Maple Ridge pitcher goes pro

A ball player who threw his first pitches in the Ridge Meadows Minor Baseball system has been drafted by a Major League team.

Devon Stewart was drafted by the Cleveland Indians.

A ball player who threw his first pitches in the Ridge Meadows Minor Baseball system has been drafted by a Major League team.

Devon Stewart, who has wrapped up a college hardball career with Canisius in New York State, was picked by the Cleveland Indians in the ninth round, 274th overall.

“I knew there were a few teams interested,” said Stewart, who is back in Maple Ridge this week.

He was watching the draft, and at the beginning of the ninth round, the Indians called and asked if he would sign a contract with the club if they drafted him. It wasn’t a long negotiation.

“I wasn’t too worried about the money – I just want to go and play baseball,” he said.

The Canadian kid dreamed of being drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays, but Cleveland was also at the top of his wish list of teams.

“It’s a really good organization,” he said. “They really like to bring their own guys up through their organization.”

The MLB club keeps all of its farm teams within a two-hour drive of Cleveland. Stewart will start his pro career in short season single-A this summer, coming out of the bullpen for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in Niles, Ohio.

“It’s going to be better competition there, but I’m used to it. I think I can compete,” said Stewart.

He has been a starter in college ball. He  went 7-7 with an ERA of 3.84. Over 16 starts, he pitched 98.1 innings, and struck out 75 while walking only 24.

After the college season last year, he went and pitched in Alaska for the Anchorage Bucs. They put him in the bullpen, in middle relief. But by the end of the season, he had won the closer’s job, and he likes his new role.

“Coming out of the pen, I can put 100 per cent into every pitch,” he said, and that meant his fastball was in the 92-94 mph range, compared with 90-92 as a starter.

In 15.1 innings pitched for the Bucs over nine appearances, he gave up just two earned runs.

He throws a fastball, slider and changeup.

And he’s embracing the role of reliever, pointing out how the Kansas City Royals’ excellent bullpen carried them all the way to the World Series last year, and the New York Yankees are leading their division thanks in large part to a potent pen.

“The way baseball is shifting could be a benefit to me.”

Success can come quickly to a talented young pitcher, and a good young arm is never left to languish long in the minors.

Last year, Brandon Finnegan of the Kansas City Royals became the first player in history to pitch in both the College World Series and the MLB October classic in the same calendar year.

But Stewart isn’t getting ahead of himself.

“I’m thinking one level at a time. Hopefully by the end of the season, I’ll have moved up a bit.”

He is thankful to local coaches, including Nor Lundren, and also to the Langley Blaze, for which he played his high school years.

“They do an unreal job of getting guys exposure,” he said.

His goal with the Blaze was to land a scholarship. Once with Canisius, the objective was team success – and the school won conference championships in two of his four seasons, including his senior year.

He’s a biology major, and was pre-med.

At the same time, he hit the gym hard, worked on his pitches, and turned himself into a major league prospect.

“It’s nice to see all the hard work pay off.”

One of his favourite pitchers is Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants.

“I watched him in the World Series and he pitched on short rest, and he was still able to compete at the highest level he possibly could.”

Another favourite is Corey Kluber, the ace of the Indians pitching staff, whom he calls a special pitcher with a mid-90s fastball, a really good breaking ball and clean mechanics. At 29, he had only started 36 games when he put together a Cy Young award-winning campaign last season.

Seeing Kluber interviewed, Stewart takes heart at his message to other athletes. He paraphrases:

“Just keep pitching and be patient, and you’ll get your opportunities.”

 

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