Right-hander Jeff Kaplan nearly maxed out his time on the diamond this year. Though his Titans squad fell just short of the 2008 College World Series, Kaplan tossed 111.2 innings pitched before suiting in Brooklyn for the first time. Yet, despite the innings he was set on proving to himself, and the organization that drafted him, that he could persevere and improve at the next level.
He did just that by shaking off an inconsistent start in which he allowed 15 earned runs and walked 11 batters in his first 25 innings. As the season went on, Kaplan built consistency based off improved pitch location, but that was unattainable without first stabilizing his mechanics. He simply was not achieving the greatest movement on his pitches because he was throwing across his body.
His original motion flattened out his breaking pitches and caused his fastball to stay up in the zone. But when he started moving more direct to the plate, his repertoire regained its sharpness.
"My mechanics were something I worked on a lot here that I didn't work on at all in college," he said. "Throwing across my body takes away from all my pitches and cuts me off from getting through to the pitch."
"As the season went on my mechanics and stuff got better. It's a work in progress, but for me to go straight to the plate is key to my success right now."
However, the progression came too late to keep him in the rotation. After four starts in his first seven outings to begin the year, Kaplan moved to the bullpen. But it was in his long relief role where he found his rhythm, though he still has his eye on starting in the future.
"Moving to the bullpen was tough at first but I got it going towards the end of the year after I figured out a routine and mentally prepared myself to pitch in relief, but it was a positive experience. Mentally, the transition allowed me to improve my focus on every single pitch and know how to work a lot of different situations." he explained.
Over his final 22 innings pitched—all in relief—Kaplan allowed just three earned runs, 12 hits, striking out 19 along the way. The difference was all in ability to command the lower third of the strike like had done in done college, but with more authority. He finally found a groove in which he spotted his fastball as well as his curveball and changeup.
Unfortunately for him, the short-season leagues only offer so much time. For many rookies the short season often leaves corrections and positive growth to come too late in the season when confidence is at a high. Such was the case for Kaplan.
"The positive I took from the year was that I got better as the year went on which gives me all the confidence I need going into Spring Training. I know now that I can pitch at the level I played at and now my next move is to show that I can pitch at the next level and every level after that."