Seth Streich's 2013 season had a rough beginning and an even rougher ending, but during the stretch in-between, there were few pitchers in the Oakland A's minor league system who were better. Streich posted a 6.48 ERA in April and a 6.75 ERA in May last season, but he was so good in June and July that Streich finished the season with a 3.82 ERA in 110.2 innings for the Low-A Beloit Snappers. Unfortunately for Streich and the Snappers, his season ended in July with a sore elbow.
Fortunately, the elbow injury didn't require surgery. Last August, Streich returned to the A's minor league facility in Arizona and received a PRP injection. Sixteen weeks later, Streich was back to full strength.
Healthy for most of the off-season, Streich focused on continuing the positive progress he made during his torrid months of June and July. Although he didn't dramatically alter his off-season regimen, Streich did make a few adjustments in preparation for this season.
"I think there are always going to be differences," Streich said. "As you get older and you mature, you learn to prepare better. What I did for the last half of the season last year with Beloit I tried to carry-over into this year to start off better."
Thus far in 2014, Streich has picked up right where he left off last July. Going into his eighth start of the season on Tuesday, Streich has had only one outing in which he didn't last at least five innings and he allowed more than three runs. In four of his seven starts, Streich has allowed one run or fewer. His ERA is an even 3.00 and he has a 37:9 K:BB in 36 innings.
Perhaps most impressive has been Streich's ability to keep hitters pounding the ball into the ground. His GO/AO last season was an impressive 1.32, but this year he has blown that out of the water, posting a 2.05 mark. His groundball rate is 56.7% and he has allowed just one homerun. Given that he is pitching in the offense-friendly California League, those numbers are particularly impressive.
Streich says his adjustment to the Cal League has definitely been made easier by the fact that he is a groundball pitcher.
"Knowing that I get a lot more groundball outs definitely put my mind at ease when jumping to the Cal League," Streich said.
Streich's groundball numbers aren't the only part of his game that has improved this season. His K-rate is up by almost three per nine innings and his walk rate is down more than a full walk. Streich has also reduced his line-drive percentage by nearly five percent.
Streich may just be scratching the surface of his potential. A two-way star at Ohio University, as a pro Streich has been focused just on pitching for the first time in his career. Streich admits he does miss being a position player from time-to-time.
"It depends on the day," Streich said. "I do miss being able to play everyday, but I get to shag BP, so I guess that's where my practice comes into play. But I think that focusing solely on pitching has helped me a tremendous amount.
"Being a part of the A's organization, they are so into the player development side of it that it has been phenomenal to be a part of."
Streich throws a two-seam and four-seam fastball, a curveball and a change-up. His fastball has natural sink, but Streich's groundball tendencies are no accident.
"I think it is something that I have learned," Streich said of his pitching style. "Every pitcher should focus on it because the more you keep the ball down, the more you will find success.
"That's really where I am focusing on pitching to – keeping the ball down."
For a second straight year, Streich is under the tutelage of pitching coach John Wasdin, who moved up to Stockton from Low-A Beloit along with Streich this season. Streich says he has learned a lot from "Was", who spent 17 years in professional baseball, including parts of 12 seasons in the big leagues.
"Me and Was have a great relationship," Streich said. "I really look up to the guy. I think he's a great pitching coach and a great guy to be around everyday."
Streich is a rising prospect in the A's system and has been a bright spot in what has been a difficult start to the A's minor league season thus far with so many top prospects falling victim to injury. He currently leads all A's minor leaguers in strike-outs and is fourth in the organization in ERA, second in WHIP (1.17) and fourth in batting average against (.246). For his part, Streich is keeping a practical outlook on tackling the challenge of taming the Cal League.
"It's just playing baseball, just another stepping stone to where I want to get to in the end," Streich said.