DeJesus is making a name for himself in 2012
Luis Dejesus’ first experience in Class-A probably didn’t go exactly how he’d planned. Four relief appearances, 12 innings, ten earned runs, 15 hits, and a 7.50 ERA. It was somewhat of a shock for the soft spoken righty.
“They told me ‘Luis, they need pitching as soon as possible, and you’re going to be relieving,” he said. “I’ve never relieved in my life, and going to Lake County and relieving and not know anything, not having a routine, not knowing what to expect, and then having them suddenly say, ‘Luis get hot!’ That was tough.”
A stint like that certainly isn’t a confidence booster, and can potentially be a hindrance, especially for a guy coming off a solid 2011 campaign.
For him, though, confidence has always been something earned, not given. Dejesus grew up in Diboll, Texas, a small town a few hours north of Houston. He was a multi-sport athlete growing up, splitting his diamond duties with time on the soccer pitch. But baseball has always been his passion.
“I grew up playing baseball and soccer, ever since I was a kid," DeJesus said. "Baseball was always my number one, though. Eventually I had to make a decision, and I picked baseball.”
He made a fine choice.
Dejesus had a brilliant high school career playing for Lufkin High School, where he was not only his team’s ace, but also their cleanup hitter. In his junior season, he led his team all the way to a runner-up finish in the Texas state baseball tournament.
Despite his accomplishments, he received little attention from colleges coming out of high school in 2010.
“Out of high school I only had a couple of offers to some small D1 schools," DeJesus recalled. "I decided to attend junior college so I didn’t have to be locked in for three years. I figured I could attend a JUCO and work on some stuff before hopefully landing in a farm system. That was always my goal.”
That junior college was Angelina College, a small school located just minutes from his house. If that name sounds familiar to baseball fans, it’s because it has produced some very good pitchers, including the Indians’ own Josh Tomlin, and Red Sox All-Star Clay Buchholz.
Originally though, Dejesus didn’t sign on to the Roadrunners just to pitch. He came in figuring to play both ways, before he was told he was going to be a starter exclusively. That seemed to work out just fine, as he tossed a no-hitter in his first collegiate start on the way to a 1.99 ERA in 45 innings.
“At the end of my freshman year, I had signed on to play at Oklahoma State," DeJesus said. "I liked JUCO, but I felt like the throwing program was better at Oklahoma State. In JUCO, you really have to do your own thing, and I thought I had a better chance to improve myself at a Division 1 school where they have programs you can follow.”
They sure would have liked to have had him in Stillwater, but Luis got a bit of a surprise on draft day.
“I didn’t think I had a chance to get drafted," DeJesus said. "I had no idea I would get picked. I actually fell asleep, but my brother was sitting next to the speakers listening. Then all of the sudden they said the Indians select Luis Dejesus from Diboll, Texas in the 11thround of the 2011 draft, and we went crazy. It was such a shock and a blessing.”
He didn’t waste any time making his decision, jumping right into the Indians organization. He spent his 2011 season in Arizona, pitching in the rookie league, where he compiled a 3.33 ERA in 46 innings as a starter.
“There’s a lot of good talent out there, and a lot of free swingers," DeJesus noted. "Plus the heat, it’s like 115 degrees most of the time. So I was kind of nervous, and I didn’t know what to expect. But I got into a groove and told myself that I know what kind of pitcher I am, and I played my game. Once I got into that it really felt just like college; throw strikes, keep the ball low, and get ahead. I learned a lot that year. I figured out what kind of pitcher I am, and I’m trying to bring that over to this year.”
After such the solid campaign, Dejesus spent last offseason working to improve himself. He had a chance to spend a good portion of the offseason working with his fellow Angelina College alumnus Clay Buchholz.
“During the offseason I had a chance to work with Clay," DeJesus said. "It was pretty cool, because he [told] me how the Major Leagues are. We threw every other day and threw bullpens together. It was pretty cool having him around, I learned a lot from him.”
Whatever work he did with Clay has paid dividends in his 2012 campaign in Mahoning Valley. After his rough week or two in Lake County, Dejesus had a chance to do for the Scrappers what he’s used to: start.
He hasn’t let that chance pass him by, as his year has been nothing short of outstanding, and maybe even a little bit shocking. Through ten starts, Dejesus has amassed a 4-1 record with a 1.93 ERA in 56 innings. He’s only given up 12 runs all year at Mahoning Valley, after giving up ten in just 12 innings in Lake County.
“I was really nervous pitching in Lake County," DeJesus explained. "I didn’t really know any of those guys because they’re all older than me. But I got a lot of butterflies out before I got down here. I know all these guys, a lot of us got drafted together and it’s like a family.”
Dejesus is a guy that doesn’t have overpowering stuff; he compares himself to Josh Tomlin. But what he does have is a seemingly unshakable poise. He thus far has shown excellent ability to command his pitches, and is not afraid to pitch to contact when needed, or throw any pitch in any count.
“I’ve felt like I’ve always had confidence in my curveball, like I can throw it any count," DeJesus said. "But one thing I’ve really improved since rookie ball is confidence in my fastball, because I really didn’t have that. I sort of had to change my mindset so I could trust that I could get outs with my fastball and not just my curveball, because I can last a lot longer when I throw my fastball more. I’m just tying to live low in the zone with it.”
The type of fastball Dejesus throws has also been refined. He throws both a two- and four-seam fastball, but early in the season, he eschewed the two-seamer to focus more on his four-seamer that has pretty good biting action of it’s own.
What he’s done has worked. He currently ranks fifth in league among starters in ERA and seventh in WHIP (0.91). He also boasts a 3.27:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Those numbers were good enough to earn him not only an Indians minor league Player of theWeek award, but also New York-Penn League All-Star honors, where he as been tabbed as the starter for the American League.
“It’s a blessing," DeJesus said. "At the beginning of the season, I didn’t think I was going to come in and be an All-Star. I just found myself early in the season. I learned I’ve sometimes got to pitch to contact, because sometimes a one-pitch out is bigger than a three-pitch strikeout.”
Most people probably didn’t expect him to be an All-Star at the season’s outset. Yet here he is. But he’s used to that. And you can be sure he’s going to keep fighting to surprise himself and others.
“I really don’t see myself as an All-Star,” he said. “All my life I’ve been an underdog. I didn’t have a lot of offers coming out of high school. I don’t see myself as having a big head or anything. I know I’ve got to work hard to get to where I want to. All this is unexpected.”