It started out as a nice day, cool in an Arizona sort of way, with a breeze. Slaten just being here came as something of a surprise. He found out later than almost any of the Diamondbacks prospects sent to the premier baseball instructional league.
"I was just trying to finish the season strong in Tennessee and about six days before the end of the season Coach Perezchica called me into his office and let me know I'd gotten the call to come down here." Slaten says.
Slaten, a 6'5" lefty who's downward plane gives him the classic 'heavy ball' picked up his first AFL win in his first AFL appearance, a two inning stint on Wednesday the 5th, lending credence to his claim that he's not landing in the 'lefty specialist' category quite yet, and during the 2005 season he pitched more than one inning in 15 of his 58 appearances. But like we said, Slaten isn't stupid either, and he knows that lefty specialists, while rarely getting the press, can have long lucrative careers.
"I'll do whatever they want me to do," Slaten says once he finds the shade, "You can have a long Major League career in that role."
His numbers this year with the Tennessee Smokies of the Double-A Southern League show that while he's certainly capable of pitching to anyone, lefties struggle against the lanky lefty. Slaten held left handed hitters to a .230 average, and carried a tiny 1.48 ERA against left handers, while righties hit at a .281 clip, and knocked him around enough to produce a 6.08 ERA. Even more telling is that while righties picked up 12 extra base hits in 146 at bats off Slaten, in 87 tries left handers had exactly zero extra base knocks. Those are numbers that make coaches and front office officials take notice, especially for a club like the Diamondbacks, who were forced to turn to 87 year old lefty Buddy Groom late in the season out of the bullpen.
Slaten doesn't look at the specifics, he looks at the big picture, and when you're a pitcher in the AFL, the picture gets pretty big. There are 40 first round draft picks in the league, the majority of them hitters. If at the end of a long season, with a tired arm, you can pitch here, the general consensus is that you can pitch anywhere.
"This is a hitter's league, definitely," Slaten says without a trace of fear, "but it's a challenge. All of these guys put good wood on the ball, every one of them knows how to square the ball up on the bat."
When asked if the competition here intimidates him, Slaten smiles like he knows something you don't.
"I've faced a lot of these guys during the season," Slaten says, "and so I know most of them, and the ones I don't know I've heard about, because they've all done impressive things. Am I intimidated?" He smiles again, glances out toward the field where some top prospect has just the ball clear out of the park, the opposite way, "No way. This is why I'm here, to prove that I can get these quality hitters out."
For the record, in Slaten's two AFL appearances this fall he's faced 13 hitters, nine from the right side and four from the left. He's allowed one run on a pair of doubles, both from right handers. Lefties have one hit, a single, and one strikeout. When asked if he thinks he has a chance to make the big league club next year, that smile creeps across his face again.
"I was in Double-A this past year," he starts, and then pauses for a second, "I think that I have a shot at any level, if I make my pitches. That's why I'm here, to face the best competition I can, and make my pitches to them. Everything else will work itself out."