Development is Key to Alaska Native Baker’s Success

If there’s one thing Captains right-handed pitcher Dylan Baker wants fans to know about him, it’s his hometown.

“What do I want people to know about me? I don’t know, I guess that I’m from Alaska,” Baker laughed in an interview after his outing on June 30th against the Fort Wayne TinCaps.

The Juneau, Alaska, native has made the transition to Ohio with relative ease, although he claims he is not fully used to the new environment yet.

“It’s different. It’s a lot more humid here,” Baker commented. “But I like the sun, so it’s alright.”

And despite not being able to see Russia from his house (a need-to-know question that had been bouncing around the press box since we first discovered Baker’s hometown), Baker can still pitch extremely impressive baseball – including his current record of 13.2 shutout innings.

Baker, age 21, threw against Fort Wayne on June 30th and against in Lansing on July 5th without allowing a single run to score. In his outing on the 30th, Baker pitched eight complete innings with only two hits.

“I don’t think I’ve ever thrown eight innings in a game in my life, so it’s pretty sweet,” Baker said about his impressive outing. “The defense played well, and Haase behind the dish – we’ve got a good connection so it works out.”

Manager Scooter Tucker said Baker was “as good as I’ve seen him pitch all year” in that game which had Baker throwing only 93 pitches.

Pitching coach Steve Karsay also extolled Baker’s abilities, saying the pitcher is demonstrating an arc of improvement from start to start.

“Early in the season, he was just getting comfortable. He’s much improved from last year when I had him,” Karsay said.

Last season, Baker, who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of Western Nevada Community College, pitched with the Arizona League. He went 0-1 on the season with a 4.13 ERA in the eight games in which he appeared. He pitched 24.0 total innings, giving up 14 hits and 19 runs, 11 of which were earned. He only gave up one home run, and threw 30 strikeouts and walked 15 batters.

“He continues to get better and better,” Karsay said. “He’s learning the ins and outs of the game, like how to pitch, how to mix his pitches, how to sequence, when to attack hitters early in the count – maybe not to do it with guys in scoring position at certain times. He’s really developing a real good feel for the game.”

Baker’s development is obvious when reflecting on his season. He is 6-5 on the season with a 3.40 ERA. His last five starts have been wins, and he hasn’t been named the losing pitcher since June 2nd. He has only pitched one start since June 12th in which he allowed runs. On June 25th against Bowling Green, Baker had a 3.18 ERA, but threw five strikeouts in his 5.2 innings pitched and was still named the winning pitcher.

Baker claims that winning isn’t the most important aspect of his game right now – he’d rather work on improving himself, but he hasn’t lost his competitive nature.

“I mean, winning isn’t a huge deal. I want to work on developing,” Baker said. “But I still want to win because I don’t like losing! I do want to get the win when I pitch. I mean, everyone likes to win, we want to make it to the playoffs. It’s better for fans, it’s better for us.”

As the 17th-best prospect in the Indians organization according to Baseball America, Baker’s abilities have not gone unnoticed. He was named the Indians organization’s Minor League Player of the Week for the week of June 19-25.

When asked what has been working for him this season, Baker said it’s ability to throw strikes.

“Fastball and slider are probably my best pitches,” Baker said. “And curveball in the dirt, hitters are swinging at it a lot. I’m working on my change up.”

“Our coaches are obviously more conscious of development than us,” Baker said, “But I like to look at the video and see what I did right. I do go out there and work on my stuff to get better, obviously – it’s always on my mind.”

Baker says that the rest of the season will have him working on improving his lesser-used pitches.

“I’m going to keep working on my change up; I have to get that, everyone says I do,” Baker said. “I’m also working on not walking anybody, that’s my main goal.”

If he continues to pitch at the rate he has been, throwing shutout innings and earning wins, there is no doubt that upward mobility is in the cards for Baker’s future. But Baker is not ready to settle with how he can improve in the short-term – he is also cognizant of what success and development now can do for his longterm goal.

“Obviously, once you get to the bigs, you want to win more and winning is more important,” Baker said. “But now, as a player, I want to develop so I can get to the big leagues, and then continue winning more and more.”

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