By Todd Johnson
Yesterday was an interesting day in the minor leagues. There were two games during the day and only one at night. Luckily, I got to sit and watch Trevor Clifton pitch without any interruptions. It was a fun game to watch as Trevor went six innings, gave up only for hits, struck out seven, walked one, and threw 94 pitches, 60 of them for strikes. Tennessee easily won 8-0.
For the past three summers, I have been following Trevor’s career closely. First, it was by radio when he was in Boise. There, he began to flash the early potential of the kind of pitcher he would become. He was able to work out of jams and use his curve ball as an out pitch. It was also there that he tended to get in trouble via the walk. At South Bend in 2015, Trevor worked on his pick off move a lot. It was also there that he tended to get in trouble via the walk. At South Bend in 2015, Trevor worked on both of those issues as well as being more efficient. In July of that summer, he started to put things together and had a nice run to the end of the season. In 2016, he picked up where he left off and was the Cubs Minor-League Pitcher of the Year.
This year, Trevor is off to his best start as a Cubs prospect. He has a 2.25 ERA for the season and has only allowed one earned run in the month of May. In just two starts, he has a monthly ERA of 0.80. Even though he did not have his best stuff at times last night, Trevor showed several reasons why he was able to shut down the Jackson Generals while only allowing five base runners in six innings. As a result, he was keeping the hitters guessing all night.
1. Arm Side Run
It all began with some strings in South Bend. In 2015, then pitching coach Brian Lawrence began setting up strings for pitchers to throw above or under. Those strings represented the strike zone. Trevor often commented how much the exercise of throwing with strings was influential in helping him develop fastball command. But what Trevor is able to do as a result of those strings was to put his fastball on either side of the plate. He can have his fastball run in on a left-hander only to dovetail back across the inside corner. And he can do the same to the outside corner to have a left-hander chase off the plate. His fastball tends to move about 10-15 feet from the plate making it very hard to hit.
2. The Pick-Off Move
I don’t think he gets enough credit for his ability to pick runners off first base. Last year, his walk rate plummeted and his ability to keep runners close at first base allows him to focus on the hitter. Last night, one hitter walked to get on base. Trevor threw over a couple of times, and then in one quick motion, picked him off by a good 2 feet. I don’t think he gets enough credit for that move in helping the evolution in his pitching.
I think his mental skills truly are an underrated part of his game. From breathing technique to pacing, and just not being in a hurry really allows him to relax and do what he needs to do. It’s not as if he’s a human rain delay out there, AA is, after all, on a pitch clock but he looks to be just out there throwing the ball around as if there wasn’t even a game going on.
4. Throwing Inside
One of the greatest influences of Myrtle Beach manager Buddy Bailey on Trevor was the intention of throwing inside to keep hitters from leaning out over the plate. All last year, Trevor was able to own the inside of the plate better against lefties. This year, his ERA against left-handed hitters is 0.00. Last year, it was 1.89. Additionally, lefties are only hitting .204 against him.
In one month, it should be interesting to see just exactly where he is at. With some starting pitching issues in AAA Iowa, as well as in Chicago, there could be a couple of spots opening up in Des Moines. After six weeks, Trevor has put himself at the top of the list, with Teammate Zach Hedges, to head north to AAA this summer.
Earlier Trevor Profiles