Lehman returns to Medlar as member of Cutters
Taylor Lehman has walked into the visiting clubhouse at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park once in his life. But that one time didn’t come during the four years he lived in State College as a pitcher for Penn State.
Lehman will get the opportunity to explore the visitors’ clubhouse and dugout tonight when he returns to Medlar Field as a member of the Williamsport Crosscutters’ pitching staff. It’ll be the first time since he played in a tournament in State College as a high school player he won’t walk into the home clubhouse.
“After being in the (home) dugout for four years, and the (home) clubhouse for four years, it’s going to be weird going across the field,” Lehman said. “But it’s going to be fun.”
Lehman was signed by the Phillies as an undrafted free agent last summer after finishing his senior year at Penn State. He had been drafted in the 34th round out of Keystone Oaks High School by the Miami Marlins, but went undrafted following his junior and senior seasons at Penn State.
The 6-foot-7, 225-pound left-hander is now pitching only 60 miles from where he played his college ball. He’ll make his Crosscutters debut Sunday evening against West Virginia at Bowman Field when he’ll be the back end of a piggyback starter situation with Jose Conopoima. It leaves Lehman halfway between a starter and a reliever. Throughout his career at Penn State he shuttled back and forth between those two roles making 23 relief appearances as a junior and making 10 of his 13 appearances as a starter as a senior.
In his first summer as a pro last year with the GCL Phillies East, all 13 of Lehman’s appearances were as a reliever, including finishing five games.
“I don’t really care. I’m good in any role,” Lehman said following batting practice Friday. “If they need me to come out of the pen, that’s awesome. If they need me to start, that’s awesome. I don’t really have a preference.”
Lehman is just excited to have the opportunity to pitch professionally. In four seasons at Penn State, Lehman posted a 5.90 ERA in 66 appearances. He struck out 6.9 batters per nine innings, but also walked 5.2 batters per nine innings for his career.
It’s why a large part of his focus as he begins his second professional season is to improve both his control and command. In 13 games in the GCL last year, Lehman walked seven and struck out 17 in 16 2/3 innings which included eight wild pitches.
“I’ve been working on commanding the fastball first and foremost,” Lehman said. “Throwing strike one is very important. We’ve been working on getting ahead as a staff. I think everyone’s made progress with it.”
But the thinking has expanded beyond just throwing that first strike for Lehman. Pitching coach Hector Berrios talks often about commanding that first strike and putting it in a place in the strike zone which works as advantageously for a pitcher as it can.
Berrios said during media day earlier in the week, the first pitch has to be in a place where if the hitter swings it’s in a spot where he can’t drive it, and if he takes the pitch, it’s strike one.
“You think about it differently and the way we approach the first pitch and the way we throw to hitters in general,” Lehman said. “Getting ahead with strike one is more important, but I’ve learned how to attack it differently this year.”
Infielder Brayan Gonzalez joined the Crosscutters on Friday. The 19-year-old was on the initial team roster Wednesday at media day but hadn’t yet reported to the team.
Gonzalez is with the Cutters for the second consecutive season. He played in three games for Phillies White in the Dominican Summer League before joining Williamsport. He was 4 for 9 in those three games with one RBI.
A year ago, Gonzalez slashed .198/.256/.274 in 56 games with Williamsport. He was plagued by 87 strikeouts, which were the third-most in franchise history for a single season.