Baker looks for big bounce back year w/ Cleveland organization
The 24-year-old has a crazy-good fastball that touches 97 mph and crazy-bad luck with injuries that have kept him off the field.
Upside trumps downtrodden, so Baker is back at spring training this year with the reigning American League champion Indians in Goodyear, Arizona.
And he’s not messing around.
He recently aced the team’s annual endurance test for pitchers and catchers, called the ‘beep test,’ in which he outlasted the rest of the field.
“We had to run 20 yards down and back in a certain amount of time, then we would get about 10 seconds to rest, which kept getting less and less as we ran more. I ran 69 of them and got $750 for winning. It was awesome,” Baker told me.
Traditionally, the winner completes only 40 laps before bowing out.
However, Baker is more resilient than most. How else do you explain him sticking with his dream after suffering a broken ankle in 2014, Tommy John surgery in 2015 and lingering elbow problems in 2016.
“I never realized I was this mentally tough to get through all of this,” he said. “My wife, family and friends were huge supporters too, so that helped me a ton.
“It’s been an unbelievable road and it definitely will make this year probably one of the most special years for sure. I can’t wait.”
Baker attended spring training last year with the Indians, but obviously didn’t throw the ball.
This time around he is reportedly contending for a roster spot in the bullpen.
“I’m feeling really good,” he said. “I can’t wait to start feeling that rush again. There is nothing like it.”
He has pitched four seasons in the minor leagues, racking up 54 professional appearances with an 11-10 record, 3.68 ERA and 240 strikeouts in 242 innings.
Baker is one of eight Alaskans to win 10 games and earn 200 Ks at the pro level.
He last pitched in 2015 when he threw a five-inning no-hitter with nine strikeouts for Class A+ Lynchburg. Last season he was projected to be a starter for Class AA Akron before more elbow issues sidelined him for the year.
He’s grateful to be back at spring training, where the Indians never lost hope with their former fifth-round draft pick.
“They always had my back,” Baker said. “The Indians and all the staff were always checking up on me, making sure everything was going good. Just a great feeling knowing I have all that.”