Offseason Spotlight: Kyle Blair
We are about a month away from the opening of minor league camp as pitchers and catchers report March 5th and position players report March 9th.
One player looking forward to reporting is right-handed pitcher Kyle Blair as he is anxious to wipe the bad taste out of his mouth from a disappointing 2011 campaign. In 24 combined appearances (14 starts) between rookie level Arizona and Low-A Lake County he went 3-5 with a 5.16 ERA, and in 82.0 innings he allowed 81 hits, 7 home runs, 40 walks, and had 72 strikeouts.
“Obviously it was not what I expected,” Blair said about his season in a recent interview for the IPI. “I started off well and then things got a little shaky. It was kind of unexpected, though it was my first year with adapting to a lot of things and learning pro ball. I also had that injury for a while that I tried to play on which was not my best move. You live and learn and come back. Maybe the numbers were not as good as I wanted and the stuff was not as good as I wanted, but it is what it is and I learned a lot.”
Blair’s performance last year is a prime example of how stats can sometimes be deceiving. One look at his numbers and a casual observer with no context into his workouts, health, and development plan may just cast him aside as a failed prospect. But there was a lot more to his season last year that went on that had an effect on his performance.
“Oh yeah, there is a lot of stuff that goes on that people just don’t see,” Blair said.
Around the end of April in his fourth of fifth start for Lake County he started experiencing pain in his right knee. The pain gradually worsened with each start to the point where by mid-June he could not even stand on his right leg. He made the mistake of pitching almost a month and a half on the knee without really telling the Indians and their trainers what was going on.
“It was about my fourth start that I noticed something very little and it was not very comfortable,” Blair said. “I came out the next start and it kept getting worse and worse and worse, but I still felt like I could get through it. I had a couple of good starts with it and I felt it was not a big deal, and then it really started hurting and I was pretty much pitching on one leg. After the All Star break in that first start against Fort Wayne I was like ‘ok I can’t do this anymore’ and that is when [I was shut down.”
When Blair was finally shut down near the end of June the Indians performed a test on his right knee and found that he had a grade two MCL strain and a slight tear of the MCL. He had been pitching on it that way for about his last eight or nine starts up until he was shut down, and it was affecting his drive to the plate. His numbers bottomed out as a result.
“I had a rough month and a half where I was dealing with that knee issue,” Blair said. “It was not that bad, but it just kept getting worse and worse. I did rehab with it, stretched it out, and iced it every game and tried to pitch through it and obviously it did not work out very well.”
The numbers speak for themselves. Before the injury cropped up he made five starts in April and was 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA and in 24.0 innings allowed 20 hits, 6 walks, and had 18 strikeouts. When he came back from the injury in mid-August he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen the rest of the season. He made nine appearances in the bullpen and went 0-0 with a 1.89 ERA, and in 19.0 innings allowed 13 hits, 5 walks, and had 12 strikeouts.
So when he was healthy last year Blair made 14 appearances and had a 2.30 ERA, and totaled 43.0 innings where he allowed 33 hits, 11 earned runs, 11 walks, and had 30 strikeouts. When he pitched hurt he made ten appearances and had an 8.54 ERA, and totaled 39.0 innings where he allowed 48 hits, 37 earned runs, 29 walks, and had 42 strikeouts. There is no doubt the injury affected him as his command and stuff suffered and led to a high amount of walks and runs he otherwise may not have given up if he were healthy.
“I took those five weeks off in Arizona which was really good for me to go out there and rehab it and realize what I had and how to deal with it,” Blair said. “I came back and [threw] a lot more strikes and [threw] my fastball a lot more. I learned my lesson and it was a learning year for sure.”
With the knee issue out of the way and last season behind him, Blair needs to really hone in on his mechanics and fastball command this season. While rehabbing out in Arizona last year he got a head start on the mechanics as the Indians had him move from the right side of the rubber to the middle in order to help his fastball command to both lefties and righties and give him more plate to work with. He also worked on slowing his wind up down as he has a tendency to rush and lose his balance point.
But the big key to Blair’s success going forward is improving his fastball command.
“That’s been my thing from day one from signing is fastball command,” Blair said. “I started out the first month [last year] just basically throwing a lot of fastballs. I did really well with it and then just lost it when the knee thing came about. When I came back in August and was coming out of the pen it was just fastball, fastball, fastball. I was really working on it and it improved tremendously, and when I came back I only had a couple of walks which was awesome.”
In the offseason Blair went home to Coronado, California to spend time with his family and do some pitching clinics for youth baseball players and speak to the baseball team at Coronado High School. Last month he was expected to go to Tampa, Florida to go to the Saddlebrook Resort to train for the upcoming season.
“I’m from Los Gatos which is in Northern California and I used to work with kids in Little League there, but my parents moved down to Coronado,” Blair said. “I love helping out the kids because it is always nice to give back and know where you came from. It is just a good thing to do.”
With last season behind him Blair is ready for the new challenges that the 2012 season has in store for him. He fell short of his goals last season, and is working harder to get back to the pitcher he knows he can be and have a successful season this time around.
“I just want to get healthy and keep building on the stuff I learned [last] year,” Blair said. “I really want to work on my fastball command, and if I can build on what I did in the last few weeks of [last] season I think I will be in a good spot.”
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).
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.