Aussie Angel pitching prospect Aaron Sookee throws a heavenly slider destined for Anaheim

One of the most arm demanding pitches in baseball is the slider. The pitch is usually not taught to younger and underdeveloped pitchers unless their arms are physically ready to perfect the pitch. Unfortunately, the slider has caused more elbow injuries than all the other pitches combined. Having said that, when thrown correctly, the slider is one of the most devastating pitches out there. With a new found appreciation for this pitch and the pitchers who throw it, we turn our attention to an Angel pitching prospect that could possibly possess the best slider from his native Australia. Introducing 21-year-old Aaron Sookee

Six-foot-three LA Angel pitching prospect Aaron Sookee was as dominant as ever on the mound as a late-inning reliever for the Australian Baseball League’s Sydney Blue Sox.
The best pitchers in baseball use the slider to their advantage on the field, while their agents successfully utilize it in negotiations to ultimately determine their client’s fame and fortune. It is one of the four pitches that usually dictates a player’s ability to play at a professional level. The slider is very deceptive as the batter sees the ball as a fastball due to its speed and spin, but at the last moment the slider drops in front of home plate–unlike a curve ball which is detected by its spin or the pitching motion of the pitcher. A slider is thrown by grasping the ball with the index finger and middle finger not in the center of the ball, but off a bit to the right. Some of the most notable players to have made the slider one of the most difficult pitches to hit include: Hall of Famers Bob Lemon, Bob Gibson, Dennis Eckersley and Steve Carlton; legends Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Sparky Lyle; and pitchers Brad Lidge, Francisco Rodriguez, Zack Greinke, Johan Santana, Carlos Marmol, Ryan Dempster, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Joba Chamberlain, Ervin Santana, Aroldis Chapman, Jonny Venters, Daniel Bard and Craig Kimbrel.
Aaron Sookee promises to be an asset to the LA Angels.

Signed by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim scout Grant Weir in 2009, Aaron Sookee knew early on that it was a match made in heaven when the Southern California team made an offer he could not refuse. The teenager pitcher had dreamed of playing professional baseball for the LA Angels, who had at the time been a favorite among Australian baseball fans because of the famed Aussie pitcher and former Angel/Blue Sox Rich Thompson.

2010 Blue Sox Trent Oeltjen and Rich Thompson

Working as a late-inning reliever for the Sydney Blue Sox this past ABL season, Sookee made his presence felt by averaging more than one strike out per inning, which is just about the same ratio of two-year Angel minor league campaign (61 strike outs in 59 innings). Heading into his third Angels Spring Training camp, Aaron appeared more confident and more determined than ever to break into Major League Baseball. The following interview took place in mid-March at the Angels Spring Training facility in Tempe, AZ.

Aaron Sookee will take the momentum from his strong Sydney Blue Sox campaign into 2012.
Roberto: What inspired you to dream of playing Major League Baseball as a kid in Australia?
Aaron Sookee: I guess growing up we didn’t get a lot of the major league games so you had to look to the local teams in the old ABL. I remember watching Gary White and Dave Nilsson, both catchers but really great players. And then more recently Chris Oxspring and Brad Thomas and just seeing how they go about their business to hopefully make me into a major league pitcher one day.
Roberto: When did the bidding war between MLB teams begin for your seven-year professional baseball contract?
Aaron Sookee: In January 2009 is when it began and a few teams, I think five or six from memory, were competing. But as soon as the Angels made a bid, I knew that I wanted to play for the Angels.
Roberto: Now with Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson acquired during the offseason, do you think the Angels have the winning combination?
Aaron Sookee: Most definitely, you know what I mean. They should win close to 100 games this year with them two. It should be pretty exciting to watch.
Roberto: Has playing in the Angels farm system and in the Australian Baseball League during the offseason helped you develop into a confident pitcher?
Aaron Sookee: I have come a long way. I think that’s from playing everyday. There’s a different brand of baseball here because you do play everyday and you have to be ready to grind it out everyday. That’s the main difference between Australian baseball and American baseball.
Roberto: What are your short-term and long-term goals?
Aaron Sookee: I think the first plan or goal of mine is to make the long season team
in the Midwest League for the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Then step-by-step hopefully one day I get to play pro ball.
Roberto: While a member of the ABL’s Sydney Blue Sox, you were being mentored by former MLB pitching teammates Dae-Sung Koo (New York Mets), Chris Oxspring
(San Diego Padres) and Brad Thomas (Detroit Tigers). Was that inspirational to you?
Aaron Sookee: It definitely was…just watching how those guys go about their business.
It was an honour playing alongside them. I learned a lot from all three of them, even though that Koo didn’t speak much English. He can translate through baseball language I guess and then Thom-O and Ox really helped me grow this offseason.Roberto: Why did you choose to become a pitcher instead of another position?
Aaron Sookee: Because I couldn’t hit. That’s basically it…couldn’t hit! (Laughter)
Roberto: There’s hope thanks to the designated hitter.
Aaron Sookee: Yeah right, it came in for a reason. (Laughter)
Roberto: Your pitching arsenal has improved dramatically with the addition of a wicked
slider, which has successfully ended a lot of innings for you. When did you add that pitch
to your repertoire?
Aaron Sookee: (Laughter) It’s come a long way during the offseason…maybe the last calendar year. I’ve been working really hard on it. I just can’t wait to use it this season.
Roberto: With that pitch, are you the Australian version of the Italian slider expert Alessandro Maestri of the Brisbane Bandits?
Aaron Sookee: Yeah, I guess so (laughter). Maestri has carved Sydney a few times…
He’s a true professional in every aspect of the word. Roberto: Does it feel good when fans ask for your autograph?
Aaron Sookee: It’s very humbling to see that fans appreciate what you do and all the
hard work that you put in because it translates to performance on the field. Yeah, it’s good.
Roberto: Any advice for the youth back home that are considering playing baseball?
Aaron Sookee: Just stick with it. Every time you can throw a ball, throw it and don’t hold back. Don’t leave any stone left unturned and just go after it. Don’t be afraid to play.
That’s the main thing I think.
Roberto: Thanks for taking time out to talk today.
Aaron Sookee: Thank you. It’s been a honour. Thanks for having me.

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LA Angels believe in Aussies Sookee and Da Silva

Aaron Sookee of the ABL's Sydney Blue Sox (Jen Edwards/SMP Media)
Grant Weir, Australian scout for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, has not let anyone down in the past with his baseball wit and intuition in discovering raw talent. Just ask Angel owner Arte Moreno and manager Mike Scioscia, both of whom are very pleased with Weir’s 2002 find of one of the team’s longest-tenured players, Aussie pitcher Rich Thompson. A decade has passed, and Weir is still finding hidden gems. Among his Angel signings are two young up-and-coming MLB pitching prospects currently in the Australian Baseball League: 20-year-old Aaron Sookee of the Sydney Blue Sox and 18-year-old Alex Da Silva of the Melbourne Aces. Both pitchers have seen limited action in the ABL. Aaron Sookee (0-1, 5.68 ERA) has pitched 6.1 innings of relief while striking out seven, and Alex
Da Silva (0-0, 0.00 ERA) has made one appearance. Despite their limited visibility in the spotlight, the education these young hurlers are receiving behind-the-scenes is what is most impressive and valuable.
The sky is the limit for Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim right-handed MLB pitching prospect Aaron Sookee.

Aaron Sookee is being mentored
by past and present MLB pitchers–including Korea’s Dae-Sung Koo
(New York Mets) and fellow Aussies Chris Oxspring (San Diego Padres) and Brad Thomas (Detroit Tigers), while Alex Da Silva gets to rub shoulders in the dugout with American Jason Hirsh (Houston Astros and Colorado Rockies) and Aussies Travis Blackley (Seattle Mariners and San Francisco Giants) and Shane Lindsay (Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers).

18-year-old Melbourne Ace pitcher Alex Da Silva has been known for shooting down hitters effortlessly with the fastest gun in Australia. (Joe Vella/SMP Images/ABL)
Aaron Sookee has spent most of his two minor league seasons playing Arizona League Rookie ball with modest success. Last year for the Arizona League Angels, the six-foot-three reliever went 3-3 with three saves and a 4.63 ERA. In 14 appearances, he pitched 23.1 innings and struck out 28. Averaging more than one strike out per inning in both the Arizona League and ABL is an encouraging sign. International scout Grant Weir commented, “The Angels are very excited with the signing of Aaron, and we believe he has an enormous future in professional baseball. He has physical attributes that are going to help him have a long and fruitful career, but more importantly he is a great kid who works hard.” Having a seven-year professional contract with a probable World Series contender a la Pujols, Sookee can potentially develop into a huge Major League Baseball talent over time.
It took Aussie Angel predecessor Rich Thompson over five and a half years to make his MLB debut in 2007.
Based on the Thompson timetable, Aaron Sookee is right on schedule to have a significant impact on this franchise’s young pitching promise and future.Alex Da Silva is a ladies' man.

Named MVP of an international competition in America while playing for the Penrith and Sandringham Baseball Clubs and the NSW team in Blacktown, the younger Aussie Alex Da Silva was watched meticulously by MLB scouts during the national youth tournament in Perth and was signed shortly thereafter by Angels’ scout Grant Weir, who was blown away by the velocity of his 90 mph fastball.

Ladies' man Alex Da Silva prays for the opportunity to give one-on-one lessons to TV starlet Eva Longoria.

With a keen eye for the ladies and his sights on some
of the Angels’ Hollywood heartthrobs and playmates, Alex Da Silva hopes that his pitching arsensal of a wicked fastball, curveball, change-up and cutter will expedite the process of an invitation to Angels’ Spring Training Camp and Hefner’s Playboy Mansion. Having completed eight weeks of intensive training at the
MLB Academy on Australia’s Gold Coast, the young
work-in-progress pitcher will join the Arizona Angels’ Rookie Camp in March. Weir said, “Alex probably throws harder than anyone in the country. Just his tools are impressive. He has the fastball, and he just has to learn how to pitch. He’s got the right tools to pitch.
But he’ll learn in the right environment.” Da Silva has an uphill battle ahead as he experiences the growing pains of rookie camp with aspirations of turning heads and being selected on one of the organization’s minor league teams. Having followed Alex’s pitching finesse since playing for the U13 development squad, Weir believes Da Silva has what it takes to be successful.

Alex Da Silva hopes to play with and catch Holly Madison in MLB.

“He’s a smart kid. I think he’s realistic, and he knows that this is just the start for him. There’s a lot of work to be done yet,” Weir said. Beginning his baseball playing days when he was nine years old, Alex’s athletic career has progressed from participating on club teams to Victorian State teams and then on to Australian national squads. Alex feels blessed that he was born with what he called “natural pitching ability that cannot be learned.” Da Silva credits his dad for his six-foot-two stature. He said, “I’m a pretty good build, and I get that from my father’s side so I think I just have naturally improved as a pitcher. I really want to see where my talent can take me. I want to make the Major Leagues.” Given Derek Jeter’s Major League relationships with the likes of Minka Kelly, Mariah Carey, Lara Dutta, Joy Enriquez, Jordana Brewster, Vanessa Minnillo, Vida Guerra, Jessica Alba, Adriana Lima, Jessica Biel, Rachel Uchitel, Tyra Banks and possibly Scarlett Johansson, the future looks bright for both Alex Da Silva’s personal dating life and his potential to join the game’s elite as a pitcher for the LA Angels.