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Pro baseball: Steedley dominating FSL

By Mike London
mlondon@salisburypost.com
The most feared slugger in the minor leagues is Florida Marlins prospect Mike Stanton, a 19-year-old who hit 39 homers for Greensboro in 2008 and is already being compared to Hall of Famer Dave Winfield.
On May 17, Fort Myers Miracle lefty Spencer Steedley stood 60 feet, 6 inches away from the 6-5 Stanton, who was looming in the right-handed batter’s box and wearing the uniform of the Jupiter Hammerheads.
Seventh inning. Runners at first and third. One out.
Disaster was one mistake away. Steedley refused to make it.
“Impressive-looking guy, loads of power, built like an NFL linebacker,” Steedley said. “I started him with a curveball for a strike. The second pitch was a fastball away. He hit it off the end of the bat to the third baseman.”
An around-the-horn double play ensued. Steedley kept the Miracle in the game.
The East Rowan graduate has made good pitches all season. He’s 4-0 with an ERA of 0.65 out of the bullpen and has helped Fort Myers, Minnesota’s Advanced Class A farm team, forge a division-leading 38-19 record.
Steedley was recently named to play in the Florida State League All-Star Game, his second straight mid-season all-star selection.
It appears he’ll get his first shot at Double-A ball with the Twins’ farm team in New Britain, Conn., sometime this summer.
“Moving up to Double-A was my goal this season,” Steedley said. “You want to move up a level each year. This is two straight years being an all-star. It’s not only an honor, it means I’m making progress.”
Steedley, who turned 24 on May 31, still has work to do, but he’s still on track to join former teammate and current New York Mets reliever Bobby Parnell in the big leagues down the road. Parnell graduated a year ahead of Steedley, who was part of East’s class of 2003.
“I haven’t talked to Bobby lately, but I had a chance to talk to his parents before I left for Florida,” Steedley said. “What Bobby has done is great, and I’m so proud of him. He motivates me. I tell myself, ‘Hey, I played with that guy, and if he can do it I can too.’ The only thing better than pitching against Bobby in the big leagues would be playing on the same team with him.”
Steedley was one of the top two-way players in Rowan County Legion history. He batted .352 for his career and ranks third all-time with 23 homers and fourth with 149 RBIs. He also won 17 games on the mound while fanning 174.
Steedley was a terror in high school as a junior ó one game he hit two homers and pitched a no-hitter ó but surgery to repair a torn labrum limited him during his senior season.
As a Charlotte 49er, he earned a degree in geography and accomplished things no one had ever done at the college as a two-way player. He was an all-conference hitter as a junior and an all-conference pitcher as a senior.
There was debate among scouts about his future, but the Twins drafted him as a pitcher.
Steedley’s only swung a bat once in a pro game. Several of his teammates were ejected when a fight broke out last season, and he had to hit. He grounded out.
As a 25th-round pick in 2007, his bank account didn’t swell much. Neither did his ego. There were 781 guys picked ahead of him.
He did OK in rookie ball at Elizabethton, Tenn., following the draft, striking out 51 batters in 37 innings.
Then he excelled in the spring of 2008 at Beloit, Wisc., in the Class A Midwest League. He was 5-3 with a 2.14 ERA, eight saves and six holds.
A few weeks after the Midwest League All-Star Game, he was promoted to Fort Myers. That’s where he ran headlong into his first serious adversity as a pro. He was knocked around in four starts and 11 relief outings. He developed a blister. He walked too many people.
“I’d been kinda wild all that year, but pitches I got away with in Beloit I didn’t get away with at Fort Myers,” Steedley said. “Then I got into a funk. I lost some confidence.”
Confidence is at least 50 percent of the battle. Steedley regained his with offseason workouts followed by success in spring training.
“I really haven’t changed anything from last season physically ó it’s still fastball, curveball, changeup,” Steedley said. “But I’ve gotten better at the mental part. I’ve stayed confident. I’ve had the best command of my fastball I’ve ever had. I’ve attacked the hitters.”
Steedley hasn’t allowed a homer all season and hasn’t allowed an earned run since April 30. He’s put up zeroes in 12 straight appearances.
“The scoreless streak has crossed my mind, but I don’t think about it much,” Steedley said. “I just try to focus on making each pitch a good one. As far as the homers, you’re gonna give some up, but my fastball has been sinking pretty good.”
Steedley won’t light up a radar gun the way Parnell can, but his ball moves. In 1391/3 pro innings, he’s struck out an eye-catching 157 batters.
Eric Rasmussen, Minnesota’s new pitching coordinator, was a 32nd round pick who lasted eight seasons in the majors and won 50 games. Rasmussen was the Fort Myers pitching coach before he was promoted.
“He seems to like me,” Steedley said. “Whenever I talk to him, he seems to think I’ve got a chance.”
Steedley said there was discussion in the offseason about whether his role should be starting or relieving, but he likes the bullpen and believes it’s his best chance to make it.
“There are a lot of good starters in this organization,” Steedley said. “I might move up quicker as that left-handed guy in the bullpen.”
Back on May 5, Steedley was on the mound at Sarasota, facing Yonder Alonso, a 22-year-old phenom from Miami who is Cincinnati’s top hitting prospect.
Steedley retired Alonso on a bouncer to first base to end a 1-2-3 eighth. That made Alonso 0-for-2 against Steedley. He also got him out in spring training.
Last week, Alonso was promoted to Double-A by the Reds while the scary Stanton was moved up to Double-A by the Marlins.
Steedley may not have to wait much longer for his own promotion.
“My parents (Derry and Roxanne) haven’t seen me pitch in Florida all season,” Steedley said with a laugh. “They’ve told me they want to see me in Connecticut.”

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