Successful knuckleball pitchers are about as common in baseball as a Triple Crown winner, and they are always in danger of going extinct. R.A. Dickey is the only current major league pitcher regularly throwing the pitch, but he could soon have a fellow adherent if Boston Red Sox prospect Steven Wright has anything to say about it.
The right-handed Wright grew up in Moreno Valley, California and attended college at the University of Hawaii. He parlayed an excellent junior season in 2006- where he went 11-2 with a 2.30 and earned second team All-American status- into getting picked by the Cleveland Indians in the second round of that year’s MLB Draft.
Initially a starter, Wright had moderate success in his first few professional seasons before converting to the bullpen, highlighted by a 10-0 record with the Akron Aeros in Double-A in 2009.
Despite possessing a fastball capable of reaching 90 MPH, the Indians approached Wright in 2011 about adopting a knuckleball and returning to the starting rotation. He agreed and held his own, going a combined 4-8 with a 4.58 ERA in 25 games.
Wright was even better in 2012, going 9-6 with a 2.54 ERA in 25 starts with Akron, but received a surprise at the trade deadline when he was dealt to the Red Sox for Lars Anderson. By the end of the year he was pitching effectively in Triple-A, and on the cusp of realizing his dream of playing in the major leagues.
Although it is unlikely he will start 2013 in Boston, Wright represents intriguing pitching depth for the Red Sox; something they sorely lacked this past year. If his knuckleball continues to dance there is a great chance he will be pitching in Boston by the end of the season.
I recently had a chance to interview Wright and find out more how he continues the knuckleball tradition on his way to the majors. Check out more information on his career stats and also follow him on Twitter if you want to follow his progress through next season.
Steven Wright Interview:
Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite baseball players were Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan. I loved the way they pitched with such aggression. You can tell they were extremely focused and confident in their ability and I think that’s the way the game should be played.
What was it like playing baseball for the University of Hawaii?: I did not like playing for UH at first but it was because of being stuck on the island. Once I got to know the island and a great family in Hawaii Kai it made my experience at UH much more enjoyable. The traveling was fun but I think the type of atmosphere that the UH fans bring to the team and stadium really help me prepare to what it is like to play in front of a professional teams crowd.
Can you describe what your draft day experience was like?: Draft day was completely different for me than I would of liked it to be. I was sick with mononucleosis, so I was laying on my parents’ bed listening to the draft with my girlfriend (now wife) Shannon, and when they called my name I was trying to be excited and thrilled but I was so tired and sick from mono that I couldn’t really enjoy it as much as I would of liked. Either way it was a amazing feeling to hear your name called.
Please talk a little bit about the scrutiny and expectations you encountered as such a highly drafted prospect.: I honestly didn’t feel much. I know it was there with the fans and some of the other players, but I put more pressure on myself than anything in the media or in the front office. I felt that I needed to perform because the Indians thought so highly of me to pick me with their second pick. I did not get caught up in the hype of being such a high pick. I figured I cannot control what is being said, I can only control myself and what I do to prepare and perform.
How and when did you decide to adopt the knuckleball as your primary weapon?: I started throwing the knuck when I was 9 years old. Frank Pastore, who used to pitch for the Reds, threw one back to me and after that I was intrigued on how you can throw a ball with no spin. So I messed around with it and in 2010 I struggled in Triple-A, and when I got sent to Akron I was messing around in New Hampshire and Greg Hibbard and Jason Bere saw it and talked to me a little about it and suggested I use it as a out pitch. I did and it just progressed to what I am doing today.
Who has been your primary knuckleball tutor and how often do you have to touch base?: I have been lucky; I have worked with Tom Candiotti and Charlie Hough. I’ve talked to Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey. I even got to watch Charlie Haeger throw a bullpen last year and got to pick his brain a little. But the guys I go to with the most is kind of equal between Candiotti, Hough, Dickey, and Wakefield. I have used them all about the same. I try, when I have a question, to send a mass text to all and see what their adjustments or recommendations are and then I try them all and see which one works for me.
What was it like being traded to the Red Sox this past season, and what were the ensuing 24 hours like for you?: It was exciting, especially for me, because I was playing for Akron and we were in Portland, which is the Red Sox Double-A team. When Chris Tremie told me I had been traded I just packed up and walked over to the Portland clubhouse. The next 24 hours were crazy because I was now in the Portland dugout watching us play against Akron. It was kind of weird and exciting at the same time.
What is something about your career that you would like to do differently if you had the chance?: Right now I would say start throwing the knuckleball earlier. I think one thing is just to concentrate more on the working out and nutrition earlier in my life, like high school time. It’s such an important aspect of being a professional because of the long hours at the field and on the road, and just the season in general. The concentration on taking care of your body and learning about the nutrition side early on in life will help put yourself in a position to perform at your highest ability more times than not.