The 2016 D1Baseball.com National Assistant
Coach of the Year, Kirk Saarloos, joined the
coaching staff at TCU in 2012 as pitching
coach and added Recruiting Coordinator to his resume the following year. He was an elemental piece
to the Horned Frogs’ four straight trips to the College World Series from 2014-17, and has developed
the reputation as one of the brightest pitching
minds in the country. He joined Jim Schlossnagle’s
staff after two seasons as the pitching coach at Cal
State Fullerton, where he helped the Titans win a
pair of Big West titles. Saarloos spent seven seasons as a big league pitcher after a playing career
at Fullerton that saw him set a school-record with
127 appearances. In 2001, was named first-team All
American, Big West Pitcher of the Year, and picked
in the third round (86th overall) of the MLB draft.
Inside Pitch: Is there a set amount of time that you need, or
would like to get for each guy to build up and gear down, and
how do you navigate that?
A lot of it is from my playing days, and then
tweaking it here and there over the years, but really it's always the
start date and then go backwards. And I really like to have about
six weeks long toss before our guys step foot on a mound in a
game setting. Sometimes that window gets shortened up a little
bit. A lot of these high school kids get thrown pretty frequently by
their high school team, so I really try to give them the full month of
June and half of July off where they don't pick up a ball – to
“reset” them – and then give them six weeks from the middle of
July until the end of August to long toss.
IP: How about a set amount of rest?
One thing I have changed is we used to completely put the
baseball down during that rest time. And talking with our phenomenal strength coach, Zach Dechant, our head trainer Danny
Wheat, and others, we all sat in a room and said, "Why do we do
that?" What we do now is we throw three days away during our
“rest periods.” Our guys will play catch at 60-90 feet, really
light, just to keep the range of motion in that shoulder, because
during that downtime from throwing, they're really in the
weight room hitting it hard.
IP: How do you progress from long toss to bullpens as you
prepare for the season?
Our guys started throwing on December 3 in preparation for
the season. And they’d been doing the 90-foot toss every other
day. Before, when we had totally shut guys down, there was
about a 10-day period where it was just trying to get them to get
that range of motion at 90 feet. Most of them got on the mound
exactly a month later, on January 3. So it was all throwing program for a month, and then the week leading up to that bullpen,
we did flat ground, some box bullpens with catchers up front,
and they're off the mound. From that point forward, it's about
getting them ready for team practice [January 29] and ultimately
for opening day [February 19].
IP: How about bullpen execution?
We do a lot of scripted stuff, where I'm telling the catcher
what to call and trying to get it as game-like as possible, instead of the pitcher just saying, "Hey, I'm going to go glove side fastball here for five and then spin some." I'm trying to get them to
practice in the bullpen what they're going to be doing in the
game. There aren’t many times that you’re going to throw five
consecutive fastballs down and away in a game. We have to be
able to work in sequences. We’ll also have catchers call it, so
they get used to that rhythm.
We'll do some bullpens where it's more competitive, whether it
be a game of HORSE, like you play in basketball. We'll do that with
two guys. They're competing off one another. And that's usually in
the fall where we'll have a HORSE champion over a month period
in terms of having a match against a guy, and ultimately winner
take all at the very end.
The worst thing I see is the anaerobic bullpen where a guy's almost out of breath by the time he's done because he's just firing
rapid fire, pitch after pitch. So just really try to encourage them to
work their routine, work their breath. And for it to be a professional
bullpen. You go watch a guy in the big leagues throw his bullpen
and it's under control, it's thought out, it's got some rhythm to it,
and it's not just a chuck and go.
IP: How are you developing the mental game?
We've used Brian Cain every year that I've been here, and I
also knew him from Cal State Fullerton. We’ll watch games with
our guys and go through different things, and we'll take video
and show the body language, because a lot of guys don't even
know when they’re out of control, wheels spinning. I would say
that to a guy, and he'd look at me like I had three heads,
"Coach, I was totally in control."
We go back and watch the video, and next thing you know
he'll be like, "Yeah, in my mind that's not what I look like. I can
totally tell what you're talking about now." These guys are really
As a pitcher you need to know what the hitter is seeing. We
talk about body language, we talk about never showing your
back to the hitter, about always having your eyes up, and about
acting differently than you feel. So when a guy doesn't quite
have that, we'll show it. "Hey man, this is what hitters are seeing. They're stepping in the box right now and knowing that
We’ll show them a lot of positive reinforcement as well, because
baseball can be super negative. There will be guys that after each
week, we'll sit down in our classroom and I'll put a video together
of all the pitches that were really, really good. So we’re showing
them what success looks like.
If you're in control yourself, then we can be in control of the
baseball. If a guy's not in control of himself, I never talk about his
performance. It's more about, "Hey, I shouldn't expect you to be
having a great performance if you’re not in control of yourself." It’s
a daily battle. You can't talk about it one day and then expect it to
happen if you don't coach it and talk about it every day.
IP: What's your philosophy on calling pitches?
First and foremost, you’ve got to know your pitcher's
strengths. We're not quite the big leagues in terms of knowing all
the data, all the analytics of what guys hit in which counts, and
their hot zones. But it's getting closer to that, and we’re getting a
lot of video we can use to scout our opponents. But it's more
about what my guy does really, really well. If that matches up with
something that the hitter doesn't do well, then that's gravy. But if
the hitter likes the ball away, but we can really execute fastballs,
cutters, and our other stuff away, I'm always going to go to our
pitcher's strengths even if the hitter's strength is the same thing.
I think pitching inside is probably one of the most important
things that you can do as a pitcher, so we really need to establish
that we’re not going to just throw to both sides, but we need to
have the umpire to be able to call strikes on the inner half. That's
when you get respect from a hitter. Just because we throw a fastball in and it's a ball doesn't mean that the hitter has to respect
that. We all know hitters that go, "Oh, there's the token fastball in,
here comes down and away breaking ball."
I’d say the last piece would be knowing the situation coupled
with who you have to give in to, and know who you can't give in
to. You might have to give something up right now to maybe beat
a guy later on…two outs, nobody on to the three-hole hitter,
maybe we're not going to show him everything that we have, because we might have to get him out with the bases loaded in the
fifth. Keep it simple, read hitters, know what your pitcher does
well, and attack. That’s pretty much it.
IP: How do you teach command?
Everything shows up in your catch play. We get to get on the
mound probably twice a week for a bullpen, once a week in terms
of a game. So we're on the mound maybe three times in a week. So
how are we going to get better at being a professional target hitter? And that's our catch play. Every day is going to be different in
terms of what that day's prescribed catch is designed for, but I always feel like you can teach yourself a lot by playing long toss. And
it's about having a mindset – okay, that guy's 300 feet away, my
goal is to be able to get it to him maintaining first baseman responsibilities, I want to make sure that this guy can act like a first baseman and “stay on the bag.”
Until you can play really good long toss, I can’t hold you accountable to commanding the baseball on the mound. And all
the best pitchers that we've had loved to long toss and were really good at it. They didn't always start that way, but they understood what I expected.
Some days I'll walk out with a guy as he keeps going back out,
some days I sit in the visitor's dugout and act like I'm not paying
attention and see, okay, what's going on down there? I don't
want to hover and be a helicopter coach, and maybe I’m not even
there if I’m gone recruiting. What's that going to look like?
IP: Any mechanical staples that you find yourself repeating
When I originally started coaching, I coached kind of like I
pitched. I was a sinker baller, slider, changeup, who could really
field his position. At first I’d see guys I thought were out of control:
“he's falling, and he's finishing over to the first base side,” so we’re
hammering direction and balance point.
But what I’ve learned to look for is that arm action, where the
arm is when our front foot lands, and work backwards from
there. Why is it late? Why is it outside of 90 degrees? Why are we
in that position?
I try not to get super technical and super deep into the mechanical side of things, because I never want that to be a crutch
for a guy in terms of, “man, I had a bad outing,” or “I didn't command the ball...it's got to be something mechanical.” Now do I
want them to have an understanding of what they do mechanically? Hundred percent! My job is to make sure that they're their
best pitching coach by the time they leave here, because once
they get to pro ball, you get one pitching coach a year until you
get to the big leagues. You need to know what makes you you,
and how you perform at your best.