Chris Hall made 20 appearances out of the Vancouver bullpen and went 1-0 with a 1.49 earned run average and a save in 2017.
The minor league baseball season is about to get underway and 2017 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Chris Hall was expected to take another big step towards a career in the bigs after a successful season north of the border. The 24 year-old may still reach his destination of pitching in the majors but he’ll have to do it with another organization after the Toronto Blue Jays surprisingly released him April 2.
The 6-foot-2 righthander was drafted by the Blue Jays just two years ago in the 14th round out of Elon University in North Carolina and received a $70,000 signing bonus. Hall had just taken up pitching with the Phoenix after joining them as a catcher. He made tremendous strides on the mound during his three seasons in Elon and was named a 1st team Colonial Athletic Association All-Star in 2016. He earned that honour after saving 10 games and recording a 2.93 earned run average over 30-2/3 innings in which he struck out 27 batters and walked eight.
The Winnetka, Illinois native reported to Bluefield for his first exposure of pro ball in which he finished with a flourish by not allowing an earned run in seven of his last eight outings. That resulted in a 3-0 record with a 2.40 ERA over 30 innings in which he posted a 21-8 K/BB total.
Hall got his first taste of full-season ball in Lansing to begin 2017 but he struggled by allowing three home runs over four appearances in April in which he went 1-2 with a 13.50 ERA. He would resurface with Vancouver and become a huge part of the C’s bullpen that would help them clinch the first-half North Division title. Hall got another crack at Lansing in late August and pitched four shutout innings over two appearances to end his year on a high note.
This edition of C’s Chat with Hall took place during spring training around the time Minor League Baseball announced its pace of play rules for the 2018 season.
“The coaches have kind of talked about the pace of play, trying to pick up the tempo. I think it’s 20 seconds between pitches. They’re just kind of making sure that we have good tempo after we receive the ball back, get back on the mound, still take our time and not rushing things but just kind of getting used to that, that 20 seconds.”
On having to deal with a runner at second base to start each extra half-inning.
“It’s going to be interesting seeing that for the first time. I don’t know, I’m not too big of a fan of it. It will affect the relievers and it’s going to put a lot of pressure on that reliever with that runner on and nobody out to start the inning. We’ll see how it goes though. Maybe it’ll be better than we think.
I don’t think we will do anything to prepare for that. I don’t know if we’ll start any games with a guy on second for an inning or something but it’s something that we’re going to have to get used to and adjust to that.”
On the transition going from behind the plate to the mound in college.
“I was a catcher my entire life. I think I had one inning in high school but I caught up until my junior year in college and switched about halfway and got a few innings that junior year, I think it was like 10 or something (Editor’s Note – 10-2/3 innings). Then my senior year, I was a full-time pitcher.
I started to struggle hitting so it was kind of an easy switch there. We had a really good catcher at the time and he was the guy that need to play for our team to be the best that we could and I was more than happy to help out the team any way I could and that was pitching. I was just happy to be out on the field. I don’t think I’d be able to hit some of these guys in pro ball (laughs).”
On when he started feeling comfortable as a pitcher.
“That junior year, those couple innings was up and down but I think my senior year, I think what was the biggest success for me was I wasn’t over thinking things. I was just going out there and throwing the ball. Maybe it was because I was so naïve, I didn’t know, I wasn’t too aware of the other stuff that you got to think about as a pitcher. I was just went out on the mound and just threw it as hard as I could.”
On assuming the closer’s role in college.
“It definitely makes it a lot more fun playing with all that pressure late in the game in the ninth inning. Sometimes it was a little frustrating when you don’t—when sometimes closers don’t get to pitch for a couple of days but I love the pressure situations of pitching.”
Chris Hall limited Northwest League hitters to a .200 batting average with righties hitting just .184 against him.
On being drafted by the Blue Jays.
“I had some interest throughout the season and after the year was over, I had two tryouts that I went to or two workouts. I wasn’t really told any specific round of where people thought I was going to go. I just kind of sat around after the 10th round and I was at home with my dad, brother and grandpa. We were all there and getting to see my name on that computer, to hear my name heard was an awesome experience and I was glad I got to share that with all of them.”
On the scout who had signed him.
“It was the Carolina scout Chris Kline. He was the one that had been scouting me and he was the one that he called me in the 12th or 13th round I think and told me that (the Blue Jays) were going to be taking me in the 14th so that was awesome.”
On his first professional season in Bluefield.
“I didn’t know what to expect but I think the coaching staff there was a great coaching staff for my first year. Dennis Holmberg the manager, Tony (Antonio Caceras) the pitching coach, they did an unbelievable job of acclimating us to the pro life and kind of instilling those core values that you need to know early on to just be a professional but they also made it fun for us every day. Dennis Holmberg always had something going on.
“I think it took me maybe two or three weeks just to kind of be completely comfortable. You’re meeting all these new guys you don’t really know in a new area and a new team so it wasn’t a quick adjustment for me but I eventually got comfortable playing there and found some success.”
On being teammates with talented prospects in Bluefield such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
“They’re on a whole other level. Vladdy, it was awesome to watch him play, a great guy to have at third base for you. Other guys like Bradley Jones, it was fun watching that year he had and our pitching staff was awesome to watch as well.”
On his bumpy introduction to full-season ball in Lansing in 2017.
“I started in extended (spring training) and I started getting on a roll and I was putting together some good outings and got called up to Lansing. I wasn’t really aggressive, I was a little hesitant, I wasn’t really comfortable there right away and I struggled in those two outings I had. Looking back at it now, I’m kind of glad I did struggle. It was a good way to learn what not to do and I learned from that and was able to be a kind of more aggressive pitcher and took that to Vancouver and had a really good year.”
On his first victory with the C’s when he pitched a career-high 4-1/3 innings against the Spokane Indians at Nat Bailey Stadium July 13.
“I think I had a little adrenaline helping me with that crowd there but I remember that outing. I’m pretty sure that was the first pitch I gave up a pretty long home run there. (Andretty Cordero) took it out of the entire stadium above the Hey Y’all Porch. I was just glad I could get right back to it after that and be able to help the team out by going four innings.”
Chris Hall struck out 42 batters and had a WHIP of 1.04 over 36-1/3 innings with the C’s in 2017.
On being part of a first-half championship winner.
“That was awesome. Our team was pretty close from the start but it was fun to see everybody celebrate for the goal we were all trying to accomplish. It was unbelievable. That was the first champagne shower I ever had. That was pretty fun.”
On his first save with the C’s against Tri-City July 29.
“I remember there were guys on second and third. I think I had thrown two wild pitches to get them to second and third. I just remember like, ‘Crap, man! I got to lock it in here!’ I saw (pitching coach Jim) Czajkowski wasn’t coming out to the mound. No one was warming up in the bullpen so it was my game to win or lose. I just kind of buckled down and got after it. It was a fun one, yeah. Just making it exciting for all the fans.”
Chris Hall enjoyed working with C’s pitching coach Jim Czajkowski (right) in 2017.
On working with Jim Czajkowski.
“It was awesome. He got to know us all on a personal level. He’d have conversations with us during the (pre-game) stretch and throwing and stuff, he’d joke around with us but when it was time to work, he was all business. He did a great job with each and every pitcher individually on what they needed to work on. He was an awesome pitching coach to have.”
On why he had a successful season in Vancouver.
“I think it was partly because of the time in Lansing. I was struggling and I just kind of went out there and just went back to my old college mentality and just kind of challenged each hitter and tried to make them beat me.
Another thing was the success of the (Vancouver) bullpen. I think we all had the mentality of we’d see one guy do really well. We’d see (William) Ouellette or (Orlando) Pascual or (Brayden) Bouchey go out there and have a good outing. If you were the guy that followed up next, you wanted to do just as well as them if not better.”
On being called back up to Lansing in late August.
“At first, I was excited. I wanted to kind of redeem myself after my first two outings. I was definitely excited at first but in the back of my head, I was still a little bummed out that I’d be missing the playoff experience. I knew that team was going to win. It was fun listening to them but it was also good that I got to head back there and prove myself in Lansing. It’s always nice to end the year on a high note and feel good going into the off-season.”
Chris Hall did not allow an earned run over 10-2/3 innings in August with Vancouver.
On his pitching repertoire.
“It’s fastball, curveball, change-up now. The slider wasn’t working the way I liked it to and this off-season, I started really focusing on the breaking ball and found some success and I brought it here (to spring training) and it seems to be working out for me now so I think I’m going to keep it.
It’s not a 12-to-6 (curveball), maybe more a 2-to-7, something like that. It’s got a little more lateral movement but there’s still some depth on it.”
On why he scrapped his slider.
(The slider), I just wasn’t able to throw it for a strike early in the count and that’s something I’ve learned talking to older guys. You need to be able to throw breaking balls early in the count or when you’re behind in the count sometimes just to keep (hitters) off your fastball. I needed to find something that I could feel comfortable with throwing in different situations, not just a two-strike pitch.”
On his fastball usage.
“Right now, I’m just sticking with the four-seam. I had some success with it. Every once in a while, I’ll see how a two-seam feels but I haven’t really found the right grip yet but that’s still something I’m still working on.”
On how he describes his change-up.
“I don’t know what you’d call it. I hold it like a two-seam but with a changeup grip. I found a little bit of success with it. It’s still not where I like it to be but it’s not bad for a third pitch.”
On his off-season preparation and goals for 2018.
“The biggest thing was strength in my lower half, my lower body. I was trying to get strong there but also maintain some flexibility. Those were two big things and then obviously the curveball was a big learning point in the off-season.
My main goal is to break with a full-season team and then continue with what I’ve been working on in spring training and just try to keep it going.”
My thanks again to Chris Hall for appearing with me on C’s Chat. I wish him the best of luck in finding another organization to give him a chance to reach the majors. His body of work so far in his first two professional seasons should earn him that opportunity in 2018 sooner or later.