When it comes to wild weeks in the minor leagues, Jacob Waguespack’s post-trade deadline experience ranks up there. In the span of three days, the right-hander went from the Phillies organization to the Blue Jays, faced his former teammates and set a personal career high for strikeouts in one game.
The last name is pretty unforgettable. “Wags” as he’s been called over his career or “G-Wagon” as his Bisons teammates refer to him. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because Waguespack was involved in the Aaron Loup deal earlier this year on July 31st.
Trades can be awkward, expected and inconvenient. At least for Waguespack, the latter didn’t apply; the day he was traded, he simply had to switch from the visitor’s dressing room to the home dressing room. “I got to the field and got dressed like a normal day and a few minutes later they pulled me into the manager’s office. He said ‘Hey, you just got traded to the Blue Jays. Expect a call from the farm director. You’ll probably be switching clubhouses.'”
It’s not uncommon for minor league prospects to change hands ahead of the trade deadline, but his name didn’t come up in trade rumours. Waguespack said the trade caught him by surprise at first. “That was my first time being traded at all. I surely didn’t think that my name was going to be in the conversation It was kind of a surprise to me to actually get traded. I thought that was pretty neat that another team has plans for me was awesome. It was definitely a long day for me, a lot of thoughts running through my head, my phone was blowing up from people back home.”
Come on over!!!
— Buffalo Bisons (@BuffaloBisons) July 31, 2018
After making his way from the IronPigs to the Bisons clubhouse, the right-hander suited up for Buffalo and pitched the game of his career. Two days after changing organizations, Waguespack struck out 12 batters in 6.1 innings against his former club: the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Not only was that the most strikeouts he’s ever racked up in a game, it tied a Buffalo Bisons franchise record.
It was an odd experience for Waguespack, going up against some familiar faces. After all, these were guys he rode the busses with and teammates he climbed up the ranks alongside. The familiarity factor actually helped Waguespack stay loose and relaxed during what would otherwise be a stressful situation to endure.
“It was definitely weird seeing guys that you’ve played with for years on the other side. They wanted to hit home runs against me and I wanted to strike them out. I was just relaxed and having fun because I knew those guys. My roommate was Tyler Gilbert at the time, we’re really good friends, I could hear him hollering from the bullpen and trying to make me laugh. I had some guys yelling from the dugout when I was warming up … they were hollering at me too.”
📽️: Jacob Waguespack now with 12!!! strikeouts
It's the most for any pitcher in their #Bisons debut in the modern era and just the 3rd to post 10+ K in their first game with the Herd (Jason Stanford '01 & LHP Daniel Norris '14)
— Buffalo Bisons (@BuffaloBisons) August 2, 2018
Over the course of his four-year pro career, Waguespack bounced back and forth from the starting rotation to the bullpen. He often shuttled between levels to fill the void in a rotation, which explains why he went back-and-forth from Double-A to Triple-A five times this year. Last June, the Phillies organization finally chose to convert him back into a full-time starting pitcher. The mentality as a starter versus a reliever certainly is a little different, as Waguespack knows all too well.
“When you’re starting, you really only have to be locked in every fifth day. Out of the bullpen, you’ve really got to be ready to go every day. Your switch needs to be turned on every day just in case the manager calls your name. Being a starter is definitely a little easier on your mind. You can go out and know what you’re doing that day. Ease of mind is definitely a little better as a starter than being in the bullpen.”
Watching Waguespack work on the mound, he has a bit of a funky delivery. Listed at 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, that’s a lot of long levers to work with for a starting pitcher. His delivery can be best described as “drop and drive” with an over-the-top release.
Waguespack himself likens his unusual delivery to Michael Wacha’s. The mechanics may be atypical, but he’s long and lanky and Waguespack can to capitalize on his unique look to fool opposing hitters.
“I’ve always kind of had a funky finish. I’m not really sure how I started doing that. It was more just lifting my leg and putting it down and going. I’ve kind of always done that and I’ve been able to develop a bit over the years and use my legs a little more and get my hands going. I’m 6-foot-6 and I’m going to try to use my height and my leverage and my extension in my delivery. I’ve got a bunch of different pitches, but mainly I like to pound the zone and let my defense work and use my height to my advantage.”
Many Phillies farmhands were fortunate enough to cross paths with the human encyclopedia of pitching, Roy Halladay. The former Phillie and Blue Jay made an indelible mark on countless young pitchers as a special instructor within the Philadelphia Phillies organization. That includes Waguespack. The 24-year-old fondly remembers the conversations he had with Doc during Phillies Spring Training camp.
“When I was in High-A with the Threshers, he was just starting his stint as one of our mental coaches. He had his office right across the way at our Spring Training facility. I was all eyes and ears from everything he had to say” Waguespack said about Halladay. “He had a little massage chair in his office and we’d just kick back and talk baseball. He wanted to help guys with the mental aspects of the game. He always wanted to help and never was too pushy on anyone. He understood, he was one of us.”
As anybody within the Blue Jays organization knows, Halladay was the consummate professional. His preparation was unparalleled, which is why most teammates didn’t dare speak or cross paths with Halladay on his start days. That very focus on preparation was the biggest lesson Waguespack learned during his time with Halladay.
“He would go over how to look at video or what he did in his routine for pregame whether it was cold tub, hot hub. The preparation going into a start; he was a guy who had his iPad and he had tonnes of notes on hitters over the years. That’s just a great example to me about how prepared he was for every start.”
Waguespack has come a long way in his four years as a minor leaguer. Back in 2015, he went undrafted, but signed shortly after the draft as a free agent with the Phillies. Bound and determined to make it to the big leagues, he forewent his senior year at college and chased his diamond dreams, even if they didn’t pan out exactly as planned. He credits his coaches and says he picked up life lessons from all his mentors over the years.
Since he clawed his way up through the ranks, he’s extremely cognizant of just how lucky he is to be in this position – playing a kid’s game for a living. “Play every day like it’s your last. Nothing’s promised in the game. You could get hurt one day and your career would be done” Waguespack explains. “You’ve also got people who want to be in your position, so never take anything for granted. We’re definitely blessed to be in the position we are as players.”
Waguespack is one of the few pitchers in Triple-A who doesn’t have the misfortune of facing off against baseball’s biggest prospect: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. In fact, the right-hander has a front-row seat to the media circus that is the “Vlad Jr. Show”.
“I feel bad for him sometimes because we’re getting to the hotel at 2 or 3 in the morning and there’s 10 to 12 people waiting for his autograph. But he’s handling it really well and he’s a really good guy” says Waguespack. The league has yet to make the adjustment against Vlad Jr. as he continues to tear the cover off the ball.
How exactly would Waguespack recommend pitching to one of the best hitting prospects of this generation? “I don’t know if I have a really good scouting report on him, to be honest. If I had to say anything about him, I’d say something running up and in. He likes to take big swings, so you just hope and pray he doesn’t connect with it.”