By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There are many ways Major League Baseball organizations measure the development of young pitchers in their systems.
Some are tangible like ERA, strikeout/walk ratio, how hard he throws, what he throws etc. Some are intangible. How does he react in a tight spot? How does he react when faced with adversity?
The importance of those intangibles makes this a big spot in the development of former St. Joseph’s University standout Jimmy Yacabonis in the Baltimore Orioles’ system.
The right-handed reliever was selected in the 13th round of the 2013 MLB Draft by the Orioles and he hit the ground running last season with a 1.52 ERA in 18 games for Low Class-A Aberdeen. He started this season a step higher at Class-A Delmarva and it was more of the same – 1.07 ERA and 14 saves in 21 appearances. That success earned him a promotion to High Class-A Frederick (Md.) and it is here we come back to the intangibles, because for the first time as a pro, Yacabonis is dealing with a bit of adversity.
He allowed 13 runs in his first four appearances with the Keys in late June and early July. Then he seemed to find his stride before a rough outing on Saturday night in Wilmington, Delaware, against the Blue Rocks. It’s a credit to Yacabonis that the first rough patch of his pro career has come more than a year into it and he is confident he will get through it.
“Overall, it’s just a mental thing,” Yacabonis tells KYW Newsradio. “It’s definitely not physical. Kind of like a mental block right now, but I’m getting there.
“It’s really just getting behind guys (in the count),” Yacabonis adds. “Got to get ahead of guys, just get that first strike over. Pretty much from there it’s pretty easy. Get ahead of guys.”
He understands the importance of fighting through this rough stretch and knows the organization is watching.
“Absolutely, (to) see how I deal with it,” Yacabonis says. “I’ve just got to keep grinding. Keep my head up, don’t really let it get to me.”
He says he’s made a lot of progress as a pitcher since turning pro.
“Just over all,” Yacabonis says. “Just the approach to pitching. Not necessarily trying to throw it by guys. How certain pitches set up certain pitches and throwing your off-speed for strikes. (Pitching coach) Alan Mills was a huge help down in Aberdeen and Delmarva and I credit to him, he really helped me out when I first got to pro ball.”
Yacabonis enjoyed a great season in 2013 for the Hawks, finishing with a 2.02 ERA and 10 saves. He says the time leading up to that breakthrough campaign is when he first started to really think that he had a chance to play pro baseball.
“My sophomore summer, when I went up to that Perfect Game League up in upstate New York,” Yacabonis says, “my velocity spiked up and I was doing well. I was getting looks from scouts and whatnot. That fall, when I first got to St. Joe’s, they had fall ball and played like Princeton and Lehigh. They had a scout day and I had a bunch of guys there, bunch of questionnaires handed out. So that fall, my junior fall, is when I really realized it could be a serious option.”
He says he has a lot of great memories of his time on campus.
“My sophomore year we made it to the A-10 Tournament,” Yacabonis says. “That was probably the biggest thrill was clinching that and making it there. (The Liberty Bell Classic) at Citizens Bank, we won that. But I would probably say that was the biggest thrill, clinching the A-10 playoff spot.”
He says he kept a close eye on his former college teammates this season as they emerged as one of the best teams in the Atlantic 10.
“I was upset I missed this last year,” Yacabonis says. “They had a really good year.”
Several of those former teammates visited with Yacabonis during the recently completed series with the Blue Rocks.
The Keys are off on Monday. They will return to the diamond on Tuesday night at home against Carolina.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.
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