Colon’s Continued Command the Next Step in Development

The development of a starting pitcher takes many steps through the minor leagues. For Akron RubberDucks, Joseph Colon, he’s taking another step in the maturation process early this season.

The 24-year old Colon is 2-2 in eight starts, with a 2.82 ERA in 44.2 innings in his first Double-A assignment this season. Along with Will Roberts, the two starters have become the front of the RubberDucks rotation, providing consistent starts each time out and giving the team a chance to win. Akron has responded, going an Eastern League best, 27-13. Their early season success has staked them to a five game lead in the Western Division.

“He’s matured a lot in the way he handles himself on the mound,” RubberDucks manager David Wallace said. “His body language, his thought process, the mental side of the game has matured a lot. He’s always had the stuff. He’s a good athlete out there. He’s come in to his own as becoming a pitcher, not just a thrower. When you have the stuff he has and the ability to throw four pitches like he does, you’re going to see a lot of games like tonight.”

Wallace would know and understand Colon as well as anyone. Akron’s manager has managed Colon at every level of the minor leagues. Colon was drafted in the 12th round of the 2009 First Year Player Draft, but missed the 2010 season with a right elbow UCL strain. He had a clean bill of health to pitch at Short Season-A Mahoning Valley in 2011 and joined Wallace at Low-A Lake County in 2012. Colon made three starts late in the 2012 season at High-A Carolina and was joined last season by Wallace in the Carolina League.

A year ago, Colon was 5-3 in 15 starts at Carolina, but pitched just 83.1 innings. This year, Colon is no longer on a tight pitch count and is developing to go deeper into games. So far, Colon has not pitched more than six innings in a start. On May 10, Colon had his best start of the season, going six innings, not allowing a run and surrendering just one hit against the Altoona Curve at Canal Park. Colon had the opportunity to go deeper into the game, but three walks escalated his pitch count a little quicker than he and the coaching staff would have liked.

“I feel like I can go deep into the game,” Colon said through interpreter and RubberDucks hitting coach Rouglas Odor. “One of the adjustments I have to make in order to throw for seven or eight innings is to work ahead and attack hitters. That will allow me to continue to work deeper into games.”

Colon’s outstanding effort that evening was necessary in the RubberDucks 2-0 victory. When he controlled the game and commanded the strike zone, the thin lead on the scoreboard felt much more comfortable than most close games.

“He was aggressive. I thought with two outs a couple times he relaxed and had a couple walks that he was upset with himself,” Wallace said. “He gathered himself and came back and obviously did what he needed to do to keep us in the game. With him on the mound, a one or two run lead felt like four or five runs because he was in control.”

Control and command for Colon are the keys to his development this season. Initially, Cody Anderson was expected to be the leader of the pitching staff at Akron but has stumbled early in the season. Colon and Roberts have filled the top of the rotation nicely. Attacking hitters and trying to keep walks limited is a key. To date, Colon has walked 21 hitters in 44.2 innings of work. Colon has four pitches—a fastball, curve, change-up and slider—he can throw in any count. When Colon has all four pitches working and can attack, he’s at his best.

“The way he controlled the game, he should have been able to go seven or eight,” Wallace said after his May 10 start. “I don’t want to take anything away from him, but I thought he got in a mode where he was trying to not walk guys, instead of being aggressive and trusting his stuff.”

“I feel like I have the ability to throw any pitch in any count,” Colon reflected. “Tonight I struggled with command of one pitch at times, but that’s part of the game. You’re going to have those games where you can’t command one pitch, but I feel comfortable with all four at any time.”

Pitching and succeeding without your best stuff is a sign of a developing pitcher. Colon did the same in his next start on May 16 in Erie, pitching five innings and allowing three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out five. He was in line for the victory when he left, but a blown save left the RubberDucks to win the game in 11 innings, 12-7.

Colon’s 2.82 ERA is currently good enough for sixth in the Eastern League and best among RubberDucks starting pitchers. As rosters shuffle around the Indians’ minor league system and starting pitchers from Triple-A Columbus begin the I-71 shuffle, Colon is needed to provide stability to Akron’s rotation. The RubberDucks themselves have already felt the impact of promotions, with left-handed reliever Kyle Crockett moving directly to Cleveland. While it is unlikely Colon is in line for a promotion soon, his development is key to himself and Akron as others could move around him.

Colon’s next start is scheduled for tomorrow morning in Altoona. The emerging leader of the Akron staff will look to do what he did 11 days ago, this time with even better control.

“I know I have the command and control to improve upon in that area, but I felt very comfortable and was attacking the zone,” Colon said.

That comfort and control, the ability to attack, is the next step in his development as he looks to take another step toward the big leagues.

Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer

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