Head-ing in the right direction
Tribe relief pitcher has opened some eyes as a pen prospect
The dream for many young baseball players is to play professional baseball. After a rough patch in his college baseball career, Carolina Mudcats relief pitcher Louis Head is getting to live the dream in the Cleveland Indians organization.
After opening the 2013 season with the A-Lake County Captains, Head has been on the move all summer, with some moves being more permanent than others. Head was with Low-A Lake County until June 1st when he was reassigned to Triple-A Columbus to fill a roster spot for a day and was then reassigned back to Lake County the next day. Head says even though he knew his time in Triple-A was a temporary move, he was excited for the opportunity.
“It was a great feeling, even though I knew I was not going up there to stay," Head recalled. "It was for a spot relief, but I just wanted to enjoy the experience. I had a good couple of innings that I pitched up there, and it was easy to tell there is a huge difference once you get to that level.”
The Katy, Texas native made a more permanent move to Advanced-A Carolina on June 29th. Since being promoted, Head has accumulated a 3-1 record with a 2.73 ERA in 26.1 innings pitched to go along with 25 strikeouts to just three walks.
Head was surprised he got called up to the Mudcats when he did, but was happy to see the work he put in during the offseason and during the first half of the season pay off with the promotion.
“Honestly, I was kind of surprised I got called up when I did," Head said. "I thought I was going to be in Lake County all year, but it was a great feeling when I got to come back and play with these guys again since I was with them with the Captains last year. It’s a great feeling being able to play with these guys and making a playoff push like we are.”
Mudcats manager David Wallace is a big fan of Head’s work ethic and his competitive nature.
“He is a real competitor, and every time he goes out there and toes the rubber, you’re going to get his best," Wallace said. "That’s exactly what you want coming out of your bullpen. He’s got a couple of really good pitches. He can command that fastball and can locate his slider on any count and he’ll come right at any batter."
While it is a little late in the season to be working on mechanics to get better or developing new pitches, Head says as a pitcher you always have to work on the mental aspect of the game. A pitcher can really hurt their performance if they let too much in their head and mess with their consistency on the mound.
“I’m just trying to stay consistent right now and be doing what I’ve been doing all year,” Head said. “I try to go out there with the same mentality every game and it’s worked for me so far. I’ve had a couple of ups and downs, which happens to everyone. I’m just trying to stay out of my head and pitch like I know I can to finish the year strong.”
Head is playing in his first full season of professional baseball after being drafted in the 18th round of the 2012 MLB Draft out of Texas State University. Like everyone else, Head vividly remembers getting the call from the Indians saying they wanted to sign him to a deal, one that he accepted with no hesitation.
“I honestly had talked to the Indians maybe once," Head recalled. "I had talked to a bunch of other teams about being taken earlier in the draft, but obviously that didn’t work out. I started to get a little worried about if I would even get drafted. Then I got a phone call from the Indians asking if I wanted to sign, and I said yes with no hesitation at all. It was one of the most exciting moments of my life, and I can honestly say the organization has been great for me."
The jump from college to professional baseball has been easier than expected for Head, due mostly to what he says is a better focus on getting better at this level.
“I sort of just coasted through college, but since I’ve gotten here, I’ve been really focused on getting better on the mound, which is exactly what you have to do to succeed,” he said. “The hitters are so much better at this level, which I see as the biggest difference, but in comparison, the defenses are that much better as well, which kind of evens things out.”
After committing to play baseball at Texas Tech and playing for two years, Head feared his baseball career was coming to a close after being cut from the team. However, he found a new home at Texas State University, and saw a rejuvenation to his career that eventually lead to him being drafted and signed by the Indians.
“After being cut from Tech, I saw that nothing is certain," Head noted. "I realized I needed to work harder for my dream of being a baseball player to come true."
Wallace sees Head’s collegiate experience as a real motivating factor that has turned into a positive for him as a player.
“I hope it motivates him and makes him focused," Wallace said. "There are a lot of guys in that locker room that come out to do their jobs and Head is one of those guys. If he needs to use his experiences as motivation to do that, I hope he does. I’m sure it will serve him well in his career.”
Head has seen a combination of being a starter and a reliever over the course of his career, but since signing with the Indians, relief has been his specialty. Many players say being a reliever is difficult due to the fact you never know when you will be called on to enter the game, but Head says he prefers to be a reliever because it keeps him out of his head and he fits the mold a little better.
“I actually find being a reliever easier than starting, because when I start I find that I’m way too focused all day and I don’t relax and I can’t throw strikes because I’m all in my head," he said. "Relieving allows me to relax all day and not really think too much about the game. The hardest part is not knowing when or if you’ll get called on, but I really enjoy that part because you never know, so when you get called on, it’s really exciting.”
Head has focused on being a middle reliever since coming to the Mudcats, which he says really fits his style of pitching.
“With Lake County I was more of a closer, which I liked just throwing the one inning, but here I’m in mid-relief," he said. "They don’t really want me to flip the lineup because I’ve honestly only got about two pitches. I really like going two or three innings at a time."
While a pitcher has to develop their own style and become their own pitcher, everyone has idols they look up to, and Head is no different.
“Roy Oswalt was my guy because I’m a big Houston guy," Head said. "We’re a similar size, so I try to look up to him. I don’t pitch like him anymore - at one point I tried to be just like him - but I learned that wasn’t going to get me anywhere.”
Superstitions and baseball go hand in hand, and Head describes himself as one of the worst on the team. He says he has to do exactly the same thing every day from the time he gets to the field.
“I have a really long routine every day," he noted. "I do the same workout and just before the game I have to listen to the same five songs in the same order every day. If I don’t go through the same routine I’m messed up before the game. It takes about two hours, but whatever works."
Believing in yourself can really get you anywhere in life, and Head is a great example. After being cut from his college baseball team, Head is living the dream of a professional baseball player.
“You just have to believe in yourself,” Head said. “I’ve never been a hyped player. I didn’t get picked up high in the draft. Not many people have heard about me. [But] I always believe in myself and followed my dream.”
Zachary is a senior at NC State where he is majoring in communication-media, with minors in journalism and theatre. You can follow him on Twitter @RealZachFrancis.