It isn’t completely unheard of for a college reliever to reach professional baseball and move into a starter’s role. The sixth overall pick in this year’s draft – Tyler Jay – pitched almost exclusively out of the bullpen for the University of Illinois, but he is expected to become a starter in the Minnesota Twins’ organization. However, it is still notable when a player is asked to move from a role in which he has had success to take on another challenge in the professional ranks.
Stockton Ports’ right-hander Joel Seddon is one such player. The Michigan native was almost exclusively a reliever during his three years at the University of South Carolina. During his junior season, Seddon became the closer for the Gamecocks, and he excelled. In 48.2 innings, Seddon posted a 1.66 ERA. He saved 14 games, put together an 1.01 WHIP and a 4.92 K/BB.
On draft day last season, Seddon’s name was called by the A’s in the 11th round. He signed quickly with Oakland and was one of the first players in his draft class to be sent to a full-season affiliate He handled the often-difficult jump from college ball to a full-season league with relative ease. In 25.1 innings for the Low-A Beloit Snappers – all in relief – Seddon had a 2.84 ERA and a 20:8 K:BB. He says playing in the Southeastern Conference prepared him well for pro ball.
“I got to play in front of big crowds every weekend and play against some of the best competition in the country in the SEC,” Seddon said on Wednesday. “I think it helped a lot [in making the transition to the pros.]”
Near the end of last season, the A’s player development staff began to talk to Seddon about stretching out as a starter in 2015. Despite his relief role at USC, Seddon came to pro ball with a fairly deep arsenal of pitches: a two-seam and four-seam fastball, a change-up, a slider and a curveball. He had always been a strike-thrower and a groundball pitcher and the A’s thought those characteristics would lend themselves well to the starting rotation.
Seddon spent some time in the role during the A’s fall Instructs and was stretched out as a starter during spring training. However, when the season started, Seddon was back in the bullpen with the High-A Stockton Ports. The right-hander says that was always part of the master plan, however.
“They talked about [making the switch] a little bit at the end of last year,” Seddon said. “During spring training, I got a chance to get a little bit used to it. Then they decided to start me off as a reliever to control my innings and piggy-back some of the starters. Then they made the full transition and it has been good for me so far.”
Seddon has now made 11 starts for Stockton. In 60.2 innings as a starter, he has a 3.86 ERA and a 45:10 K:BB. His WHIP is 1.12 and he is generating 1.11 groundouts for every flyout. Over his last four starts, Seddon has allowed just four runs in 25 innings. During that stretch, he has walked just one batter while striking out 16.
Seddon says he has honed his approach and he’s starting to feel at home in his new role.
“Every time I go out there, I get more used to it. I have begun to find a routine that works for me,” Seddon said. “I don’t think I changed my mentality from being a closer too much. At times, I have to calm myself down a little bit. When I get a little too hyped up or too excited, I tend to fall out of my mechanics. It’s a little different [to start] but it’s still fun.”
Command has always been a strength for Seddon, but the California League – with its hitter-friendly ballparks – can punish a pitcher even when he hits his spots. Seddon says that the nature of the Cal League doesn’t impact his approach on the mound.
“You can’t really worry about the parks or the dimensions or anything,” Seddon said. “You just have to go out there and throw your game. I focus on getting ahead of hitters and work from there.”
Seddon’s fastball ranges from 88-92 and he has good sink on the pitch. He has learned as a starter that commanding the fastball early is the key.
“I think it is more important to establish your fastball early [as a starter] because you are going to be out there for awhile and that is the pitch that you are going to rely on the most,” he said. “You kind of work from there and use your other pitches to get outs.”
The Ports finished the first-half of the season with a 38-32 record and a nine-game winning streak. Stockton is currently 4-2 in the second half and they hold a four game lead for the Wild Card spot in the Cal League playoffs. The Ports have the best overall record in the Cal League at 42-34.
With 74 innings pitched, Seddon is already well past his previous career-high for innings pitched. He says the recent All-Star break was welcomed, but that he is feeling strong as he looks to help the Ports return to the post-season.
“I think the days off were much-needed. I feel great, though,” Seddon said. “It is a grind, but we have great staff members who help to keep us fresh. It’s a long season, but we’ll keep grinding through it.”