Each year, former Southern closer Cody Hall makes a list of goals he hopes to achieve by season’s end.
Among them for 2012: Be named a South Atlantic League All-Star, lead the league in saves and advance beyond Single-A, where he’s currently stationed with the Augusta (Ga.) GreenJackets of the San Francisco Giants organization.
So when he suffered a strained right oblique muscle on May 24 and was placed on the disabled list, Hall worried he’d fall off track.
But during an absence that lasted more than two weeks, he held on to the league lead for saves (he was tied with two others at 10 heading into Tuesday’s games), and an invitation came to play in the SAL All-Star Game on June 19th in Charleston, S.C.
And that was just the start of the good news, because his third goal might not be too far away.
Hall said he was throwing again just three days after the injury, but he couldn’t get the green light to return to action. Frustrated that he was being treated with kid gloves, he wanted to know why.
The answer that came back, via his agent, was a plenty satisfying reason for being handled with care. The Giants had him tapped to one day be their closer.
“They want me to be the future closer there, and I’m just working hard because it’s not something that happens overnight,” Hall said. “It’s a process that can go for a while, but I think they like what I have to offer, and they really think I could be the closer in the big leagues.”
While Hall — who also played at Central High and Baton Rouge Community College before Southern — is likely still a few years away from a chance at the majors, getting to this point is an impressive accomplishment in itself.
After all, he didn’t pitch until he reached BRCC, as a walk-on.
That’s where coach L.J. Dupuy put the rocket-right-armed former first baseman on the mound. From there, Hall has built himself from an off-the-radar nobody to someone who’s drawing comparisons to injured Giants closer Brian Wilson, a 24th-round pick out of LSU who also made the SAL All-Star Game with the GreenJackets before becoming a three-time MLB All-Star.
At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Hall always had the mid-90s fastball, along with a decent curveball and changeup. That was enough to be drafted in the 35th round out of Southern by the Detroit Tigers in 2010. So he came back to SU, added a slider and began the season in the starting rotation, which gave him much-needed innings.
“That’s what taught me how to pitch,” Hall said. “I couldn’t just rely on my fastball all the time. Once I got my slider, it was a huge advantage because most hitters knew I had a power arm so they would sit on my fastball. I could mix up pitches and change their eye levels.”
The result was a breakout 2011, where he led the Jaguars in ERA (3.71), innings (60.2) and strikeouts (62), enough to earn a 19th-round selection from the Giants.
He followed with a successful stint with the short-season Single-A Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, going 3-1 with a 2.63 ERA and four saves while averaging 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
But he has been even better this year as the GreenJackets’ closer, posting an ERA of 2.33 to go with a win, 10 saves and a strikeout rate of 13.5. He also cut his walks by nearly half, issuing just seven free passes out of 83 batters faced.
That has made him a feared name in the South Atlantic League, and opposing coaches began dropping by during his stint on the disabled list.
“They were telling me how sorry they were that I got hurt, to get better, and that they loved watching me pitch even though it was against their teams,” Hall said. “Then they would all make jokes like, ‘Well, we’re glad we won’t have to face you in the ninth inning.’”
He attributes some of the success to a cut fastball added during spring training, which gives him a high-velocity pitch that he can run inside on left-handed batters. He’s also working to refine his slider and changeup to complement that blazing fastball.
It’s all part of the growth process for a pitcher who’s still early in his development compared to his peers.
But that hasn’t kept him from aiming high. In addition to his other goals, Hall is hoping to get his ERA below 2.30, push his walks lower and make a second-half all-star team as well.
Do that, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t keep swimming upstream all the way to San Francisco and take his dream job of big league closer.
“You can’t get much better than being a closer,” Hall said. “You come in the game in the ninth inning of a tight situation, and you know you have to get the job done. Ever since I started pitching, I’ve loved it, especially having coaches say you can go to the next level at that position.
“There’s nothing better than getting on the mound and trying to get the best batters out.”