Glenn Otto is a different pitcher than the one the New York Yankees took in the fifth round of the 2017 draft out of Rice University. Acquired from his original organization by the Texas Rangers as part of last summer’s Joey Gallo deal, the 26-year-old right-hander not only has a better understanding of his craft, he’s attacking hitters with an expanded arsenal. Moreover, his five-pitch mix is directionally diverse. Augmented by an occasional bridge pitch, Otto’s offerings are designed to go north, south, east, and west.
Otto discussed his repertoire, and the education he’s received while building it, when the Rangers visited Fenway Park last weekend.
David Laurila: In what ways have you grown since coming to pro ball? Having played at a high-profile program, I assume you already had a good idea of how to pitch.
Glenn Otto: “I honestly really didn’t. I was a reliever in college and pretty much relied purely on stuff. I had a mid-90s fastball and a really good curveball, which was all I used back then. Once I got into pro ball and became a starter, it was about going as deep as I can, commanding the fastball to all four quadrants, developing a changeup — a pitch which has kind of come and gone for me — and I’ve also made some adjustments mechanically.
“It’s been a journey — it definitely hasn’t been a straight line — and I’m sure it will continue to be a journey. I’ve learned a lot about resilience. Really, I’ve learned how to use the stuff that I have, as well as how to enhance that stuff as much as possible.”
Laurila: Developing a changeup was the one of the first steps…
Otto: “Yes. They drafted me with being starter in mind, and that meant I needed a third pitch, which would eventually become a fourth pitch. I also added a slider. The changeup has always been a bridge pitch for me — something to get back to the fastball, or to the spin — and not something I throw all that often. I use it, but only about 10% of the time.”
Laurila: What about your slider?
Otto: “The slider came in last year, during spring training. It’s a sweeper, or as I learned to call it with the Yankees, a whirly. The pitch was kind of a suggestion that I rolled with. They had a ball that was marked up; it had a target on it, so that you knew when you were spinning it the right way. That came from a guy named Sam Briend, who was at Driveline and is with the Yankees as their pitching coordinator. He was teaching it to a lot of guys.
“My only breaking ball had been a spiked curve, which was a really good pitch for me. Since I started throwing the slider, it’s maybe backed up a little bit. But it was my pitch in college. It was hard, straight down, and I’d throw it anywhere from 80-84 [mph]. At times it was wipeout. The idea was to have that and then a slider that was going left.”
Laurila: Did the sweeper come naturally to you?
Otto: “Yeah. I mean, honestly, I was just told to throw it like a curveball. When you first hear about it, you kind of think, ‘This is going to go straight into the ground, right in front of me.’ But then you throw it a couple of times and start getting a feel for it. [Corey] Kluber has thrown it really well. It’s the same grip that he’s used, so I watched some video of him throwing it, the conviction he had, the arm slot he had.
“The movement is almost all horizontal. When it’s good, it’s almost zero [vertical] 20 [horizontal]. Ideally, I want it to be sharp and turn as late as possible. If I don’t spin them quite right, they get a little early and you can see them a little bit easier. The harder I can throw them, the later they spin. When I have conviction and really rip it is when it’s usually good for me.”
Laurila: What about the movement profile on your curveball?
Otto: “When it’s right, it’s up to -15 and anywhere from five to eight horizontal. This year, it’s been a little more horizontal. I think the slider has kind of caused me to lose some curveball shape, which is natural. I’ve heard a lot of people say it’s hard to throw two breaking balls really well. But I know that I can do it. I just have to put a lot of emphasis back on the curve and get it moving more straight down.”
Laurila: You started throwing a two-seamer this year. Why?
Otto: “The idea was to give me something different, and it’s a pitch I actually just added when I was in Triple-A earlier this season. I was throwing a bullpen and… it’s a pitch that I’ve always messed around with. When I was with the Yankees, one of my catch partners was Greg Weissert. He’s a low slot sinker/slider guy, and he would always throw me sinkers, so I’d mess around by throwing him a two-seamer back. They got pretty good, and he said, ‘Hey, you need to throw that in games.’
“When I started this season in Triple-A, I decided I might as well play around with the pitch and have some fun with it. I started throwing it in bullpens and was getting 18 inches of arm-side horizontal right out of the gate. I figured, ‘Why not pair this with the 18 to 20 that I have going the other way?’
Laurila: Are you getting much vertical on it?
Otto: “Ideally, it’s under 10 vert. My best ones are around five. Basically, I’m just trying to rip it, staying closed for as long as possible, getting it out front, and staying behind it. I don’t try to manipulate it at all. With my slider, and how that’s kind of got my arm slot to where it is now — it might be a little bit lower — is probably helping my sinker.
“Ideally, we want to go four-seam ride, curveball vert, slider horizontal, and sinker horizontal the other way. If I can control those four… I mean, nobody is going to be able to cover two of those, much less four. On any given night, it’s hard to have all four working, but that’s the goal. And then I have the changeup to use as a bridge.”
Laurila: Does your four-seamer get a lot of ride?
Otto: “I wish I could tell you that I had a 25-vert fastball, but it’s not that. My four-seam has a little bit of cut to it, so I’m more cut-ride. My last start I had a couple that were 18 vertical, but I probably sit around 15-17. So, it’s good enough, although not anything like JP Sears, by any means. It’s still evolving. It’s not a finished product, because I’m continuing to develop and make adjustments.”
Laurila: Any final thoughts?
Otto: “I’ve always liked the stuff-versus-command question. Both are obviously important. If you look at a guy like [Jacob] deGrom, his stuff is off the charts and his command is elite. Everything looks the same until it’s almost to home plate. But not everybody is deGrom, so it’s always interesting to get people’s philosophies on which one is more important: stuff or command? As pitchers, that’s kind of the game we play. The line we walk is throwing our best pitch, and commanding our best pitch.”