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Armstrong Grinding Through Minor League System, One Pitch at a Time

By Mike Brandyberry

After a successful college career right-handed pitcher Shawn Armstrong still has many adjustments to make on his road to the big leagues. While the road seems to be progressing quickly, adjusting to professional baseball is taking time.

“I think the biggest thing to get used to is the long season,” Armstrong said. “Throwing every day, you don’t have those random days off when you don’t pick up a baseball and stuff like that. You never know when you are going to throw either.”

Armstrong was 18th round selection by the Indians in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft. As a draft eligible sophomore, Armstrong signed right at the August 15 deadline and thus delayed the start of his professional career. He made up for his delayed start by pitching in both the Arizona and Dominican Instructional Leagues over the winter.

After beginning this season in Lake County, Armstrong was quickly promoted to High-A with the Carolina Mudcats. Armstrong appeared in 26 games, pitching 43.2 innings of relief and striking out 52 hitters with a 2.06 ERA. His accomplishments on the mound earned him a place on the Carolina League All-Star team in late June. He and teammate Jeremie Tice represented the Mudcats.

“It was awesome. It’s always a good thing,” Armstrong said. “I was surprised, it was the best of the Carolina League. In my first year it was an honor. Tice and I went up there and helped get a W. It was a good experience.”

Armstrong, just like Tice, was promoted to Akron after the second half of the minor league season began. Since reaching the Aeros, Armstrong has appeared in three games, pitching five innings of scoreless relief. While he continues to work through the minor league system this year and the grind, he no longer feels any affects of the shoulder surgery he had in college.

“I’m definitely healthy. I haven’t had any issue since I had surgery,” Armstrong said. “It’s a long season and I get typical soreness. I talk to the older guys and they tell me it’s going to get worse, it’s just a grind. You’re always going to have your good days and your bad days, you just gotta push through it.”

His shoulder issues caused his draft stock to fall and delayed the development of his curveball. The Indians and Armstrong are positive he is healthy and now working to develop an additional pitch or two to compliment his 91-94 mph fastball. Relief pitchers don’t necessarily need a full repertoire of four pitches like starters, but need at least two above average pitches.

“I probably feel more comfortable with my cutter than my fastball because I’ll throw that in any count,” Armstrong said. “I’m really trying to define my curveball and develop a two seam sinker that I’ve been trying to get a plus pitch for lefties that will run in on their hands.”

While Armstrong is not necessarily on the next bus to Cleveland, he does have a chance to impact the bullpen in the near future if he continues to develop. Currently, he is working to develop his pitches and have the comfort to throw them in any count—something big league relievers have to be able to do, especially with runners on base.

“I need to definitely throw a lot of strikes with more than one pitch and be able to throw offspeed pitches in hitter’s counts,” Armstrong said. “That’s what I’ve been working on because everyone can hit a fastball, whether it is 85 to 105.”

Armstrong will continue to push through the grind of the season, while he develops he mechanics and pitches. Most minor league prospects would be happy to grind and progress the way he has in his first full season.

Photo by Nikolaus © 2012 Carolina Mudcats

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