07/11/08 8:00 AM ET
Arrieta sails into Futures Game
Former fifth-rounder has been turning heads since debut
By Lisa Winston / MLB.com
A year ago the 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-hander had finished an inconsistent and somewhat disappointing junior campaign on the mound for Texas Christian University.
For most pitchers, his 9-3 record and 3.01 ERA would have been more than fine. But for Arrieta, who was coming off a sophomore campaign in which he won 14 games with a 2.35 ERA, there had been high hopes and thoughts of first-round status.
Coming into Draft day, he owned a good fastball in the 90s with movement, a curveball, a changeup and a cutter in progress, but he had been inconsistent as a junior, so where he'd land would be anyone's guess.
And as it happened, his name was not called until the fifth round, when the Orioles made him their third overall pick (after first-round catcher Matt Wieters and fourth-round hurler Tim Bascom).
Even then, it took awhile to bring Arrieta, who had signed with agent Scott Boras, into the fold. But by summer's end, in the fold he was, and by autumn's first turn of the leaf, Jake Arrieta was someplace he wouldn't be seeing a whole lot of foliage, having joined the Phoenix Desert Dogs pitching staff in the elite Arizona Fall League.
So there he was. The pride of the Orioles, the pride of the Horned Frogs, about to make his pro debut facing hitters who'd spent productive seasons at Double-A, at Triple-A, and many of whom had already put in some time in the big leagues.
The serene Arrieta wasn't fazed by the challenge. In fact, he was anxious to bring it on.
And from the moment he threw his first professional pitch on Oct. 9 against Mesa, tossing two innings of one-hit shutout ball, something special had begun.
The Arrieta Watch.
From the time Arrieta mowed down Mesa in two innings on Oct. 9 through Nov. 15, when he'd face Surprise and allow just a hit in one scoreless inning, Jake Arrieta would work though 14 games and 16 innings worth of high-level Minor and Major League hitters and not allow a single run. He'd scatter eight hits, walk seven and strike out 16, limiting batters to a .154 average.
No wild pitches. No balks. Just an inaugural season that -- while it may not go in his eventual baseball encyclopedia entry -- was memorable and meaningful, especially for a young man who knew he still had the "real deal" to tackle when spring rolled around.
"It really helped my confidence," he said. "Facing those types of hitters right out of the gate, it really rolled over into this season and gave me all the confidence in the world," said Arrieta. "But you still have to continue to work hard, and that's what I've focused on."
Assigned to Class A Advanced Frederick to start the '08 season, Arrieta seemed to pick up right where he'd left off in Arizona. The Opening Night starter for the defending Carolina League champion Keys, he allowed one run on two hits over four innings, striking out nine.
In 17 starts for the Keys, he'd posted a 2.96 ERA, second in the Carolina League, striking out 101, one of just a handful of pitchers in the Minors to have topped the century mark at the All-Star break.
He'd allowed four runs or more just twice, three runs four times and two or fewer in 11 of his 17 starts, including five games in which he did not allow an earned run.
That first-half success earned him the nod as the Carolina League starter in the recent California-Carolina League All-Star Game. Tossing a scoreless first inning to kick-start his team in its eventual 3-1 victory, he received the Bank of America Pitcher of the Game award.
Now he's on the road from Frederick again, this time heading to New York as a member of the U.S. Team's pitching staff for this year's XM Futures Game, which takes place Sunday, July 13, at Yankee Stadium.
And though he just got his pro career under way in the last few months, pitching against international competition is nothing new for Arrieta, who was the ace of the 2006 Team USA squad, for which he went 4-0 with a 0.27 ERA over 35 innings and was the first-ever TCU player to don the national uniform.
Through the whirlwind of this year, from his Arizona Fall League heroics to his All-Star honors to his Futures Game selection, Arrieta has stayed grounded by keeping his eye on the big picture.
"It's not really hard, because I'm not close to where I want to be yet," said Arrieta. "All of those are great accolades, but in the big picture, I'm not yet where I need to be."
Midway through his pro debut, he's just staying focused on not hitting the proverbial wall that you hear about, and continuing to make the mental and physical adjustments from the college game to the pro life.
"I knew it was going to be a grind, but you never know exactly how it will be until you actually experience it," he said. "The biggest transition for me was learning how to handle the workload over 140 games, and just figuring out what you need to do to be ready for your next start on four days' rest as opposed to six, finding a schedule that works for you."
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.