'Under-the-radar' prospect Haley set to make impact
Very few professional baseball players "fly under the radar."
Very few players escape the constant scrutiny and evaluation from an ever-increasing variety of baseball interest groups and sources for information.
Typically, information flows about pitchers who can throw in the neighborhood of 100 mph.
However, there are some players who don't receive quite the recognition or publicity they deserve.
For me, 22-year-old Cleveland Indians right-hander Curtis "Trey" Haley fits that category.
Working exclusively in relief, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound Haley has one of the best arms I saw during this past Arizona Fall League season.
Pitching 11 innings, while making eight appearances for the Scottsdale Scorpions, Haley gave up only two hits. That alone is remarkable in what has become known as a league favoring hitters.
Using a fastball that sat at 95-96 mph and touched 98, plus a curveball he threw in the mid-80s, Haley had hitters completely off balance. He threw an occasional slider that changed hitters' eye levels as well.
Haley showed he knows how to pitch. He relied on his two-seam sinker to induce ground balls and keep himself out of trouble. He was economical in his quest for outs, but he didn't always look for a strikeout. He struck out only three batters. He walked four.
Although Haley showed velocity and ability to close games, he worked mostly in the middle innings.
Haley's Arizona Fall League ERA was 1.64. His WHIP was 0.55. Right-handed hitters batted .118 against him. Left-handed hitters didn't muster a hit against him in 16 at-bats. Regardless of the hitter, Haley dominated.
The Cleveland Indians selected Haley out of Central Heights High School in Nacogdoches, Texas, with their second-round pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.
The Indians must have believed Haley to be special, as he was the only high school player taken by Cleveland in the first eight rounds of that Draft. Frankly, I think he is special.
This past season, Haley missed about a month of pitching due to a groin issue that had been with him for quite some time. His pitching had been impacted in several seasons with what was thought to be a groin sprain. After a diagnosis of a "sports hernia," Haley had surgery to correct the problem.
In the Fall League, it appeared Haley was pitching free of pain. His pitching mechanics did not show any hesitation, compensation or fear of recurrence.
Including time away for surgery, this past season, Haley threw 38 2/3 innings of relief over three Indians classifications. As he did in the Arizona Fall League, Haley posted fewer hits (26) than innings pitched. His composite ERA was 2.33 with a WHIP of 1.16.
One of Haley's stops last season was at Double-A Akron, where he pitched to an ERA of 1.76 and a WHIP of 1.37 in 15 1/3 innings of bullpen work. He threw at a rate of 13 1/2 strikeouts per nine innings.
There are times when dominant pitchers are good enough to help their team in the rotation or at the back end of the bullpen. There are often debates within organizations about the best role for power pitchers. There is probably no correct answer. Every case is different.
For example, the Cincinnati Reds are now preparing to convert Aroldis Chapman to a starter from a relief role. I remember being part of similar discussions regarding Brandon Morrow when he was with the Mariners. The D-backs had the same discussion about Max Scherzer.
Haley has the ability to be a pitcher in the rotation.
He has two forms of fastballs -- a sinking two-seamer and a four-seamer. He also has a very good curveball, a slider and a changeup.
At this stage, from what I have seen, I believe he mostly trusts his fastball and curve. I did see him throw the slider, and I liked the progress he was making with the pitch. Of all his pitches, I really didn't see him throw the changeup. I do think that will be an effective weapon with greater repetition and self-confidence. But in reality, if his fastball, curve and slider are working, he may not need the changeup.
For me, Haley works best as a potential closer.
He will need fewer pitches to work only one inning. The fewer the pitches, the greater the chance he will command and control them.
While I see a road map for success and the potential talent of a very good pitcher, there remains an area in need of improvement. Haley still must work on his command. In addition to throwing strikes, he has to be able to repeatedly throw his pitches wherever he wants. He has to get hitters to chase when the ball is in the dirt or misses the strike zone entirely. He has to be able to throw any pitch in any count.
Generally, command and control are the last components to come together for power pitchers.
Many high-velocity pitchers have trouble repeating their delivery and getting the ball to go where they want. Pitches sail out of the strike zone because they have so much natural movement. That isn't the case with Haley. I believe he knows his limitations.
I believe it is just a matter of repetition against better quality hitters that will allow Haley, who is now on Cleveland's 40-man roster, to finish his development and help the Indians from the bullpen.
Perhaps a season split between Double-A and Triple-A, refining his delivery and working on his command, will provide the finishing touches for Haley to prove he has the ability to close ballgames.
Numerous scouts saw Haley throwing hard in the Arizona Fall League. If he was "under the radar" at some point, he isn't anymore.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.