It's extremely rare to see a 19-year old appearing in AA ball. It's even rarer when the player is actually a pitcher as opposed to a position player. And making it even rarer is the fact that he was a 11th round draft pick that was considered a project when he was selected in the 2002 draft.
Little did those that evaluated Joel Zumaya know that he would add 5 MPH to his fastball in his first offseason with the organization, and come out in 2003 throwing fire. A successful 2003 campaign with West Michigan led the way to another successful season for Zumaya, this time with Lakeland in 2004.
But a string of injuries to the starting rotation at Erie forced the Tigers to make a move, and the move they made was bringing up the 19-year old to compete at the upper levels of the minors.
Zumaya himself stated it was a bit strange pitching at such a high level at such a young age. "It was a little weird, I was the young'n out of everybody, but they treated me well, just like another one of the guys, it was been a great experience."
Zumaya had mixed results in AA-ball, going 2-2 with an ERA of 6.30. Zumaya however did strike out 29 batters in just 20 innings of work for the SeaWolves.
And while Zumaya might have finished out the year in a league many considered above his head, he's not fazed. "I just went out and did what I have to do, I just busted my butt and every day and did my stuff and just took it one game at a time."
Zumaya relies heavily on a fastball that developed rapidly shortly after entering the Tigers organization. "My best pitch is definitely my fastball, followed by my knuckle-curve", stated Zumaya, who also possesses a developing change-up, that he'll need before he can truly become a solid big league pitcher.
But until then, Zumaya is just concentrating on getting prepared for the day that he might be able to get there. Zumaya will probably return to Erie for the 2005 season, where he'll continue to work on developing his off-speed pitches as well as improving his endurance as he attempts to pitch longer into games and avoid the label of "future closer".
He may not be a finished product, but few are, especially for a young, mid-round draft pick. But one thing is for sure, regardless of his draft status or age; this particular youngster has a bright future.