Ivey is also somewhat unique. Along with having transferred from a D-1 power to a JUCO — this despite holding his own as a freshman — the Dallas-area native has a delivery that the Baseball America Prospect Handbook described as “something out of the 1940s.”
David Laurila: You transferred from Texas Tech to Grayson for your sophomore season, reportedly to become draft-eligible a year early. You were subsequently selected by the Astros in the third round. Did things pretty much go as planned?
Tyler Ivey: “First, going to junior college was different, but it was a very good different. I was excited to go there because of the coach at Grayson, Dusty Hart. I’d known him a little in the past, and a lot of buddies had played for him. I’d heard nothing but amazing things about him and Grayson.
“Obviously it’s a different environment there. You go from living in a three-story condo/house to a pretty crammed-up dorm where you’re sharing a bathroom with four other guys. But that’s something you fall in love with over time. Grayson was a really good place to do your own thing and just be yourself. They have a minor-league sort of mentality where you need to put the work in and then just go out and perform. That really allowed me to grow within myself and create my own routine. It ended up working out as well as I possibly could have hoped.”
Laurila: Living in a crammed-up dorm sounds like perfect preparation for life in the minors.
Ivey: “Absolutely. At first, you’re like ‘Oh, man, wow; look at where I’m at.’ But then a couple weeks go by, and you’re like, ‘Man, I wouldn’t have it any other way.’ You get close with the guys around you — it becomes a brotherhood — just like it is in pro ball. You’re friends for life.
“We only had two sports at Grayson, baseball and softball, and the ladies lived downstairs and we lived upstairs. There weren’t too many regular students there, as most people who go to Grayson are from the area and live at home. So it was mostly baseball guys. We kind of ran the halls there, and it was a lot of fun.”
Laurila: Corbin Martin was among your teammates in your lone year at Texas Tech. The two of you were both drafted by the Astros in 2017.
Ivey: “It was pretty crazy. I remember watching the draft, seeing Corbin’s name pop up, and being so happy for him. And what do you know? A day later, I get picked by the same team. We were both like, ‘Alright, let’s go get it.”
Laurila: When his name popped up, did you think to yourself, “Hey, that’s one of the teams that has shown a lot of interest in me?”
Ivey: “No, not at all. I really hadn’t even talked to the Astros. I did know that they’d liked me in high school. I’d played in a showcase at Minute Maid Park — that was right after my senior season — and Mike Elias, who I believe was their assistant GM at the time, came up and was like, ‘Hey, what’s your number?’ I said, ‘450-500; something like that,’ and he said, ‘OK perfect.’ But then I never got a call. I wasn’t drafted out of high school at all. So to not talk to them all season, and then on draft day get a call from the area scout, and for him to say, ‘keep by the phone’… it was kind of surprising.”
Laurila: I believe you signed for $450,000. Is that right?
Ivey: “Yes, sir. Jim Stevenson was the scout. He’s the guy who drafted Dallas Keuchel, and a lot of other really good players. They have a lot of trust in him, and I think he fought for me a little bit.”
Laurila: Did the Astros say what they liked about you? I assume TrackMan data played a role in their interest?
Ivey: “They did show me some data. They liked my four-seam fastball, which apparently I put some pretty good spin on. Pair that with my curveball, and… like we’ve seen, the trend is high fastball and then a curveball. That plays well, and I think that’s what they saw in me.”
Laurila: The curveball is reportedly your best pitch. What you can you tell me about it?
Ivey: “I’ve thrown the same curveball since I was in seventh grade. I spike it. I put my finger on a certain spot around the horseshoe to where my middle finger will then pull off and get it to where it’s a four-seam spin. Basically, if you simplify it to its most simple point, a curveball is just your middle finger spinning the ball. If you can spin the ball as hard as you can, at the right angle, then you’re going to get that good tilt; you’re going to get that good movement on it.”
Laurila: I assume you’ve fine-tuned it over the years?
Ivey: “Yes. In high school and college, while it was a good curveball, it was maybe a little loopy. I’ve been able to make it a little bit harder and throw it on a better plane so that it looks more like a fastball out of my hand. It’s a bit more deceptive than it used to be. My spin efficiency has always been really good, so it was about making it harder.”
Laurila: Is it always the same velocity?
Ivey: “No. Sometimes it’s slower — I’ll just toss it in there, because there are times you know they’re not going to swing — and other times I’ll put a little bastard behind it. That’s when I want to put it on a better line, and I’ll throw the crap out of it.”
Laurila: What is the velocity on your fastball?
Ivey: “I’m anywhere from 90-to-94 [mph] and maybe up to 95. My average fastball is probably 92. The spin rate has been up to 2,550 [rpm] and averages about 2,300-2,400.”
Laurila: Your delivery is notable. In this year’s Baseball America Handbook, it was likened to something out of the 1940s.
Ivey: “That’s funny. I haven’t seen that, but yes, it is a bit unique. But I think it’s deceptive. It’s the same delivery I’ve had since I was in seventh grade, and it feels comfortable. I feel balanced, so while it maybe looks a little weird… I guess it’s just what I do.”
Laurila: How would you describe it?
Ivey: “Man, that’s a good question. I guess I would describe it as maybe a little herky-jerky? But I mean, if you’re asking me to compare it to somebody else’s, I really couldn’t.
“Growing up, and then getting into the upper levels of high school, coaches would always be like, ‘When you get into college, and maybe pro ball, that’s the first thing they’re going to change — you might as well change it now.’ But I’ve always been a little bit stubborn about it. I always said, ‘I’m not going to change anything. If they want to change me when I get there, then we’ll talk about it.’ Luckily, the Astros are a pretty open-minded organization. Once they saw I could throw strikes consistently, and have a consistent delivery, it’s basically been, ‘If it ain’t broke, why fix it?’
“That said, I have toned it down a little bit while still keeping my rhythm. I think that’s what it’s all about: rhythm. It’s like a little dance. That’s how I’ve always though about it.”
Laurila: When Eric Longenhagen wrote you up in our Astros Top Prospect List, he mentioned “a violent head whack.” What would he have meant by that?
Ivey: “It’s like when you’re throwing a fastball, and trying to throw it hard — you snap your neck down instead of keeping your eye on the target. I’m not quite sure exactly what problems they think come of that, but some scouts don’t like it. They’ll say I’m better suited to a reliever role because of the effort and ‘the head whack.’ But I’ve been a starter my whole life, and in my opinion [the herky-jerk delivery] doesn’t really matter. There are plenty of ways to skin a cat. I’ll probably pitch that way the rest of my career.”
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David Laurila grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.