AFL Spotlight: T.J. House
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 wrapped up on November 15th, so this is the final “spotlight” piece from the AFL this year.
Another season of the Arizona Fall League has come and gone.
It was but a short five week season, but players that participated and evaluators that observed all came out with a little better understanding of where each and every player stands as a prospect.
The Indians had several good showings in the AFL this year, but one of the best came from left-handed pitcher T.J. House. Coming off a good season where he pitched a majority of the season at Double-A Akron, he was expected to pitch about 25 innings this fall and that is exactly what happened. He made six starts and went 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA, and in 27.0 innings allowed 20 hits, no homers, 9 walks, and had 26 strikeouts.
The good showing in the highly competitive fall league puts the finishing touches on what was a very good year overall for House. In 27 combined starts between High-A Carolina and Akron he went 10-5 with a 3.56 ERA, and in 149.1 innings allowed 131 hits, 8 homers, 50 walks, and had 116 strikeouts.
“I feel really good,” House said in a recent interview with the IPI. “Personally, it was a nice bounce back year for me on a lot of levels as I tried to improve my game mentally and physically and things like that. I did not like how I ended the year [in Akron] as I felt like I was struggling there at the end, so this [helped] me end on a stronger note.”
House struggled a little down the stretch as he went 2-3 with a 4.99 ERA in six August starts, and in two starts in the playoffs went 0-1 with a 9.35 ERA. He is probably just being overly critical of himself, but that is just because he holds himself to a high standard.
“I think I got tired all around and mentally I think I just checked out a little bit in certain points,” House said about his late season struggles. “I was trying to grind and was not having success, so I tried to push myself a little too hard and I think I put too much pressure on myself.”
That’s the human element of baseball where we like to cut up a full season like a piece of pie and see where a player had success and where they failed. The later numbers in August and September always have more meaning than those in April and May because they are the last thing we saw. But no matter how much House may have struggled in the playoffs; it does not diminish what was truly a great comeback season for him.
House struggled a lot at High-A Kinston in 2011 where he went 6-12 with a 5.19 ERA in 25 starts. His command was declining, his weight was climbing, and his Major League future was disappearing. But he brought everything back together in the offseason by committing to a workout program and lost close to 30 pounds and also made some significant changes to his mechanics to a lower arm slot like he had in high school.
In addition to that, House also believes his confident, positive approach this year was a significant reason for his return to form.
“I think part of it was confidence,” House said. “I instilled a high positive attitude with myself and kept the negative thoughts away. I think that people naturally get stuck into a negative mind-frame, especially when they are struggling for a lengthy period of time. This year I told myself there is no negativity and that everything is positive no matter what the situation. Even if I give up four runs in the first inning, you can say ‘hey, I can still go eight innings and keep the team in the game and we can come back and possibly win it’. I look at everything from a positive aspect now, and I think that confidence boost has been a big thing for me.”
Whether it was his improved conditioning, mechanics, or attitude, there is no denying that House’s stuff and command were much improved this season. Not only did his ERA drop from 5.19 to 3.56 this season (with most of that occurring at a higher level in the minors), but his WHIP dropped from 1.53 to 1.21, his BB/9 dropped from 4.6 to 3.0, his K/9 increased from 6.2 to 7.0, and his K/BB went from 1.35 to 2.32.
“I think me being able to repeat my delivery helped a lot, which is attributed to me coming into the season in shape and my body being able to stay stable throughout the whole season,” House said. “We worked on my delivery a lot last year as I was coming too high so we dropped it down. I think just being able to repeat that and going out into the game in the right mind-frame just helped that competitive edge to go out there and treat every pitch like it was my last, and that really gave me the confidence to go out there and keep doing the things I was doing.”
In addition to lowering his arm slot, another thing that House and the Indians worked on was getting him more balanced through the end of his delivery. Add it as another tally mark to a list of things that really helped get him back on track this season.
“One thing we worked on is when I get to my balance point to make sure that I am standing straight up and not leaning forward,” House said. “I think that is one reason I struggled with my command as I was kind of on that front toe and when I would go I would twist like a top instead of coming down like a hammer. You want to come down and bring everything forced through the zone. I think just making sure that my balance point was correct and not trying to turn and bringing my leg up and not sweeping it to the backside of me helped a lot.”
The mechanical adjustments with his delivery and his improved conditioning helped his pitching repertoire. His low 90s fastball saw more life and more consistently popped in at 93-94 MPH, which were velocities he had a hard time consistently reaching in 2011. His changeup is one of his best secondary offerings, but the rapid improvement of his slider was a difference maker as well.
“My slider has rebounded big time, and I think that [is a result] of the lower arm slot,” House said. “You can’t really get on top of it like a curveball as you have to get a little more on the side of it and stay down. That pitch has definitely become my number two pitch, and I actually feel more confident in it than my changeup. I still feel like my changeup is good, but it is not as consistent. I am able to pull my slider out of my back pocket and throw it when I need it.”
House continues to fiddle with a fourth pitch in his repertoire, a curveball, which he has begun to use a lot more in his pitch mix to give hitters a different look.
“I started throwing my curveball a lot more, especially as a first pitch,” House said. “It is something that I tend to not have as much consistency with, so when I do have it I throw it more and have used it as a strikeout pitch when it is really on. It is mostly something new for the third time through a batting order. Everything is hard, so it is slower and has a little more depth to it and is higher. It is something I can just flip out there and is something that gives me a little extra edge.”
After all the adjustments he made throughout the season, and the success he had throughout it, the Indians put him up to the ultimate test in the AFL this offseason and he passed with flying colors. The AFL showing is something that has only strengthened his standing as one of the Indians better pitching prospects, and it is an experience he is glad to have been a part of.
“First off I was excited to come here as I heard nothing but great things about this league,” House said. “It is one of those things that you don’t know what to expect coming in. I have loved it since I first came here. This is an awesome experience to get go through. The hitting is definitely a lot tougher as these guys are two-three-four hitters throughout their whole organization and they are coming in and playing on one team, so it is pretty much an All Star team you are facing. But I feel like if you go there and do what you did all year, you will have the same success. You can’t treat these guys any different than you would treat a normal lineup. You just have to go out and make your pitches and things will work out in a positive way.”
Now that the AFL season has ended House has returned home to Picayune, MS. With spring training only three months away the offseason will be a short one for him, so he will take a small break from baseball before getting right into his preparations for the 2013 season.
“I have not had a break yet, so I am thinking of taking about a week off,” House said. “I have a shorter offseason this year, so I definitely want to make sure that I come back exactly how I was this year. I don’t have the length of training time like I did last time, but I still feel like right now I am at a good spot in my career and there is no time to take off. I feel like hard work pays off, and for me to go home and sit around and not do as much as I could, I would feel bad and I owe myself more. So I am going to go home and hit it hard and get ready for spring training.”
House is also up for roster protection this offseason and is one of the top options the Indians are considering adding to the 40-man roster next week.
“I am actually taking it all in stride,” House said about being rostered. “I am having fun where I am at in my life and where I am in my baseball career. I feel like I have completely transformed as a person and a baseball player from when I came in and where I am now. It is exciting. Like you said, this is a big year, but I look at every year as a big year because you never know what can happen good or bad. So whatever happens, happens. I am just going to go out there and perform.”
Of course, there is no doubt that House would be thrilled to be rostered. He feels he did a lot this season to put himself back into consideration as a big league option in the future, and next season he will continue to push the envelope.
“It is like a chess game,” House said. “I am going to force you to put me into play and use me. That’s all I can do. What they decide to do is their choice as it’s their organization and they can run it the way they want to. But I am going to make it a pretty damn hard decision for them.”
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.
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As a kid in the 50's I received a gift of The Sporting News weekly from an aunt and uncle. I read every article in every issue, even the hockey news.
Indians articles were great about every level of the minor leagues, but this site provides far more information.
House should be added to the 40-man.