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Valencia's J.D. Busfield: Method to the magic

Valencia senior has an innate ability as a pitcher to battle through jams

Posted: April 13, 2013 11:07 p.m.
Updated: April 13, 2013 11:07 p.m.

Valencia senior pitcher J.D. Busfield is one of the Foothill League's top arms, and he does it with location and strategy rather than power.

 

John Busfield is mostly inconspicuous among the people sitting on the block cement seating at Valencia High’s baseball field.

Except for one thing.

From time to time, he takes out a radar gun to measure the mph on his son John David’s pitches.

At 6 feet, 6 inches tall and 210 pounds, J.D. Busfield is the embodiment of a power pitcher in terms of physique.

But a radar gun and physical stature belie who the Valencia senior is.

Busfield, who has been one of the Foothill League’s top pitchers thus far in 2013 (4-1, 1.85 ERA, 43 strikeouts in 41 2/3 innings), is not your prototypical power pitcher.

He’s a pitcher in the purest sense.

A battler.

A competitor.

An analytical right-hander who gets outs by any means possible.

“He’s going to compete his way out of it,” says Valencia head coach Jared Snyder. “I can tell you, you sit there as a coach with a lot of confidence and say, ‘He’s going to do this. He’s not going to fold and give in.’”

It’s a difficult to list an example of that because it happens so often.

A typical situation during a Busfield game is he’s on the mound, runners are on base, he doesn’t panic. He might allow a run but most of the time gives up none and gets out of the trouble.

OK — here’s an example.

On March 20 against Foothill rival Hart, the right-hander allowed baserunners in each of the first four innings and
surrendered just one run.

He left a runner in scoring position in each frame.

So how does he do it?

“Ever since I was growing up, my dad always told me, ‘Don’t worry about how hard you throw. Just hit your spots,’” Busfield says. “Leading up to this year, I never had very much velocity. I was using velocity and location. Hitting different spots to be successful. I need to be able to pitch, be able to hit my spots and keep hitters on their toes.”

So then why does John carry a radar gun?

He’s a computer programer who developed a scoring system called “iScore,” which gives people a way to watch the game on the computer without being at the game physically — mostly through statistics.

The radar gun is meant for readings for the site.

Although Busfield has increased his velocity to 89 mph.

And as far as knowledge is concerned, John’s baseball knowledge isn’t on the expert level.

He didn’t play the sport and really didn’t start taking it in until his son, at the urging of his mother, started playing baseball.

John is just analytical.

There’s a natural quality that J.D. Busfield possesses, though, that helps him achieve.

“It’s something he’s always had. He’s always been calm in tough situations,” John says of his son. “Even playing at the Hart PONY League. He’d get into a situation, but realize it was pitch to pitch. That was important.”

But when Busfield entered Valencia High as a freshman, despite being taller and bigger than most of his counterparts, he was “out of shape.”

As it was explained by a couple of his coaches, “out of shape” meant he wasn’t in baseball shape to Valencia High standards.

Being that Valencia is one of the most demanding and successful programs in the valley, Busfield came in a step behind in comparison to most kids.

Valencia volunteer coach Ryan Sadowski, who currently pitches in the San Francisco Giants organization but lives in Santa Clarita in the offseason, said he remembered Busfield being more of a casual baseball player than the other diehards who came in — kids who played travel ball and had baseball “shoved down their throats.”

Because of that, there was a learning curve for Busfield.

And being a pitcher among pitchers whose goal it was to blow it by hitters, he could have done the same.

But instead he focused more on outs than strikeouts.

“I saw that very early on. He wasn’t robotic. He was naturally pitching off what his brain told him, not what he was taught to do his entire life,” Sadowski says.

Busfield does it with four pitches — a two-seam fastball that tails down and in to right-handers, a circle changeup with downward movement, a slider that breaks away and a split-fingered fastball that travels fast and low.

Last season, though, he couldn’t do much of anything.

After a promising start, an upper back strain on his left side took him out of commission for much of the season.

It was frustrating for him and frustrating for the Vikings, who looked to Busfield to bolster an iffy pitching staff.

But he was able to pitch in five Foothill games and turned a corner, Snyder says, last May 2.

“I think it happened last year in the Saugus game. We lost 3-2, but I saw a light go on,” Snyder recalls. “I saw him emotional, upset with himself, compete out of jams. He carried it to the playoffs. Then you saw him take things personally in the summer. You could see it in the fall. You could tell a kid he could be as good as he can be, but it comes down to when the kid thinks when he’s going to be that good.”

Snyder says that growth can be seen in every one of his starts this year.

Instead of growth, a better word might be maturity.

The way Busfield approaches the game is beyond his years because at some point, most pitchers have to realize that a fastball is a ticket to get into the show, but not necessarily a ticket to stay there.

“One thing J.D. does really advanced, more than natural ability, is his ability to deal with crisis situations,” Sadowski says. “One thing I teach guys who get into a crisis situation is not to do more. The most important thing is to stay within yourself. It’s so hard for a 16-, 17-year-old kid to do, but he learned early on to stay within himself. He did it because of his analytical nature and cerebral approach.”

Busfield has one ticket punched.

He has a scholarship to pitch at Loyola Marymount.

With his size, potential is great for Busfield.

With his acumen, potential might be greater.

Sadowski says he has volunteered with high schools for a decade and has only seen one other pitcher like Busfield.

That pitcher — Nick Additon — was a 46th round pick in the 2006 Major League Baseball Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals.

Additon, known as a finesse left-hander, a cerebral pitcher and a late bloomer, is now pitching at the Triple-A level.

That’s good company.

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