Casey Coleman is a pitcher whose stock is on the rise following an impressive 2009 season. The 22…
Coleman Leaves Good Impression in Camp
Coleman was optioned to minor league camp over the weekend and will start the regular season at Class AAA Iowa, but Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita said Coleman's experience in big league camp was a benefit to the pitcher.
"He did a great job and showed that he's close to contributing to winning," Fleita said.
Coleman is coming off a strong 2009 season in which he led the organization with 14 victories and had a 3.68 ERA while logging 149 innings in 27 starts at Class AA Tennessee in only his first full professional season.
Those numbers earned Coleman "Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year" honors in a ceremony at Wrigley Field last September.
He was invited to camp as a non-roster invitee in the off-season and said the experience of his first time in big league spring training was invaluable.
"Just being around all the veteran and younger guys in the clubhouse was great. All the guys were great to me and we all had a lot of fun. I'm glad I got to pitch early in the games because it gave me an opportunity to pitch against guys like Prince Fielder," Coleman said.
"My outings were a lot of fun, and I definitely learned a lot from each one. My first outing went great. I threw strikes and challenged hitters like I should every time out. The second outing versus Milwaukee, I was a little wild but pitched out of some tight situations, which was a good experience. I need to be more consistent, but overall I thought my outings were OK and I learned a lot from them."
Chicago manager Lou Piniella called Coleman an intriguing pitcher.
"Coleman's an interesting young guy," Piniella told MLB.com. "He's got all the pitches. I think facing experienced hitters in Triple-A will help him. He's a kid you can project as a (starting) pitcher in the future."
But Coleman might first have to make it to Chicago as a reliever. That is not an uncommon theme for young pitchers trying to get a foot in the door at the major league level and Coleman says he would be up for the challenge.
"I'm definitely prepared," Coleman said. "I was in the bullpen the few times I pitched in big league camp so I saw how it works. I know I can help them out wherever they need me, so if it's as a starter, reliever, closer, setup guy, bat boy or anything else, I know I'll be prepared and ready to go."
Bat boy? That seems unlikely given how far Coleman has already come since he was drafted two seasons ago. A third-generation pitcher, he began last season on a Double-A roster and proved he was worthy of the spot when he led his team in ERA, WHIP and innings pitched, and was named to the 2009 Southern League All-Star team.
But Coleman knows he still has a ways to go before he can entertain a big league call-up, and this spring has been about finding consistency with his pitches.
He isn't considered an over-powering pitcher, so commanding the strike zone is always at the top of Coleman's checklist, he says.
"Being a control guy, I need to be able to command the fastball in the strike zone and get ahead of hitters," Coleman said. "My secondary pitches are always progressing. My changeup has been great; I just need to keep throwing it more. I have been able to command the curveball real well and hopefully with a new grip, I can use it more as a strikeout pitch."
During his time in big league camp, Chicago pitching coach Larry Rothschild worked with Coleman on a number of things.
"He recognized right away when my mechanics were off a little and talked to me about my approach with hitters," Coleman said. "It was a great time working with him and hopefully I was able to show him how I can pitch. He was working with me on my curveball and making it have a tighter spin."
Now it's back to Fitch Park in Mesa where Coleman will finish out the month pitching in exhibition games against the Cubs' three opponents in minor league spring training – the Athletics, Angels and Giants – before moving on to Triple-A where he'll be one of the youngest pitchers on the Iowa staff in a league full of veteran hitters.
Coleman is ready for that challenge and says he isn't getting ahead of himself. He views the team's decision to send him down to the minor leagues last week as a relatively easy call.
"Being a starter my whole life and being young probably factored into the decision," Coleman said. "I was given a great opportunity by Lou and Larry to come into games early and maybe fight for a spot in the bullpen. I threw some great bullpens, but had a hard time taking that out onto the field in the games. I know I can do it, but I know they want me to get more experience so I think their decision was easy.
"But they know I can help them out at the big league level sometime soon."
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