3/6/2013 3:50 P.M. ET
Collmenter carves own niche en route to D-backs
Right-hander's small-town development paves path to the Major Leagues
By Nathan Humpherys / MLB.com
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- While Josh Collmenter was busy leading Homer High School to the only undefeated state championship in Michigan history, the future D-backs right-hander was unaware of the uniqueness of his delivery.
"The first time I figured it out, I was watching it on tape," Collmenter said. "Right before I graduated high school, my mom had some film. That was the first time I realized how over-the-top I threw."
Growing up in a small town about an hour west of Ann Arbor -- Homer has a population of less than 2,000 -- Collmenter never received any formal coaching. Instead, he learned about pitching by watching games on TV and reading about different grips in Sports Illustrated. As for Collmenter's throwing motion, that developed from tossing a far more dangerous implement than a baseball.
"The closest thing it resembles is throwing tomahawks," he said.
There happened to be one laying around the house, and Collmenter and his brothers would toss it around to entertain themselves.
"We'd go out and try to kill snakes and stuff with it or just try and get it to stick in a tree. It was something we did. Grew up in the country, so you just kind of create games to do to occupy the time."
Mike Villano, who was Collmenter's pitching coach at Central Michigan Univeristy, began to keep tabs on the right-hander during his junior year at Homer High. Villano recalls being intrigued by Collmenter, in part because of the deception and the downhill angles his throwing motion created, but also because of the way the young pitcher carried himself.
In Collmenter's senior year, Homer went 38-0 en route to the state championship.
Collmenter dominated, posting 13 shutouts. However, it wasn't just his performance on the mound that impressed Villano. "I just saw him as a leader of a bunch of kids that never wanted to lose."
After graduating from high school in 2004, Collmenter joined Villano at Central Michigan, where Villano suggested that a changeup would be the perfect complement for his throwing style. Collmenter developed the pitch in the bullpen during his first fall ballgame, and the changeup was an instant success.
According to Villano, Collmenter threw three straight changeups to the first batter he saw to record a strikeout. Villano quickly realized he had a special player on his hands.
"Nobody is going to out-compete him, and nobody is going to out-think him," Villano said.
It didn't stop with the changeup. Villano spent most of his time working with pitchers on their mechanics, but with Collmenter he was able to talk about awareness and the mental side of pitching. Villano encouraged Collmenter to see how much he could get the ball to do what he wanted to do, with the ultimate goal of getting him to the point where he could manipulate hitters into doing what he wanted them to do.
"He had me throw, I'd say no less than 10 different pitches at various times in my career," Collmenter said, "and really the biggest thing was probably just instilling in me the trust and confidence to throw any pitch at any time."
Collmenter said he attributes a lot of his success to his college pitching coach, but Villano is reluctant to take any of the credit.
"The truth is I was a given a kid who was blessed, and more than just physically," Villano said.
In the end, Collmenter may hurl baseballs like tomahawks, but in his former coach's eyes, it's what he does mentally that matters most.
"Half the battle is trusting yourself and trusting your ability. That's where other people freak out, and Josh doesn't do that," Villano said.
Nathan Humpherys is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.