Joe Sever is not the amongst the most recognizable names on the High-A Hillcats roster, but this former Pepperdine Wave second baseman has been instrumental in catalyzing the team’s recent winning ways.
After beginning the season 9–19 the Hillcats have won six of their last ten games, including four of six on the current home stand. They have moved to five games off the lead in the Carolina League Northern division, picking up two games in the standings on the Frederick Keys and Wilmington Bluerocks who are tied for the division lead.
During this run Sever homered in three of four games. In the first game back from an eight game road trip Sever capped off a three home run inning by the Hillcats. The inning featured two-run home runs by Clint Frazier and Paul Hendrix. Sever followed with a solo shot to put the Hillcats up 5-2 after one inning of play. It was the second time this season he had been part of back-to-back homeruns. Unfortunately the Hillcats ended up losing the contest to the Frederick Keys.
“I’m one of the older guys on the team.” he says. “Being here last year,” talking about the Carolina League, “I like to think I take on that role.”
Undrafted coming out of Bellarmine College Prep (high school) in San Jose, California he wanted to get away from home and the northern end of the state, and looked at Pepperdine and Southern Cal, as well as the close to home option, Stanford.
“I fell in love with Malibu Beach.” he said, regarding his decision to go to Pepperdine. “It was a tough decision but I don’t regret it.”
Beyond that it gave him the opportunity to parlay his experience in wave boarding into surfing. Learning the ropes of surfing from his teammates on the Waves, he also found it to be good for helping him get away from the game and the intense way he plays.
“I think the biggest thing that it helped was relaxing. In the ocean, letting go of all the stresses of life.” said Sever. “Maybe a little bit with balance too, but relaxing, learning to let go of your day on the field.”
Drafted in the 21st round in 2012, he was assigned to the Class-A Short Season Mahoning Valley Scrappers of the New-York Penn League. He put up a slash line of .368/.366/.734 with 12 extra base hits, 20 RBI’s in 46 games, good enough to earn him a position on the New York-Penn League All-Star team.
Speaking about the game that took place on the home field of the Scrappers he said, “Being named an All-Star my first year helped me build confidence, relax and realize that I was meant to be here, I can hang with these guys.”
A second baseman in college he is shaping into more of a utility player in the Indians farm system. He has played first base, third base, and a bit in the outfield during his minor league career, as well as continuing to hone his skills at second base.
“I definitely feel most comfortable at second.” he says. “That’s where I played in college, where I was drafted at.”
Beginning in 2013 with the Low-A Lake County Captains, he began to get more opportunities at first base, a position he had never really played.
“That was a new experience.” said Sever. “I got a lot of time to get my footwork down.”
Now he checks the lineup card each day to see where he’ll be playing and prepares accordingly.
“Basically each day, I’ll take my ground balls there,” he says about his position for that day’s game. “That’s the deal being the utility guy.”
It has allowed him to develop a collection of gloves. “I’ve got three gloves, first, third and second, I even scalped an old catcher’s glove just in case.”
No matter what the position, he is prepared to play. This came in handy earlier in the Hillcats season. On April 14th, in a 16-inning contest with the Frederick Keys he got his first opportunity to pitch.
“I came in in the 14th,” he said. “and maybe around the 11th I kind of joked to Bud [Manager Mark Budzinski], hey I’ve got the next one if position players go in.”
That opportunity soon presented itself as he relates, “He came up and said you’re going to have to. I didn’t expect it, but I was kind of hoping to have the opportunity.”
He has made three appearances on the mound for the Hillcats, finishing out two of the games, and sports a perfect ERA in 2.2 innings pitched with one strikeout, one base-on-balls and one hit to his credit.
Beyond his play on the field, Sever sports a unique family pedigree; his uncle is renowned Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway, who played the 1982 season for the Oneonta Yankees of the New York-Penn League. Elway is also the current general manager of the Broncos.
Sever credits his uncle for being a model for him about how to play hard and be competitive as an athlete.
“The biggest thing I learned is the way he conducted himself, how hard he worked, how much it meant to him, how competitive he was.”
This family connection even got him a chance to go to the Super Bowl in 2013. The Broncos had topped the New England Patriots in Denver in the AFC Championship game to earn their ticket to the Super Bowl. Sever flew out to meet Elway at the Super Bowl and they discussed being a professional athlete.
“It was like that from a young age.” says Sever about his relationship with his uncle. “I was more prepared when I got here. He’s been a great mentor to have.”
Not only did Sever have a Hall-of-Fame role model in the family, he also looked up to former major leaguer Kevin Frandsen. Frandsen, also a graduate of Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose, is in the midst of an 11-year career. Currently a member of the Triple-A Reno Aces, he has had six years at the major league level primarily in the role of utility man. Sever has modeled his style of play after Frandsen’s, being that gritty, all-out type of gamer that earns the respect of teammates and fans alike.
“Just the way that he got an opportunity in the minor leagues.” says Sever about Frandsen. “He was never the biggest tools guy, or the flashiest talent, but he was always a gritty player that took advantage of the opportunity when it was presented to him.”
As he toils in the High-A Carolina League, Sever looks for the same opportunity. His versatility, willingness to go all out, and mentor the more novice professionals on the team indicates he has a future in baseball.
“I’m not the fastest, strongest guy, but I’ll play the hardest, that’s the only thing I can control.” says Sever.