May 25, 2012 - Frontier League (FL) - Florence Freedom
FLORENCE, KY- It took just one pitch from Stephen Shackleford in the 9th inning against the Traverse City Beach Bums on May 18 to begin the excitement surrounding the right-hander's electrifying stuff. Shackleford, the designated Freedom closer to begin the year, came into the game in a non-save situation as his team was down by two runs.
His first pitch was clocked at 95 mph. His second was fired at 97 mph. By the end of the inning, he had thrown 12 pitches, while punching out two batters, one of which was subject to a 98 mph fastball on the outside corner.
Originally drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 35th round in 2010 out of Savannah College of Art and Design, he played in the Giants organization from 2010-2011 with Rookie-League Affiliate Arizona and Single-A affiliate Salem-Keizer. In 41 games in the minor leagues, Shackleford had a 4-4 record with a 3.70 ERA with 82 strikeouts in 80 games.
But what fans at the Home of the Florence Freedom saw from Shackleford that Thursday was something totally different than what the Giants organization saw last year. In this past offseason, Shackleford utilized the same workout routine that former Freedom Pitcher Steve Delabar employed to add seven mph to his fastball. After suffering an elbow injury, Delebar committed himself to this regimen and is now coming out of the bullpen for the Seattle Mariners. In college and in the minors, Shackleford's fastball would top out at 90-91 mph, but like Delebar, he began to incorporate a new strength program, which has now added an extra eight mph to his fastball.
"Delebar was a good pitcher, but became a great pitcher when he worked hard to strengthen his arm with this workout. Like Delebar, I have worked hard to increase my power and arm speed, and I am now throwing harder than I ever have," said Shackleford.
Immediately after the flame-thrower's first appearance of 2012, Manager Fran Riordan and Shackleford began receiving phone calls from Major League Baseball organizations, offering Shackleford a minor league contract. The very next day, The Seattle Mariners signed him, sending him to their extended spring training program, where they will re-evaluate the right-hander.
"He has Major League quality stuff right now. In the pre-season we once clocked him at 99. You just don't see that in the Frontier League. He has the type of arm that most Major League Teams feel they can't pass up," said Manager Riordan.
The Louisville, KY native appeared in the Freedom's very next ballgame in the 9th inning against Traverse City. He entered with a one-run lead, but allowed a two-run home run to right center field. He ended up throwing 22 pitches in the inning, allowing two runs on two hits. He did, however, record the victory as his catcher Jim Jacquot smashed a two-run walk off to lift the Freedom pass the Beach Bums in the bottom of the 9th.