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AFL Spotlight: Tyler Sturdevant

AFL Spotlight: Tyler Sturdevant
November 16, 2011
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Tyler Sturdevant (Photo: IPI)
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 this weekend. Next week one final spotlight piece will post as well as a final wrap up piece of how Indians players did in the AFL.

The completion of another season in the Arizona Fall League (AFL) is almost here as just a few days remain before the one game playoff on Saturday puts an end to another season of AFL baseball. As the famous Cleveland radio and TV personality Casey Coleman used to say, “We are rounding third and heading home.”

In some ways, Coleman’s famous tagline can apply to several Cleveland Indians’ prospects that are on the cusp of making it to the big leagues. The Indians have several players out in the AFL who have Major League ability, and one of those that really shined this season is right-handed reliever Tyler Sturdevant.

Sturdevant, 25, was selected by the Indians in the 27th round of the 2009 Draft out of New Mexico State University. Since he signed as a college senior, was already 23-years old, and was taken late in the draft, much was not expected of him when he came into the Indians organization. But he has really come on strong and evolved from just organizational filler to a legitimate big league relief pitching prospect for the Indians.

Sturdevant had a nice pro debut at short-season Single-A Mahoning Valley in 2009 going 2-1 with 3 saves and a 2.75 ERA in 19 appearances (36.0 IP, 34 H, 1 HR, 13 BB, 42 K). He did not really begin to open up some eyes until 2010 when he showed an ability to miss bats and pile up strikeouts. He pitched for both Low-A Lake County and High-A Kinston in 2010 and in 31 combined appearances went 6-2 with 2 saves and a 2.09 ERA (64.2 IP, 45 H, 4 HR, 19 BB, 91 K).

Due to some insane relief pitching depth in the Indians’ system Sturdevant was forced to open this past season with a return trip to Kinston. He took it in stride and pitched very well there going 4-2 with a 1.98 ERA in 21 appearances (41.0 IP, 31 H, 3 HR, 8 BB, 44 K) before a midseason call up to Double-A Akron. In 19 appearances with Akron he went 3-1 with 3.30 ERA (30.0 IP, 12 H, 2 HR, 9 BB, 34 K). At the tail end of the season he was promoted to Triple-A Columbus and pitched in three combined games in the regular season and playoffs.

Sturdevant’s good showing the last two seasons has elevated him into the upper echelon of Indians’ relief pitching prospects, and he is happy with what he has done so far.

“I am really happy about my season,” Sturdevant said. “I learned a lot this year and I think that is the biggest part of player development. Every year you just want to learn more and more about pitching with things like the sequence of pitching and recognizing hitters. It is all about experience and repetition. I thought my mechanics were a lot more solid this year, and therefore I was able to throw a lot more strikes and quality pitches. That’s really all the pitching game is, is to throw quality pitches down in the zone because you can’t control what an umpire says. I thought I learned a lot [in 2010] but I learned even more this year. I am really excited about my whole year.”

Compared to a lot of players his age, Sturdevant is a much more grounded person who is quiet and has a peaceful nature to him which is endearing. His ability to not get too high or too low at the good and bad outings is a trait that not many players possess. It is that mental component that the Indians really like and what has helped him get to where he is today.

“My mental game is better than it has ever been,” Sturdevant said. “That’s half the battle as the mental aspect of the game is huge.”

After trips to Kinston, Akron and Columbus, Sturdevant’s 2011 US Baseball Tour took him to sunny Arizona this fall for the AFL to give him a chance to pitch against the best competition in the minors. In a small sample size of just nine appearances in the AFL he has pitched well going 0-0 with a 3.60 ERA (10.0 IP, 11 H, 1 HR, 4 BB, 11 K).

Sturdevant has used his time in the AFL to refine his mental approach to pitching.

“The plan [out here] is to get better at recognizing the swings of hitters as I am on the mound in game situations,” Sturdevant said. “That is one of the biggest things I have had to learn is not only having to recognize who a hitter is before he comes to the plate, but having to recognize what he is looking for as you are pitching through the at bat. Just recognizing how a hitter reacts to each pitch and try to keep my mind focused on what the next pitch needs to be so I can set hitters up for what I want them to do.”

Hard work alone is not the only thing that has made Sturdevant a legitimate prospect. He has some pretty good stuff from the right side as he throws a mid-90s fastball that was up to 97 MPH this past season and he complements it with a good cutter which is his bread and butter pitch.

“My command with the fastball has been really good, and the cutter has been a good pitch for me for the last few years,” Sturdevant said. “I am really just trying to perfect the cutter to know when to throw it and how to throw it. It has been very helpful for me early or late in the count, but just getting to know when to use it off your fastball and off your other stuff will help out a lot.”

Sturdevant also throws a slurvy breaking ball and changeup, but both are inconsistent and he mostly relies on the fastball-cutter combination.

“My breaking ball has been called a slider, but I call it a curveball because when I used to throw a slider it did not break like this one,” Sturdevant said. “The changeup is a work in progress, but it is getting better as a pitch to go away a left-handed hitter and to change speed to the outside part of the plate.”

Once the AFL wraps up over the weekend Sturdevant will go home for the rest of the offseason. As for his offseason plans?

“Unfortunately we do not make enough to sustain ourselves in the offseason, so I have to go home and get a job,” Sturdevant said.

That job will only be temporary as once March rolls around he will be back to his real job of throwing a baseball for a living. But even his dream of playing baseball for a living could be temporary as well, and if things do not work out for him in pro baseball he still wants to be involved in the game at some level as a coach.

Sturdevant understands the situation he is in may only be temporary and that there is more to life besides baseball. He also knows that the Indians have a lot of relief pitching prospects in the upper levels. But all he can do is continue to work hard, get better, and control what he can control. When the dust settles he will see where he ends up.

“I have heard Chipper Jones describe it as not really making it to the big leagues but surviving the minor leagues,” Sturdevant said. “Of course the goal is always to make it to the big leagues as it has always been a childhood dream. But it is not everything as life goes on if baseball does not happen. I am excited and I see it is within reach, but obviously I have to keep working hard to try and make it.”

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his latest book the 2011 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More is available for purchase for $20.95 to customers in the US (shipping and handling extra).

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