House looking to repair his cracked foundation
Last year was a wakeup call to High-A Carolina left-handed pitcher T.J. House.
House, 22, was a very successful pitcher in high school, and with his tools and projection it got him drafted in 2008 by the Indians and a hefty $750,000 signing bonus. He had a successful first season at Low-A Lake County in 2009 going 6-11 with a 3.15 ERA in 26 starts, and followed that up with a solid season in 2010 at High-A Kinston going 6-10 with a 3.91 ERA in 27 starts.
But last season things fell apart for House. In a return trip to Kinston last season he went 6-12 with a 5.19 ERA in 25 starts, but more concerning is how his walk and strikeout rates continued to get worse. His walk rate has increased each year from a 3.3 BB/9 in 2009, to a 4.0 BB/9 in 2010, to a 4.6 BB/9 in 2011, and his strikeout rate has steadily declined from a 7.3 K/9 in 2009, to 7.0 K/9 in 2010, to a 5.6 K/9 in 2011.
While House and the Indians worked on a lot of mechanical changes late last season and in the offseason, the biggest change he needed to make was with his commitment to the game. He lost his way a little bit last season, he knows it, and is once again 100% committed to his craft.
“I implemented a lot of new programs into my offseason program just with my eating habits, my workout habits, and everything is structured seven days a week,” House said. “I think it had a big influence in how I came into spring training ready this year physically, and then on the mental side I did a lot of things I needed to do to get things straightened out.”
At the conclusion of last season House was disappointed on the lack of progress he made. He also came to realize that with two full seasons in the organization that even though he is a “bonus baby” his job could now be jeopardy.
After some soul searching House got himself together and worked hard in the offseason to get himself into top shape. His hard work and dedication resulted in a loss of almost 30 pounds in the offseason.
“I feel great and have a renewed energy,” House said. “I have a limited amount of years to do this, so I am just trying to do the best I can. I guess with me being hardheaded it took a lot of beating through my skull to get things through my head. I realized that this is not forever and any time could be your last time. Now I am really on the right page with what I need to do, and that is what I am 100% dedicated to.”
Since his debut season House has not progressed as hoped and has not lived up to the expectations the Indians or fans had of him coming out of the 2008 Draft. You will get no argument from him on that.
“This season I am mostly looking forward to exceeding the expectations I have set for myself ever since I signed,” House said. “I kind of detoured off the path last year, and to me I was not happy with myself all around. I did not come in prepared for spring training last year, and I lacked the mental and physical stability that I needed. I just completely did not do what I needed to do.”
A team never knows how a young player is going to respond to getting a large signing bonus. Sometimes a feeling of achievement and entitlement can settle in. A player can become less driven than maybe a player that received much less of a signing bonus. House has always been a student of the game and worked to improve, so it mostly came down to him maybe getting a little too content.
“I think it was just me growing content,” House said. “It is hard to come from high school to pro ball and not be content. You get thrown into a scenario where you go out and have success your first year, and then [because of that] year you don’t work as hard in the offseason. I think that by doing what I did and not keeping up with my routines, I realized how important it is and how those guys like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia have their routines set in stone all year round and they stick to them. I think that is where I got off track.”
House still believes he has the stuff to be successful. His hope is that with an improved mental approach and better conditioning that he can make the improvements needed mechanically to fix some issues with his delivery and help him better repeat his delivery.
“I think I have good stuff, but I am inconsistent with throwing strikes,” House said. “With not being at my physical peak it messed with my mechanics and I was not able to repeat my delivery consistently. Not just game by game, but pitch by pitch I had a lot of trouble with that. I think the one thing I have really worked on in the offseason is we really honed in the aspect with where I am going to be with my arm slot and how far do I push off the rubber. I think that alone will help me greatly.”
If there was one mechanical adjustment the Indians and House made late last year that has helped and may pay dividends this season, it is his arm slot. He and Indians’ coaches worked on getting him back to the lower arm slot he had in high school before the Indians changed it once he came into the organization.
With the change to his old ways House was a lot better this spring as he has been better at locating his pitches and getting more sink on his fastball. The changes have carried over into the season as on Monday night he was sensational for Carolina as he threw seven shutout innings and allowed just two hits, one walk and had nine strikeouts.
“The higher the level you go to the better the hitters are and the more pitches they are going to take, so you have to pound the strike zone,” House said. “We started this during last season and saw what I was doing wrong and watched video. I don’t think last year was a lost cause, as it taught me a lot with learning how to prepare for the season and what I need to do to fix myself.”
The start Monday night was no doubt a confidence builder for House. If he is back to his routines and has corrected some of the flaws in his delivery, he could be on the verge of a big comeback season. But while he wants to perform and have lots of success, he ultimately just wants to become a more consistent performer.
“I have many goals, but I think the main one is consistency,” House said. “There is no other way about it. I think from there it is just about making sure I stay within myself and do not get too big or get too fast. To do what I can do and what I can control. I think it is a lot more mental than it is physical as this game is a lot harder up here (pointing to head) than it is on the diamond.”
“It is a game of failure. You always expect so much better of yourself, so you have to realize you are not going to be perfect. You are going to mess up and make mistakes. It is how you react to those mistakes and how you move on from them that show who you are.”
Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his new book the 2012 Cleveland Indians Prospect Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
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.