AFL Spotlight: Louis Head
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. Here are the previous 2014 spotlight pieces on other players: Grant Sides
The Indians have had a boom in recent years with relief prospects who have impacted in Cleveland or who have established themselves as legit relief prospects. What once was a big issue for the organization with developing their own bullpen prospects has turned into a pretty steady stream of talent with Cody Allen, Kyle Crockett, Nick Hagadone and C.C. Lee establishing themselves in the big leagues and now several good options at Triple-A Columbus and Double-A Akron next season.
One of those options that has established himself is right-handed pitcher Louis Head.
Head, 24, split his time between High-A Carolina (17 games) and Akron (29 games) last season and put forth a strong showing going 1-4 with a 2.70 ERA, 56.2 IP, .216 BAA, 3.7 BB/9 and 11.6 K/9. Those were some very impressive, dominant numbers across the board, particularly his ability to get a strikeout, and in turn he has evolved himself from a later round diamond in the rough to a potential gem prospect in the bullpen.
“I felt like I could have done things a little bit differently in some parts of the season, but for the most part, I felt good about the whole year,” Head said in a recent interview with IBI. “The transition into Double-A was a little rockier than I expected, but I settled down and got comfortable and felt fine from there.”
After starting the year at Carolina and posting a 2.21 ERA and ridiculous 34:2 strikeout to walk ratio in 20.1 innings (.141 BAA), the Indians challenged him with an early June promotion to Akron. He definitely struggled early at Akron posting a 5.73 ERA in his first 10 appearances, and in 11.0 innings allowed 14 hits, 2 homers, 8 walks and had 10 strikeouts. From there, he settled in posting a 1.78 ERA in 19 appearances the rest of the way and in 25.1 innings allowed 21 hits, 1 homer, 8 walks and had 29 strikeouts.
In addition to just settling in and adjusting to the tougher level, getting his confidence back was the biggest thing that helped Head have success late in the year at Akron.
“It was just confidence to be perfectly honest,” Head said. “I have always had confidence in my ability, but I didn’t really start getting confidence until I got to these higher levels and realized I can pitch against these guys. It really played a huge factor for me just knowing I can get these guys out.”
Now that Head has established himself as a priority reliever in the Indians system and one of their top relief pitching prospects, the next step is to get him Major League ready. He is working to refine his fastball command and fine tune his delivery.
“I just need to keep doing what I am doing and go out there, throw strikes and get batters out,” Head said. “I can’t really control how to get to the next step, but I can do whatever I can to move myself forward and progress. Just get better every day and take all of the little things and do it right. I feel like that is going to help me the most.”
Head features a good fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90s but can get up to 97 MPH. He also has a solid slider that has continued to improve. Where he really saw a change this year was with his fastball as he started to feature more four-seam fastballs and saw his velocity creep up.
“I used to throw a majority of two seam fastballs and was not striking guys out and I started just throwing four seams this year,” Head said. “It is a little bit straighter, but I seem to get more swing and misses with it. I think it looks a little more like my slider. I only throw two pitches. It definitely still moves, but I think I throw it a little harder and I think it played more of a role in striking people out this year.”
The small change in repertoire is what Head believes made all the difference for him this season.
“I think that pitch is what really clicked this year,” Head said about the four-seamer. “I started to see better numbers batting average-wise against hitters and they were hitting less off me and I was striking out a high percentage of batters. I think that pitch played a big role in that because I can locate it better and put it pretty much wherever I want, so I think it really helped me out. The slider also got a little tighter, but it has always been there.”
It you polled most pitchers they would say they prefer to start, but Head relishes pitching out of the bullpen. He’s started in the past when he was in college, but has really taken to pitching out of the bullpen because of the frequency he pitches and the big situations he is often asked to pitch in.
“I just love the bullpen,” Head said. “I actually did start in college at Texas Tech. Then when I went to Texas State they saw me as just a bullpen guy. They said that was what they saw me at in pro ball. I never had really been in the role and when they moved me to the closer role I felt really comfortable and where I belonged. It is just a different mentality coming into those games. There are more high pressure situations and games are on the line. Runners are on base sometimes when you come in, so you don’t want to give up other peoples runs. I love the adrenalin rush and that is why I feel like I fit so well back there.”
So far in the Arizona Fall League (AFL) he has appeared in five games and in 5.1 innings has allowed two runs (both earned) on seven hits, two walks and has eight strikeouts. With about three weeks left he will probably make six or seven more appearances and finish with around 11-12 innings. While the goal is to perform well, he is just using it as experience to prepare for next season when he could make it to Triple-A Columbus at some point in the season – maybe even Cleveland.
“I just want to see how I play with this level of players,” Head said. “I have proven it in Double-A, but now we are playing with the best of the best in all of Double-A, Triple-A and some High-A guys. It is the best players from every organization and I just want to go out and compete against them just like I have been my entire career.”
Once the AFL season wraps up on November 15th, Head will take a little time off to recharge the batteries, but knows that preparation for a big 2015 season will come fast.
“I will go back and probably relax for a week or two and then I will get right back into things working out,” Head said. “I will probably take a little more time off from throwing just because I had such a long season, so I probably won’t throw until maybe mid-December. I am going to try and get in better shape. I try to get in better shape every year because I feel like if I can get my body in better shape it will help have a longer career and staying healthy and stuff. I am going to go back and spend time in the weight room to get bigger and stronger, but at the same time stay as flexible as I am now.”
With a Major League opportunity becoming a distinct possibility in the near future, there is no time for Head to rest. He’s making the most out of his opportunity right now.
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Head said, the four seamer is harder. I think that's why it plays up - plus it appears he had a slight jump in stuff. Guys do this (make changes) all the time, adding a pitch, altering the grip slightly etc looking to become more effective.