AFL Spotlight: Grant Sides
The “AFL Spotlight” is a weekly feature piece on a player from the Cleveland Indians farm system that is participating in the Arizona Fall League. League play wraps up on November 15th.
The second week of the Arizona Fall League season wraps up this weekend. Several Indians prospects are out in Arizona participating in the high exposure offseason league, and one player in particular who is looking to continue his success from the 2014 season and have a good showing is right-handed reliever Grant Sides.
Sides, 25, had a good season this year at High-A Carolina where he went 4-2 with a 2.67 ERA in 43 appearances, and in 54.0 innings allowed 43 hits, 1 homer, 27 walks and had 50 strikeouts. His strong showing earned him a late season promotion where he made one regular season appearance with Double-A Akron (1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 0 K) and one appearance in the postseason (2.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K).
Overall, it was a nice showing for Sides and one that should give him something to build on this offseason in Arizona and in seasons to come.
“I felt good about my season,” Sides said. “I kind of accomplished what I wanted to and am just trying to keep honing in on my skills. I spent a lot of time in the offseason working on core stability and mechanical things and to really be able to control my body through my delivery. I think that helped me out a lot to be able to locate in the zone and throw quality pitches. I just felt good about where I was.”
It was a different story for Sides a year ago when he struggled through an inconsistent 2013 campaign. In 45 combined games between Low-A Lake County (18) and Carolina (27) he went 4-3 with a 4.52 ERA, and in 65.2 innings allowed 54 hits, 4 homers, 44 walks and had 78 strikeouts.
Sides chalked up his issues in 2013 to his inconsistent mechanics more than anything.
“It wasn’t really a health thing,” Sides noted. “I was more just trying to learn who I was as a pitcher. Two years ago I kind of came out and tried to throw a little too hard too early and lost myself mechanically. It took a little while and I was just doing some things wrong with my lower half. We spent a lot of time diagnosing what the problem was and finding the fix and it took me half a season to get that worked out and I had a good second half that year.”
Sides committed to his work in the offseason and things began to click again.
“I spent this offseason continuing to work on my mechanics and this year things just started to click and made me that much better,” Sides said. “Having good core stability and trusting my arm slot were a big thing for me, also just getting more comfortable every time out.”
The biggest difference with his performance this season was the drop in his walk rate from a 6.0 BB/9 in 2013 to a 4.7 BB/9 this season. While the walks are still high, Sides attributes the adjustments he made with his delivery as the biggest reason for the improvement.
“I was kind of arching my back at a point in my delivery and when I was driving I was not staying through my target as I was kind of cutting myself off a little bit,” Sides said. “I straightened myself up and got a little more directional and worked on finishing my pitches and keeping my core nice and tight and trusting my arm slot. Also not trying to force that arm slot a little too high as I think the year before I threw with a pretty good downhill angle, so at times I would think I had to force it up there rather than just trusting where my arm had to go.”
Sides also saw the return of the power to his stuff this season. Armed with a mid-90s fastball that can touch 96-97 MPH on ocassion and a good slider, he has the stuff that can impact a Major League bullpen if he finds consistency with it.
“It is always important to have good fastball command, but I think making the fixes mechanically and trusting my arm slot helped my off-speed that much more,” Sides said. “I was able to throw my changeup and slider a lot more in the zone for strikes, and when I am able to do that and get ahead in the count it made my fastball that much better. It was just easier to locate and stay in the zone and make those pitches. I feel a lot better. The slider was pretty good for me this year and the changeup has come a long ways in the last couple of months.”
So now that Sides has made all of these adjustments this season and put together a good year, he is out in the Arizona Fall League to face a bigger challenge and set himself up for a big year in 2015. So far he has made three appearances with the Peoria Javelinas and totaled three shutout-hitless innings and allowed one walk with five strikeouts.
“While I am out here I just want to keep building off the momentum that I built this year and get more comfortable with it,” Sides said. “Just have some good steam going into the offseason and get some good work in the offseason and when I come out to spring training hopefully I will pick up where I left off and just kind of keep rolling from there.”
The AFL will also serve as the best challenge to date for Sides.
“They say this is the best of the best out here, so it is always fun to pitch against and compete against some of the best guys in the minor leagues,” Sides said. “It kind of makes you take your game to the next level and really test you and make you make those adjustments. You can kind of tell that everyone is on their own and takes responsibility of their career, and the games are really cleaner and crisper. You have to perfect your own skills. It is challenging, but I like it. That’s the way I want it to be.”
Once the AFL season ends he will go home, enjoy the holidays, but then get right back into baseball.
“I think we get done in mid-November, so once we get done playing here I will take a little time off just from throwing and take a little down time,” Sides noted. “But by the start of the year I will pick up where my normal routine would be and get going then. It is a little shorter break from throwing than I would like, but it is part of the game. There is not a lot of time without baseball that’s for sure.”
Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.