7/27/2007 – All Things Valley League
Written By John Leonard www.allthingsvalleyleague.com The Arkansas-Little Rock website lists Ashur Tolliver’s height and weight at 5-11, 155. The Harrisonburg Turks website lists them at 6-0, 160. Whichever is correct (maybe both), the fact remains that Ashur looks more like a rising high school sophomore than a rising college sophomore, let alone a durable starting pitcher in the Valley League. One thing’s for sure, though- the 19-year old can bring it. He regularly hits 90 mph on his fastball, and with his slingshot motion and equally tough changeup, he is causing all sorts of problems for Valley League hitters, some of whom are three years older. It’s not as if Tolliver is new to success, however. As a junior in high school, he went 9-1, with a 1.10 ERA. The next season, he actually improved to 9-1, 0.97, with 110 strikeouts. As a freshman at Arkansas-Little Rock, he met his first adversity, when he went 6-5, 4.45, with a 1.60 WHIP, 3.6 BB/9, and 7.8 K/9 in 89 innings. In the Valley League, there has been little adversity. Tolliver has enjoyed his first experience of pitching against wood bats, going 3-0, 2.72, with a 1.21 WHIP, 4.2 BB/9, and 10.9 K/9 in 43 innings (through July 22). Ashur sat down for a brief interview with ATVL, amidst heckling from teammates: Why did you decide to attend Arkansas-Little Rock? It was mainly Coach Lawler; he had been at Texas A & M all those years. He’s a great pitching guy, and I really wanted to work with him. Did you have other opportunities? A lot of junior colleges out of state, and really, anywhere in Arkansas. I didn’t do a whole lot in high school. If I would go back, I would have gone to more showcases and done all that, but I didn’t. I just played legion ball, so I didn’t get looked at by many people out of state….and when I was 15, I was 4-11, probably 110 pounds soaking wet; that didn’t help. I was high 70’s (mph), maybe 80-81 my junior year. Then my senior year, my velocity really started to pick up, and this past year in college I’ve developed a little bit more, even though I’m still filling out. You sign before your senior year, and I was still a small guy, and I didn’t throw very hard, so that didn’t help. What is your repertoire on the mound? I stick to fastballs, I like to challenge guys. But I throw a lot more changeups to righthanders than lefthanders… I don’t throw a breaking ball; I throw a cutter slider-type thing. I’ve tried and tried to throw a 12-to-6 breaking ball, but from my arm angle, it’s really hard to do. So righthanders, I stick to a changeup, and lefthanders I throw a slider. I don’t throw many changeups to lefthanders. Have you been clocked faster than 92, that you know of? That’s probably about what I’ve topped at out this spring in college. I think in South Alabama a couple times I was 91-92, a few other places. I’d like to say I sit in the upper 80s. How did you get hooked up with the Valley League? Coach Lawler. I asked him earlier in the year about summer ball. When he was at A & M he sent a lot of guys to Coach Wease, and he’s (Lawler) good friends with him, told me he’s a really good guy, which is completely true. Coach Wease is a great person; he’s helped me out a lot. (Wease) said he was looking for lefthanded pitchers,so he wanted me and David (Klumpp) to come up here. A few weeks later Robert Taylor, who had waited around for the draft, was looking for a place to play, and Coach Lawler told Coach Wease about him, and Wease said he’s like to have another power guy in the lineup. Robert’s done real well for us. It’s cool having two UALR guys here with me; it makes it fun. What’s your favorite place to play in the league? We’ve only been to Winchester once, and a lot of it had to do that it was the day before the 4th of July, but I pitched there, and they had a huge crowd because they had fireworks after. I’m sure all their crowds aren’t that big, but that was a fun one to go to because it was packed. I love pitching in front of a lot of people. It really gets you pumped up. I really like pitching at home in front of our fans, too, but the one best was Winchester. For you, what’s the difference in throwing to wood bats instead of aluminum? I figured that out the first week, the first start. It’s awesome, because with the wood bats it’s a little tougher to get around on fastballs, and I throw a lot more fastballs than I threw in college. In college, you can make a good pitch and still get beat with aluminum. With wood, if you make a good pitch, you’re going to get the guy. Every now and then you’ll have a little flare hit off you, but the majority of the time, if you make a good pitch, you’re going to beat somebody. You can get away with more mistake pitches. In college I threw about 60% fastballs and 40% changeups with a few sliders to lefties, but here I probably throw 85 or 90% fastballs…I wish we used wood in college. (Pic to left courtesy of Haymarket Joe) How about broken bats? That’s fun; I like going inside. I’ve broken a handful of bats this summer, and I really like doing that. You like to go in there and joke around with your teammates- see who can break the most bats. What do you do in your workouts? In college, I always pitched on Saturdays, once a week, and that’s pretty much what I do here. I’ll throw my game, and the next day I’ll run for half an hour to get a good blood flow to help my arm recover faster. Around the third or fourth day I’ll throw a flat-ground bullpen, spot work, 60-75% (effort), work on finishing pitches, maybe some long toss. I work out in the gym two or three times a week. What do you need to work on the most to get to the next level? Trying to develop a third pitch. My fastball and changeup are there, they’re where I want them to be, but I need to develop my slider some more. I really just started throwing it in college this year. In high school I got away with a little high school spinner, a little breaking ball, but in college it wasn’t working. So I started throwing a slider, but I didn’t have a lot of confidence in it. It’s pretty good now, I have confidence in it; it’s getting better and better. I’d like to add a fourth pitch, something with a bit more bend to it, to change eye level of the hitter. It’s tough to do from the arm slot I throw from, but if I work on it enough, I might get it down. Toughest hitters you’ve faced in this league? There’s some great hitters in this league; Staunton’s leadoff guy, (Chris) Wilkins, had a really good approach at the plate. He’s the toughest out I’ve faced. Of course, I wouldn’t like to face Moose (David Dennis) – if I had to face him, he’d probably be the toughest. If you could improve the league, what would you do? I think it’s great; I love it… maybe draw more fans, maybe turn it into a beer league, I don’t know. I don’t know what to do, but that would probably bring more fans, honestly. That’s the only thing I can think of: maybe more fans. The league’s great, though, a lot of good hitting and pitching in this league. Tolliver’s one to watch right now, and even more so as he gets older and fills out. Special thanks to Ashur for agreeing to sit down and answer some questions- good luck the rest of this season and in the rest of your (hopefully long) career!