Baker is adjusting to the pros in first year after draft
Life after the draft changes considerably for a player, but Lake County Captains’ starter Dylan Baker knows that baseball is just a game.
Baker, 21, was taken by the Cleveland Indians in the 5th round of the 2012 draft. The Alaska native attended Western Nevada Community College, where he went 13-0 with a 1.91 ERA and 126:46 K:BB ratio.
Last season, Baker appeared in eight games with the Arizona League Indians. He posted an 0-1 record and 4.13 ERA with a 30:15 K:BB ratio. Baker knew there would be obvious differences between college and professional ball, but said he didn’t let his nerves get the best of him.
“It was a lot different definitely from high school and college,” Baker said. “In the AZL, a lot of hitters are definitely free swingers. I was a little nervous at the start but I kind of just calmed down. It’s just baseball, just play the game. It was a big difference, a big jump but I was really excited to get started.”
To get started, Baker spent the offseason preparing for his first professional spring training. He spent two months at home in Juneau, Alaska before he ventured to Los Angeles, where his agency houses some of the players it represents to work out and train. Baker said he didn’t throw too much during the offseason, as part of a plan to rest his arm.
With his arm rested, Baker headed to spring training, with a small indication of what to expect.
“I talked to a lot of guys last year and in the fall about spring training just to get the feel of it,” he said. “I knew it was going to be really crazy, just people running around and practice every day, so it wasn’t terrible but it was definitely different.”
Baker was assigned to the low-A Lake County Captains to start the year, an assignment he didn’t necessarily expect, but hoped for.
“I wasn’t really expecting it because I didn’t want to get my head filled with everything, but I was really hoping this was where I wanted to be,” Baker noted. “It’s just because it’d be a good spot for me and I’m really excited to be here.”
Baker’s start hasn’t been one he’s dreamed of as he’s 0-2 with a 4.95 ERA through his first four appearances with the Captains, but he’s making the progression he was aiming for. He said his biggest goal for the season is to minimize the number of walks issued as they’ve been a past problem and so far, he’s achieved his goal. Through 20 innings of work, he’s allowed just four walks in comparison to 19 strikeouts.
Baker feels his mechanics are set and is focusing on his off-speed pitches. His arsenal consists of a fastball, curve, slider and change-up mix.
“I’ve been working on my change-up a lot and I’m getting a feel for it,” he said. “I’m just going to keep working on the change up because that’s the biggest pitch I need to get.”
Captains’ pitching coach Steve Karsay isn’t worried about Baker’s rough start as even an Alaska native can feel the effects of the colder Cleveland climate.
“His first two starts, I really didn’t take it too heavy on what he was doing,” Karsay said. “We just talked about being able to pound the strike zone, being able to throw strikes, mix his pitches and ultimately be aggressive within the strike zone and pitch to contact.”
Karsay added that Baker’s resiliency to make quick adjustments has been a positive aptitude in his development.
“He’s really done a nice job committing to some delivery changes and has become more of a complete pitcher,” Karsay said. “Priority number one was getting him to throw the ball downhill. Two, was to commit to pitching in the strike zone and getting more aggressive. His breaking ball has improved, his overall command has improved. He’s a tough kid, he works hard. He has a bright future for this team.”
Baker’s also learning to adjust to the improvement in opposition he faces as a pro. He said the biggest difference between college and pro ball is the speed of the game and increased aggression of hitters.
“I think they’re just a lot smarter than college baseball hitters,” he said.
As the weather starts to warm up, so is Baker as he warms up to the Eastlake area. He doesn’t necessarily mind the cold, but finds it more accommodating for his spare-time hobbies, which consist of fishing and hunting.
Eastlake may be a long hike from Alaska, but Baker finds the area homey as it’s not too big. His home with the Captains is different, but luckily he’s resilient enough to enjoy it.
Stephanie is a crime and general assignment reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio. She’s an alumna of Cleveland State University with a degree in Journalism and Promotional Communication. You can follow her on Twitter @7thInningSteph.