Percival: 'Natural' Lillie has huge potential

Marlins' 2017 fifth-round Draft pick a catcher-turned-pitcher

Percival: 'Natural' Lillie has huge potential

MIAMI -- From the first time Ryan Lillie threw off the mound, he looked the part of the pitcher. At least that was the thought of University of California, Riverside coach Troy Percival, and his instincts were right.

Lillie, a converted catcher, showed plenty of promise as a pitcher, and on Tuesday, the Marlins selected the right-hander in the fifth round of the MLB Draft.

When it comes to switching from catcher to pitcher, Percival speaks from authority. He did the same thing in his playing days, and he became a dominant reliever. The closer on the Angels' 2002 World Series championship team, Percival pitched from 1995-2009. His 358 career saves rank 11th on the all-time list.

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These days, Percival is the head coach at UC Riverside, and he sees plenty of potential in Lillie.

"From the first time I put him on the mound, it was just a natural," Percival told MLB.com on Tuesday. "It reminded me of me, because the first time I jumped on the mound, I was able to throw strikes. I was able to spin a breaking ball. Once I saw that, I said, 'We're just going to work mechanically.'"

Lillie bought in immediately.

"He allowed me to kind of mold what I wanted," Percival said.

Listed as 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds, Lillie is scratching the surface of his potential. Percival feels he profiles as a reliever, but with a four-pitch mix, he has the tools to start.

"You're going to find a very competitive guy," Percival said. "He's as competitive as anybody."

Lillie made 20 appearances (10 starts) and had a 4.69 ERA, and he struck out 80 and walked 20 in 71 innings.

"He's definitely a strike-thrower," Percival said. "He can throw all four pitches for strikes, counting the two-seamer as an extra pitch. It does have substantial movement in on the right-handers. When he starts to learn to get a little bit of depth on that, it's going to be a little more dominant."

Lillie was one of eight college players selected by the Marlins on Day 2 of the Draft. On Monday, the club selected left-hander Trevor Rogers from Carlsbad High School in New Mexico with the 13th overall pick.

Lillie's fastball velocity has improved in each of the past three years -- going from 89-91 mph as a freshman to 91-93 as a sophomore and 92-97 this year.

"He's taken a very active role in his growth," Percival said. "He's in my office all the time talking pitching. He's gotten much more intelligent. I allow him to call his own game. That was done on purpose, so he would start to understand when he makes mistakes. We'd talk about it, understand that he's a fastball pitcher. I think sometimes he got a little bit happy throwing that breaking ball, when he's really a dominant fastball pitcher."

The Draft concludes on Wednesday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on MLB.com at 12 p.m. ET.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.