Friday, July 31, 2009

Making The Switch

Joey CallenderJoey Callender won a championship, back in 2007 with the Columbus Catfish in the Sally League.

"That season will be a season that I will never forget," he says. "The feeling was truly amazing."

So what was he doing back in rookie ball?

He was a second baseman for that Catfish squad, and had been throughout college.

So what was he doing on the mound?

"It was the organizations idea," Callender, the Rays 21st round selection from Texas Tech in 2006, said. "I came into spring training as an infielder and I didnt quite do as well as I would have liked and they told me that they didnt really have a spot for me in Double A.

"They asked me if I would seriously consider pitching," he said. "It was a tough decision to make but they gave me a day or two to think about it and then I went into [Director of Minor League Operations] Mitch [Lukevics]' office and I said 'Lets do this, why not'?"

The Rays have converted players into pitchers before, most notably Juan Salas, a former third baseman who went on to throw over 50 innings in the majors. They did it with another infielder this year, Jairo De La Rosa. But Callender isn't the typical case of molding a raw arm into a pitcher.

"I remember playing catch with my dad as a kid and he would throw a ball that doesn't spin," he said. "I was little at the time and my hands weren't big enough but I still tried to throw it. Over the years I just kept throwing it when I would play catch and it got pretty good."

It was with the Catfish in 2007 that he was first able to use the knuckleball in a game.

"One day I was throwing it and our manager said if we ever need a pitcher he would put me in," Callender said. "We had a game that got out of hand and he put me in to throw an inning, and then I kept getting opportunities to throw it the next couple of years."

Before his conversion, Callender made five appearances on the mound between Columbus and Vero Beach, allowing three runs over six innings of work. This year, he got his first taste of extended spring training, and after a cameo scoreless outing with the Charlotte Stone Crabs, was assigned to rookie-level Princeton, where the conversion is still a work in progress.

"I just want to get used to pitching and get my mechanics and everything right and be as consistent as I can be," he said. "It takes a little time to learn all the little things that might seem simple to most pitchers."

The knuckleball is his primary pitch, but he also throws a fastball and curveball.

"I throw about 50 to 60 percent knuckleballs," he said. "My fastball is in the mid to upper 80's so I throw it a lot more than someone like Tim Wakefield does."

The toughest part of making the switch, he says, was in terms of preparation.

"I'm used to getting ready to play a game everyday and now I throw every 3 to 5 days," he said. "It was hard to get used to but I'm really starting to like this conversion a lot."

It's tough not to like the results so far: Between two starts and seven relief outings, he's surrendered ten earned runs in 29 innings, good for a 3.03 ERA. Callender isn't sure how the organization intends to move him along, but that's not really on his mind much.

"I'm having a lot of fun learning and I hope to continue doing well," he said. "And we'll see what happens."


  1. Never heard of him until now. I bet his knuckleball goes in around 70 mph range much like R.A. Dickey so he is able to throw the high 80 mph fastball and still be deceptive with his pitches.

    A very nice article Kevin.

  2. As RZ said, nice article Kevin. What a great attitude, being that much older than the teammates and having fun and enjoying learning to be a pitcher. Hope he keeps in touch, love to keep hearing about his experiences.

    And RZ, never heard of him?? Joey Callender? BurGi will be very disappointed. Nice coverage of the trade deadline though, always check out The Rays Party folks, great MLB and milb coverage.

  3. RZ: Excellent guess. Callender said "My knuckleball is usually around 70 mph" so there you are.

  4. DH: I don't know ALL of the players.

    KG: Yes! My long studying of pitching paid off. I really enjoy these types of posts since so few (baseball) blogs actually do it.