Tag: minor league baseball

Former Mets hurler Leach brings pro experience to World Cup

THUNDER BAY, Ontario – As the pressure rises and the excitement builds at the U18 Baseball World Cup, the Canadian Junior National Team will look to its most professionally experienced hurler to take the mound against one of its toughest opponents.

Matching up against South Korea to follow a tournament-opening loss for the Canadians against Chinese Taipei and a rained out, postponed contest against Nicaragua, 18-year-old right-hander Landon Leach will get the ball for the host squad, following his first taste of professional baseball after being selected by the Minnesota Twins in this year’s draft.

“This means everything,” Leach said. “Especially because the Twins let me come. So I was really happy that they did that. I’m really grateful for it, and this is the last time I get to be with all the boys. This tournament means a lot to us, so I feel like this is a really great opportunity. And it’s a World Cup – how many people can ever say they played in this? And hopefully we win it, but it definitely means a lot to me to be here.”

The native of Pickering, Ontario and graduate of the Toronto Mets program – where he began as a catcher and was converted to the mound just a couple of years ago – was the highest Canadian selected in this year’s draft, taken by Minnesota out of the Canadian Premier Baseball League with the first pick of the second round, chosen 37th overall.

After signing for $1.4 million, the young hurler joined the organization’s rookie-class Gulf Coast League team and went 2-0 with a 3.38 in five games and 13 1/3 innings with 10 strikeouts, using confidence he gained from having squared off against similar competition with the junior team over the last couple of seasons.

“Having the pro experience definitely helps a lot,” the 6-foot-4, 220-pound righty said. “Because with the Twins we have video review, we have meetings about analyzing different hitters, different counts, different pitches, different zones, and what the hitter’s seeing, what the hitter’s seeing about the pitchers. So I feel like having those meetings with the coaches down in pro ball is definitely going to help me read the batters better during my game.”

After watching his squad battle Chinese Taipei to open the world tournament at Port Arthur Stadium, and getting a glimpse of what the home crowd can add to the atmosphere when the Canucks give them something to cheer about, Leach believes he and his teammates can build from the extra-inning loss and find success as they move forward.

“I thought we played really well against Taipei,” the young pitcher said. “It was a good game from both sides, and just a couple of things determined the game, but it was definitely a good game. The crowd was in it obviously, and it was loud for us, being at home, and we were pumped to be there.

“But at the end of the day, it was a heartbreaking loss, because the game was so close, and there were a lot of ups and downs, but we can come back from this and definitely improve. And I’ll do anything for us to win against Korea.”

Playing with the core of Canada’s World Cup team on multiple trips over the last two years and growing close with his fellow countrymen, the squad’s flamethrower is looking forward to seeing the group play to its potential in Thunder Bay, and complete his career with the Canadian Junior National Team on a high note.

“It’s obviously really exciting to be here, definitely enjoying being at home, because the crowd’s always into it and they’re rooting for you instead of the opponent,” Leach said. “We definitely see the support. It’s obviously really important to win here because we’re trying to win a championship, but our team is really close, and we’ve been together for quite a while, and I feel like we’ll come together and just keep pushing and grinding through it.”

Heading into the game against the highest-seeded team in Canada’s pool – with Italy, Australia and Nicaragua rounding out the group with Canada, Chinese Taipei and Korea – Leach believes in his team to get back to basics and use their strengths to move forward and into the super round of play.

“I feel like we can all come together and play like we usually do,” he said. “There’s no added pressure on me because I’ve pitched in fairly big games already, and I’m just going to go out there and do what I can do. Obviously, we have to win, but I’m just going to do me out there and let that [dictate] the outcome.”

Leach is one of eight CPBL players on Team Canada’s roster at the World Cup in Thunder Bay. He is joined by fellow Mets Dondrae Bremner and Denzel Clarke, Great Lake Canadians Griffin Hassall, Lucas Parente and Eric Cerantola, and Ontario Blue Jays Harley Gollert and Noah Naylor.

GLC aids Shields in transition to the professional game

After getting into just four professional games last season, former Great Lake Canadians right-hander Austin Shields is looking forward to moving onward and upward in his first full year of pro baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

Signing almost a month-and-a-half after being selected by the Bucs in the 33rd round of last year’s draft out of St. Mary Secondary School in Hamilton and the Canadian Premier Baseball League  – inking a deal just before the deadline with a $205,000 bonus – the 6-foot-5, 220-pound hurler joined the rookie-class Gulf Coast League Pirates and got in just over six innings of work for his club.

Excited for his first chance to enter the professional realm, throwing multiple frames in three of his four outings last year, Shields felt fully prepared for the first step in his career after spending the previous couple of years with the Great Lake instructors.

“I believe I was prepared for pro ball, because the GLC coaches really know about being a pro,” Shields said. “They help their players get ready for the next level, whether it’s college or the pro level…

“Pro ball wasn’t totally different than playing with GLC, but there were some differences. Getting used to throwing every day was definitely the biggest change, as I wasn’t doing that back home. So it took time for my arm to adapt to it.”

Transitioning from the infield to the mound when he joined the Canadians program, Shields made a quick impression as an amateur, selected soon thereafter to the Canadian Junior National Team. After going through an adjustment period, the 19-year-old native of Dundas has become more familiar with his own skillset, and is using it to his advantage more and more each day.

“I feel I’ve changed a whole lot,” Shields said. “When I first joined the GLC and JNT programs, I had no clue what I was truly doing yet. I was still recognizing the skills I had and what to do with them. The coaches I’ve worked with over the years have always been positive toward me, taking their time and really trying to get the most out of me.

“Now that I’ve been in pro ball for a bit, I’ve started to get a feel for myself and how I do things, just getting into my own routine that works best for me. Also, being able to make changes to myself when something isn’t going the way I intended it to is different.”

Currently in Bradenton, Florida at extended spring training with the Pirates, trying out some new pitches and seeing what might work for him before the short-season squads officially get underway, Shields has enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to start with the organization right from the beginning of the year.

“Being my first spring training, I had no clue what to expect,” he said. “But getting into camp and meeting a lot of guys in the system, it was a lot of fun. I liked how relaxed and laid back it was, while we were still getting all of our work in. I really liked how I was able to interact with all the players in the system and really get to know people.”

Still shocked at how quickly the days pass, because, “doing something you love really makes time fly by,” Shields can’t wait for competitive games to get going and to show what he can do on the hill.

“For the upcoming season, I expect it to go really well and hopefully end in a championship,” Shields said. “Wherever I end up, I obviously hope or a successful season, but also to stay healthy and perform the way I know I can.”

Yerzy looks to move forward in first full season with Diamondbacks

Heading into his first full season of professional baseball, Andrew Yerzy is excited to keep moving up the minor-league ladder and build on what he started last year.

After being selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the second round – 52nd overall – last year, and signing for $1,214,100, the 18-year-old former Toronto Mets and Canadian Junior National Team catcher united with the organization in the latter half of June and joined the Missoula Osprey in the advance-rookie class Pioneer League.

Yerzy spent 18 games with the Osprey before returning to the Arizona League, where he hit his first professional home run with the AZL Diamondbacks on August 17 against the Royals. He totalled 45 pro games last year after leaving the Canadian Premier Baseball League, adding five doubles and 16 RBI between both squads.

“My first year of pro ball was pretty good,” Yerzy said. “It wasn’t much different than a two-month long Junior National Team trip, to be honest. What we do with Team Canada and how Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] runs his camps is very comparable to what we do in the minors.”

Grateful for his time with the Mets and Team Canada, Yerzy credits the exposure to professional competition that he saw for three years with the Junior National Team as the biggest factor in helping him adjust to the next level, though he knows there is room for improvement as he continues to face high-calibre opponents consistently.

“The difference in professional baseball from the junior team was that you weren’t just seeing [power] arms for two weeks,” Yerzy said. “It’s every day now. On a trip with the junior team you only face pro guys for two weeks, and then it’s back to high school arms. And in pro ball, they are bringing out starters who are sitting 90 to 93 [mph] every day, and then having someone come out of the pen at 95-plus.”

Over just the last year, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound backstop has already seen his own game evolve, and is looking forward to more of the same as he heads out of extended spring training and into his upcoming season.

“Baseball is a game of adaptation, so I feel like your game has to constantly evolve, or else you’ll be stuck in the same spot you’re always in,” Yerzy said. “I feel like for me as a player, I get better every day with reps.”

“In terms of hitting, catching, and overall learning the game, I’ve gotten better, as well as my mental side has gotten a lot better. Back home, you can only do this for two weeks at a time, and you have a set time when you’re done. Out here, it’s every single day, so you can’t dwell on things that don’t go your way, or if you had a bad game.”

After spending much of his winter back at home in North York, and countless hours at Out of the Park Sports, the home of the Toronto Mets, Yerzy has enjoyed playing outdoors at the Diamondbacks facility in Arizona this spring, and is excited to get back out on the field for games as soon as possible.

“Spring training was a lot of fun,” Yerzy said. “There were a lot of bodies just kind of flying around, but for the most part it’s pretty laid back and it was good to get outside and move away from indoor baseball…My goal for this season is to make it to a full-season team by the end of the season.”

The photo accompanying this piece originated on the @ClubhouseCorner Twitter page.

OBJ hurler Balazovic becomes Twins fifth-round pick

Jordan Balazovic wasn’t sure what to expect from the draft.

But after gaining size, strength and experience with the Ontario Blue Jays and Canadian Junior National Team programs, the 17-year-old right-hander became an obvious choice to be the Minnesota Twins fifth-round selection – 153rd overall – in turn becoming the first draftee chosen by Walt Burrows, formerly the Canadian head of Major League Baseball’s scouting bureau and now a member of Minnesota’s scouting staff.

“The draft is a cool process to go through, and also very nerve-wracking,” Balazovic said. “It’s very exciting to be drafted, and as one of the 25 Canadian guys who were chosen. I didn’t really know until about six picks before the Twins pick that I would be selected. That’s when I got information from my advisor that the Twins were going to pick me.”

Over the last couple of years, the young hurler’s physical improvements have been obvious and his coaches have seen marked progression in his all-around game, especially impressing throughout the early season leading up to the selection process.

“Having worked with Jordan for the last three years, the most noticeable change has been his physical growth,” said Mike Steed, the director of pitching and college placement for the OBJ organization, and head coach of Balazovic’s current team.

“You could always tell he was going to be a big kid, but now with the work that he has put in in the weight room, you see his body type starting to transform and that is front and centre in his performance.”

As he continued to work hard and fill his frame, the Mississauga native believes what helped him the most on the way to his commitment to the Auburn Tigers and the draft was the exposure that he was able to get from both his time with the OBJ program and Team Canada, not to mention the fact that when he matched up against Pirates 33rd-round pick and Great Lake Canadians hurler Austin Shields in Canadian Premier Baseball League play, organizations sent scouts and crosscheckers to get eyes on them both, previously unheard of exposure from a provincial circuit.

“The Ontario Blue Jays first got it started for me, because when we went to go play at the Perfect Game tournament in Jupiter is where I got a lot of schools and MLB scouts to first see me, and that’s when a lot of exposure started to happen,” Balazovic said. “And then the same thing with the national team – when I went away on trips with them, I got a lot of exposure. It’s great when you’re a young kid, and I want to thank OBJ and Team Canada for those opportunities.”

Steed was especially excited for the righty’s selection after all of the time the two have spent working together, seeing all of Balazovic’s dreams come to fruition firsthand.

“Any time we have a player from the Ontario Blue Jays organization selected in the MLB draft, myself and all the coaches are extremely proud of that player’s accomplishments,” Steed said. “With Jordan, it is a little more personal for me, with him being a pitcher and getting to work with him closely over the past three years and to see the hard work he has put in pay off to accomplish this goal. I’m very happy for him and his family.”

The OBJ coach looks forward to Balazovic’s next steps and is excited for what he can bring to the table as he moves onward and upward.

“From a mound standpoint, right away you have a pitcher who is going to compete in the strike zone and attack hitters with three quality pitches,” Steed said. “As well as a kid who is going to do everything possible for him to pitch in the big leagues.”

With final decisions still to be made and papers to be signed before Balazovic can make his next move official, the pitcher is anxious to get things going and begin the rest of his baseball journey.

“I’m most excited for just getting started and going down to play,” he said. “Because right now it’s still surreal until I actually go down to Florida and put on the jersey for the first time and go play for the Minnesota Twins.”

His home organization would like to see nothing more.

“I’m looking forward to continue watching him develop and mature on the mound as he moves through minor league baseball, learning how to be a professional,” Steed said. “And seeing him pitch in a professional uniform for the first time will be pretty cool.”

Balazovic is one of six players from the CPBL selected in the draft this June, among a total of 12 high schoolers hailing from north of the border. Toronto Mets catcher Andrew Yerzy was taken in the second round, 52nd overall, by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

OBJ backstop Luke Van Rycheghem was selected by the Diamondbacks in the 23rd round, and was followed by Mets southpaw Matt Jones in the 28th round, also taken by Burrows and the Twins. Great Lake right-hander Shields was chosen in the 33rd round by Pittsburgh and GLC outfielder Jake Wilson was taken by the Boston Red Sox in the 39th round.

Mets southpaw Jones taken by Twins in 28th round

With added size and a new level of all-around maturity, Matt Jones is ready for the world of professional baseball.

Selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 28th round of this year’s draft, 843rd overall, out of Sinclair Secondary School, the young Toronto Mets and Canadian Junior National Team hurler couldn’t be more excited to get through the red tape and head out into the pro ranks.

“It has always been my dream to play professional baseball,” the 17-year-old southpaw said. “Going into the draft, I wasn’t very sure if I would be selected or not, because the draft is really unpredictable. I had a feeling I would get selected but I wasn’t 100 per cent sure.

“Overall, I’m really happy with how it went. To be one of the 25 [Canadian] guys chosen is very cool, especially when you think about the talent of Canadian players who were selected, like [eighth overall pick] Cal Quantrill and [second-round selection and Mets catcher] my friend Andrew Yerzy. It is something you will always remember, being a part of that specific group of guys.”

While the native of Whitby has made many improvements throughout his time with Team Canada and the Mets program, the biggest factor in aiding his progression of late was his ability to add size to his frame, and gain strength on the mound.

“The Mets and JNT have definitely helped me a lot, when it comes to pitching and the mentality of playing the game,” Jones said. “Being on trips with the JNT has definitely put into perspective the lifestyle of playing pro baseball, and I love everything about it.

“Also, my other coaches like Scott Robinson and my trainer Carl Carter have really helped me over the off-season by putting on a lot more muscle, because I was known as the really skinny guy, and gaining weight has helped me increase velocity as well.”

In just his first season of working with Jones, coaching him with Toronto’s 18U squad, coach Chris Kemlo has seen a lot of progress from his young left-hander over just a relatively short time.

“He’s improved tremendously,” Kemlo said. “The biggest improvements he made were to his body. He really worked hard in the weight room and matured, just grew up and matured. He went from being a 6-foot-3, 170-[pound] guy to now being 6-foot-4, 195. For him to mature and get that kind of added strength, that was a big help for him.”

Not only did Jones improve physically, but the coaching staff with the Mets saw big changes in the pitcher’s competitiveness as he began to grow more comfortable with his surroundings.

“With him, there’s an improved compete level too,” Kemlo said. “When I first got to know him, he was shy and quiet, and he takes a while to warm up. Then once you get to know him you see the compete level and how intense he is. He’s still got a bit of that quirky lefty in him, but it’s all good and positive stuff. But he’s definitely grown up.”

Among the most excited for Jones are most definitely each of the members of his family, who shared in the moment on Saturday when he learned of Minnesota’s 28th-round selection.

“Overall it would be my mom and dad [Karen and Chris],” he said. “My mom was in Barrie with my sister’s softball team, so she couldn’t be here, but she was crying over the phone. And my dad was obviously extremely proud, and I have to thank him because he has helped me a lot since I was young.”

Awaiting physical testing and paperwork in order for the deal to be done, once Jones heads to Fort Myers, Florida, where the Twins house their young rookies, his coach is sure that they will be quickly pleased with their Canadian pick.

“He’s going to come in [to the Twins organization] and just work his tail off,” Kemlo said. “He’s a guy who gives you everything he has. He doesn’t take any days off. He’s always wanting to get better, always asking questions, wanting to learn about stuff. He wants to know about the nuances of pitching, how to attack guys, and that stuff is going to be the separator for him at the next level.”

Excited to follow Jones as he continues his progression down on the farm with Minnesota, Kemlo, the Mets, and the young lefty are all anxious for him to get going in order to see what he can do.

“He could be a 6-foot-4 lefty who sits in the low 90s with three average pitches at the big-league level,” Kemlo said. “So for him, there’s a lot of upside and a lot of potential. He’s got a long way to go, as anybody does, but the tools and the talent are there and he’s got the right mindset for pro ball right now.

Added Jones: “I am most excited for getting down there and continuing to work my butt off in order to accomplish my main goal, which is pitching on a major-league mound.”

Jones is one of six players from the Canadian Premier Baseball League selected in the draft this June, out of a total of 25 Canadians chosen. His Mets teammate Yerzy was taken in the second round, 52nd overall, by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Ontario Blue Jays hurler Jordan Balazovic followed in the fifth round, taken 153rd overall, also by the Twins.

OBJ catcher Luke Van Rycheghem was selected by the Diamondbacks in the 23rd round, and was followed by Great Lake Canadians right-hander Austin Shields, chosen in the 33rd round by the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and GLC outfielder Jake Wilson, taken by the Boston Red Sox in the 39th round.


Reds prospects excited for what CPBL has in store

GOODYEAR, Arizona – Things just keep getting better at home.

Though J.D. Williams and Miles Gordon have graduated from the Ontario Blue Jays and Great Lake Canadians programs, respectively, the two Cincinnati Reds farmhands are excited at the idea of the Canadian Premier Baseball League and what it means for baseball in their home province moving forward.

The CPBL – including not only teams from the OBJ and GLC programs, but also the Toronto Mets, Fieldhouse Pirates, Ontario Nationals and Team Ontario – will allow more of an opportunity than ever before for the top talent in the province to compete, and to do so in their own backyard.

“That will help,” Gordon said. “When I was with the [Oakville] Royals we went down to Florida and played the London Badgers twice. I thought why are we coming to Florida to play London?

“So that will help and it will be cool because you get to compare yourself on a smaller scale to the other teams and the other players, instead of having to compare yourself to the American guys for example. The talent will be a little bit better because there are fewer teams and probably the better teams, which will hopefully get more Canadians drafted out of there.”

After the outfielder was selected by the Reds in the fourth round in June, Cincinnati and Canadian scout Bill Byckowski took Williams in the 17th, southpaw Isaac Anesty in the 18th, and used the team’s 22nd-round pick to select right-hander Darren Shred. All four Canucks had suited up together in red-and-white uniforms previously for the Canadian Junior National Team, and the latter trio all came through the Ontario Blue Jays program.

“OBJ helped the transition,” Williams said. “Because with the fall trip [matching up against American college competition] we’re gone for two months or however long it is, and then coming into here it’s the same thing. You’re away from your family, playing baseball every day, and that’s what it is…

“Spending five years with the OBJ program made a lot of difference for me because I got to face the best competition all the time. So when I got here, it wasn’t overwhelming. I faced players like this all the time, especially on the fall trip, so when I got here and played it was pretty easy to get into my rhythm.”

Williams is looking forward to watching some of the younger players from his program and others within the CPBL as they progress, and is excited at the idea of the continued growth of the game north of the border.

“There’s a lot of talent coming up in Canada,” the 19-year-old second baseman said. “I mean, I’m not too familiar with everybody but I know with the OBJ guys like Cooper Davis and those kinds of players, they’re really stepping it up.

“It would be nice to get more baseball at home but everyone has to be together and on the same page to do it, not just one organization or two organizations. We’ve all got to come together to get it really going.”

With the top teams from around the province working together to play a tougher, longer schedule at home, the programs’ former players are hoping to see success follow, knowing how much they got out of what was offered to them and what it could mean to have more of the same.

“I was [with the Great Lake Canadians at Centrefield Sports during the off-season] on some weekends and stayed for practice and it was cool,” Gordon said. “They’re looking up to you and I was thinking, ‘You guys have no idea.’

“To the 14-year-olds I said, ‘I put a half a year into this and if you put three years into this, you have no idea what you can do. You think I’m just saying this, but it’s true.’ You get those 14-year-old kids who can really swing and throw and look at them and think about if I was 14 and that good at that position. It’s like a crystal ball.”

Lottery-winning Reds farmhand excited to get on the mound

GOODYEAR, Arizona – One day, Darren Shred was sitting in the training room at the Cincinnati Reds minor league development complex in Arizona, learning that the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow was partially torn.

The next day, the just-drafted right-hander was back in that same training room, getting news from home in Brampton that his family had won the lottery. And not only that, but they were coming away with five million dollars from their winning ticket.

“Yep, that happened,” Shred said. “When I first found out, I was in the training room actually. After I tore my UCL I was in there and I had my phone on me and my mom [Tiia] called me. You’re not supposed to have your phone in there but my mom never calls me, so I picked it up and she was screaming on the phone, ‘We won the lottery!’ I just said, ‘What’d you win, ten thousand dollars?’ And she said, ‘No, we won five million,’ and I thought, ‘That’s not possible.’

“And my trainer was trying to kick me out of the training room because I was on my phone, and I was trying to tell him my mom had won the lottery, but he told me to get out so I left. My mom said, ‘No, we really won the lottery,’ and she was crying on the phone, and it was pretty exciting.”

In shock, and in the midst of a whirlwind couple of emotional days, the former Ontario Blue Jays catcher and hurler told the first person he saw, Miles Gordon, the first of four Canucks and Ontario natives selected by the Reds and Canadian scout Bill Byckowski in last year’s draft, followed by infielder J.D. Williams and southpaw Isaac Anesty, all former members of the Canadian Junior National Team.

“The first person I told was Miles,” Shred said. “I went into the lunch room here and I said, ‘You would not believe what just happened.’ He kept asking me and I told him my mom had just won the lottery. He kind of looked at me and smiled, and I said, ‘Like, the five-million-dollar lottery.’ He said, ‘You’re lying. You have to be lying.’ It was kind of surreal.”

With a sudden burst in household income, the Shred family slowly starting making some upgrades, first buying new cars, and now in the midst of building a new house, with some help from fellow OBJ parent Lawrence Collymore.

“I didn’t really believe it at first,” the young righty said. “We didn’t do anything different really. They bought new cars but nothing crazy. My dad [Larry] bought a truck and my mom bought a Cadillac. I bought my Mustang after the draft with my [signing] bonus, but they’re paying for it now. So I got a free car…

“Everything is kind of the same but it’s almost like you’re more relaxed. You don’t really have anything to worry about.”

That feeling was certainly a change in pace from how Shred was feeling on the field, going from the high of being selected in the 22nd round of the draft and being ready to enter the pro ranks, to being stuck waiting for a working visa to join his friends in Goodyear, to then experiencing pain in his throwing arm almost immediately after arriving.

“I was super anxious to get started,” he said. “Especially because all these guys were here, like Jade and Anesty and Miles. I was talking to them every night and they were telling me how it was going and what it was like, so I just wanted to get down here and get into games.”

With almost eight months in Cincinnati’s organization under his belt, the 18-year-old still hasn’t gotten into a game. With more than half that time on the back fields in Arizona, Shred has barely even stepped foot on a mound.

“It didn’t go well,” he said of his arrival. “I don’t even know when I got here but probably about three days after I got here I threw a bullpen, and about halfway through the bullpen my arm started to feel a little funny. Everyone says they get an initial snap feeling, and I didn’t get that. It was a tingly, uncomfortable feeling, so I kept throwing and calling fastballs, hoping for it to go away, and it never went away.

“So I went to the training room the next day and they said to give my arm a couple weeks off. So I took two weeks off, came back and started throwing again, and then it felt the same so I got an MRI and I had torn my UCL 40 per cent. I didn’t have to get Tommy John, but I had [platelet-rich plasma] injections.

“It’s two injections, and they take your blood out and spin it. They take all the plasma out, which is what heals it, and then they shoot it into where it’s torn. They take an ultrasound when they do it, so they showed me the before and after. A few weeks ago, I got another one and [the tear] had closed a good bit. At first it was 40 per cent and now it’s 19, so it closed off a good bit.”

Still working with almost one-fifth of his ligament torn, Shred has learned that it’s normal to play that way, and he is happy to do whatever he can in order to get back out on the field and into game action.

“Everyone has a tear usually, a little one,” the young pitcher said. “Not that much, but [former Cy Young Award winner] Roy Halladay threw his whole career with a 33 per cent tear, apparently. So you have to adjust your mechanics so you don’t put as much stress on it. They’re trying to figure out a new way for me to throw where it doesn’t stress there, but you can throw as long as it holds up.”

Shred’s progress has been helped by both the PRP injections, and an experimental brace designed to help take stress off of his elbow while he’s throwing.

“I felt different after the injections,” he said. “Right away, you have to go in a Tommy John sling, so your arm is really stiff. But when you come back it doesn’t hurt as much at all. Before, even when we were doing [pitchers’ fielding practice], underhanding the ball to first would give me a sharp pain in my arm, but now I’m long tossing and I feel fine…

“I was nervous to throw the first time. It was kind of weird. I didn’t want to put any stress on my elbow so I was slinging the ball with my shoulder almost. Once I got comfortable, it was a little better. But they gave us a new brace a company came out with.

“They gave it to the Reds to test, and it has little bands in it. You tighten them, and it doesn’t allow you to straighten your arm when you throw after you put a hard whip on it – it stops the tension. So basically after you throw the ball, your arm stays bent to keep the stress off it. At first it was weird to wear it, but once you get used to it, you don’t even notice it’s there. It definitely takes a lot of stress off, and I’m going to use it in games.”

So far, games are a foreign concept to the former catcher. Just weeks away from taking the mound again and seeing what he can do, Shred couldn’t be more excited for the season ahead.

“It’s been a grind here because I haven’t been able to pitch yet,” he said. “It’s been I don’t know how many months, but I’ve been throwing for a few weeks now. The pitching coaches come watch you and stuff, and they work with you on your arm angle and all that. We work on dry mechanics off the mound, so they’ll review your delivery and all that stuff, but it will be nice to actually pitch…

“That’s what I’m most excited for. I’m excited to throw a bullpen. I haven’t thrown a curveball in I don’t know how long. So I’m excited for the everyday aspect of being back at it.”