really, really thankful I was able to get down here early this year. We've got a great group of guys who are training hard.
MiLB.com: Was there anything you were working on in the final weeks of the offseason?
Lacy: There were a lot of -- ah, shoot I just talked for a long time about -- just some little details with the delivery, but mainly just timing and keeping my head still throughout my delivery and everything has been based this offseason on trying to be healthy, just improve quality of tissue and range of motion and, yeah, it's just been coming into camp and really listening to the body and bullpens have been going really well. I like where I'm at. Certainly can keep improving, but we're in a great spot right now.
MiLB.com: Growing up in Texas, you worked with Jim Morris -- does he actually look like Dennis Quaid?
Lacy: I've never actually met Dennis Quaid, but from what I've heard he's not the tallest man in the world, and Jim is a large human being. Jim is about 6-foot-2 and at the time he was working with me, he was probably about 215-220 [pounds], looked like he could have played football still. He would throw with me, and if it wasn't for Parkinson's, which he has now made a full recovery from, which is amazing, but we would have worked together longer, but yeah, I couldn't be more thankful for him.
MiLB.com: When did you get the full scope of his story and maybe understand what he accomplished?
Lacy: I had seen the movie several time before actually meeting him, so I think just meeting him in person was very surreal. He had a lot of really great stories. He told us that the movie was about 80 percent true. I remember him telling me specifically that the scene where he throws into the radar gun on the side of the highway -- that scene is not true, but a lot of it was. He had a lot of cool stories from his big-league career. Just getting to pitch against guys like Derek Jeter, for example, Hall of Famers.
MiLB.com: You've also been known to have a studious nature as a pitcher, even before college. How have you handled all the information and analytics available as you've climbed the ranks?
Lacy: It can be a blessing and a curse. You definitely don't want to be analytical when you pick up that ball. Basically, the way I view it, and really the way our college coach, Rob Childress, kind of ingrained it into our team is that you had to earn all the fancy stuff. So, the Rapsodo and the Tracman and stuff like that, so if we didn't meet certain requirements in college, we weren't even allowed to look at any of that stuff. For us, that was over 60 percent strikes. He very much ingrained in us that we needed to go out there and compete and be a pitcher before we dove into the numbers. And I just kind of take that same approach into the pro ball. ... I definitely think numbers and data have a place in the game. They certainly help me, but you got to know just when to go out there and compete.
MiLB.com: Could you describe your pitch mix in broad strokes?
Lacy: Yeah, so, four-seam. Cutter-slider -- sometimes, I'll morph it. I have the ability to throw it harder sometimes. I have the ability to slow it down and add a little more sweep on it, and then, yeah, curveball and changeup. The changeup has really come a long way. It was my pitch for a long time before I really knew how to spin the ball -- I was a changeup guy. But, just transitioning from the college ball to the Minor League ball to the big-league ball, it's definitely been an adjustment with the changeup, so I'm happy with where I'm at right now. Technically, I guess you can differentiate the cutter and the slider, now. But I try to keep it simple with just four pitches.
MiLB.com: You mentioned before how important it is to keep your head on plane and your body moving in the same direction throughout your delivery. What type of work goes into that?
Lacy: It's a long process. A lot of it is just repeatability. A big thing is stability, especially through release. It would just be keeping those eyes level and keeping them through your target, and I mean, it's so cliché, keep your eyes on the target, but you see a lot of guys who have success who don't do that, and you see a lot of guys who have success who do do that. So, for me, that's just the thing that I've noticed the most even through college when I was working with the National Pitching Association. That was one thing that helped me get to where I'm at today, and I kind of just got away from that a little bit. It's just having the ability and the mobility to maintain that posture through release. I've been working with Tread Athletics since September after my rehab this year and the Fall League. And I can't thank those guys enough. They've really helped me a lot to this point.
MiLB.com: Your first Minor League season was shortened by shoulder issues, but did those same problems contribute to your struggles and walk issues at Quad Cities?
Lacy: It's a combination of everything. I'm definitely happy that I had a little adversity thrown my way. I think I learned a lot about myself during this season. And I had a lot of good people surrounding me. Family, friends, trainers, strength coaches, pitching coaches. It's been really nice to see all their support for me moving forward. So, it's going to be a great 2022.
MiLB.com: You come back to the AFL throwing harder -- did you notice a change in your stuff or was that a product of getting back to full health?
Lacy: I think just the ability to have that freedom to let the ball go. Let it do its thing and have the confidence that nothing is going to hurt and everything is going to hold up nice and just letting go of that fear.
MiLB.com: You played on one of the best teams in the Minors in Quad Cities last year -- what is that like as your first Minor League experience?
Lacy: It was awesome. It really made going to the park everyday fun. It was just a good time. And we had a lot of guys who had a lot of success, so that was really awesome to see. I'm so happy for them. We love winning -- that's what I like to say.
MiLB.com: The Royals just graduated a strong crop of pitchers from the Minors in Brady Singer, Chris Bubic, Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar. What does that tell you about the path you're following?
Lacy: It gives me a lot of confidence just knowing that the support staff is behind me and all of our other pitching prospects. It's a great environment to improve, so we're just really excited.
MiLB.com: Coming off an injury, the first goal is to just go a full year healthy. But what does a successful season for you look like in 2022?
Lacy: I think a successful season for me just looks -- just pitching to the best of my ability. I know I have it in me, just going out there with confidence each and every outing and executing my game plan, whether that's going to be different from start to start and team to team, but just go out there and execute and be a good teammate. Be that same guy each and every day in the clubhouse.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.