High-A baseball is typically referred to as the level in the Minor Leagues that is the “great separator.” It is where baseball players that perhaps have a chance to make the Majors distinguish themselves from those who do not.
Grant Sides pitched 27 games at High-A for the Carolina Mudcats in 2013. It did not go well. Sides had a 2-3 record in 27 games with a 6.58 ERA and had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.3/1. Opponents batted .264 against the right-hander.
Sides was not deterred by his initial struggles in Zebulon. Selected by the Cleveland Indians out of Samford University in the 12th round of the 2011 MLB Draft, he had experienced pain on the diamond before while in college. The previous stumble was of the injury-variety but Sides rebounded from that malady nicely and was picked by the Tribe
“It was awesome to be picked by Cleveland,” Sides said. “The whole process was new to me. I was just coming back from Tommy John surgery. Everything happened so fast. I had just come back and the ball kept rolling. I was fortunate to end up here, to keep pursuing my baseball dream and to try and get better every day.”
Growing up in football-crazy Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Sides was a huge Alabama fan. Baseball ended up having more of an impact and he ended up spending more time watching players on the diamond than at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“I have played baseball since I was three years old,” Sides said. “I tried out other sports but baseball was the one that stuck. I went to [Birmingham] Barons games when I was younger, and I went to a lot of Atlanta Braves games too. It’s pretty country down there. My favorite player was probably John Smoltz.”
After not faring well against Carolina League hitters in 2013, Sides has rebounded nicely this season and become a dependable member of Carolina’s bullpen. The righty has a 3-0 record with a 3.09 ERA in 26 games. He has also lowered the opposition’s batting average to .197 and improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio to 2/1.
“Last year I struggled and I had to stop and look at things to see what it took for me mechanically to be consistent,” Sides recalled. “I had to see what it took to throw strikes and then repeat that. I think last year I got into some bad habits early on. I was trying to throw too hard, too early. It got me out of whack and making mid-season adjustments was hard to do. There was a lot of doubts last year.”
Prior to advancing to Carolina, Sides had performed well at Lake County. His numbers with the Captions mirrored his output this year with the Mudcats. Sides thinks having manager Scooter Tucker and pitching coach Steve Karsay with him in Zebulon—the duo were also him during his initial success in professional ball—helped get him back on track.
“The first thing that happened when they got here was Karsay said ‘Let’s not go back to where the problem is, let’s go to what is causing that to happen’,” Sides said. “He had me working on straightening up, I was driving my body down the third base side, and he corrected my posture. It gave me a foundation to build on over the winter. It is amazing to have [Karsay] around. I just listen to him often. He has got a lot of interesting things to say, having been around the game so long.”
With success at Class A Advanced, Sides is comfortable with his mechanics and is certain that he can progress throughout the Cleveland organization.
“This is just the foundation for me,” Sides said. “I know now, if I have an outing that is a little flat, how to identify the problem and correct it to get where I need to be. Now I have been consistent and I am working on expanding.”
After those initial struggles, it might have been easy for some to feel that Sides was not cut out for success on the mound. He feels that being a member of the Tribe was an advantage during the hard times, not only in terms of the quality of instruction he received but also the treat he received in general.
“I think the Indians are great,” Sides said. “What I like is they are very hands-on with their development. If they see something wrong they are not afraid to let you know it, even if it hurts you in the short-run. Ultimately, that is what helps you get to the next level. Whatever level I am at in the Minor Leagues, it is still the Minor Leagues. That is not the ultimate goal. I am constantly trying to develop.”
Photo: Carolina Mudcats