Until the recently concluded Arizona Fall League, I had never seen San Diego Padres right-handed pitching prospect Keyvius Sampson pitch.
Having attended numerous games at Surprise Stadium in Sampson's home Fall League park, I saw him pitch quite a bit.
Not that statistics are that critical in the Arizona Fall League, but Sampson threw 11 1/3 innings, mostly in relief. Of his seven appearances, he started only one game. I was in attendance at that start and I got to see several other outings. Generally, he worked the sixth inning.
In his lone start, he threw three innings without giving up a run.
The Padres selected Sampson out of Forest High School in Ocala, Fla., in the fourth round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. Sampson was recently added to the Padres 40-man roster. He is No. 16 on the Padres' Top 20 Prospects list.
Sampson appears bigger and stronger than his 6-foot, 185-pound frame suggests. Maybe it's his effortless motion on the mound that gives me that impression.
Sampson will turn 23 in January. He has improving command and control to go along with mound presence and confidence that serve him well.
He won't be an ace. He may be in the middle or the back end of the rotation, but he can help as a potential starting pitcher.
Sampson has had elbow and shoulder issues in his career, but those appear to be a thing of the past.
Sampson is well-composed on the mound. He has an uncomplicated delivery and a good feel for setting up hitters with good pitch sequencing.
At the beginning of the fall, Sampson relied upon a very effective fastball-changeup combination. He would stick to those two pitches, but the batter had no clue as to which sequence the pitches would come.
Sampson's fastball sat at 90-93 mph the entire fall. His changeup was thrown at 83 to 84 mph. Sometimes a hitter would see three changeups in a row. But he was sitting on the fastball.
As the fall progressed, Sampson worked in a 74-76 mph curveball with nice rotation. I even saw a slider or two along the way. But there were only a few of those.
In his Minor League career to date, Sampson has thrown 432 2/3 innings. This past season, he pitched mostly at Double-A San Antonio before making nine starts at Triple-A Tucson.
If there has been any issue with Sampson in parts of five Minor League seasons, it has been issuing too many walks. His average over the course of his career has been 3.9 walks per nine innings. That includes a rough patch recently at Tucson, where he walked 6.9 per nine innings.
But in the Arizona Fall League, Sampson walked only five while striking out 10. He showed some improvement in reducing his ratio of issuing free passes.
As I reviewed Sampson's career totals, I wasn't surprised at the number of walks he had issued. He seemed to be working very hard to command his pitches in Arizona.
Control issues happen to young pitchers. However, in every game I saw him pitch, Sampson was around the plate. He wasn't overpowering or dominant, but he was deceptive pitching to contact.
Right-handed hitters had a batting average of .210 against Sampson this past season. Lefties hit better, at .255.
Sampson uses the entire plate when he pitches. He isn't afraid to pitch inside or keep the ball on the outside when needed. Changing the eye level of the hitter is part of his plan.
It's likely the success Sampson had in the Arizona Fall League could serve as a springboard for the next step of his career.
Should he begin the 2014 season with a return to Triple-A, Sampson is likely to build on the confidence he gained retiring quality hitters this fall.