Claysburg’s Fleck still hoping for MLB call-up
Kaleb Fleck has been a relief pitcher in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization for six seasons and is in his third full season with the Diamondbacks’ Class AAA affiliate Reno (Nev.) Aces of the Pacific Coast League.
Fleck, a Claysburg-Kimmel High School and University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown graduate, has seen close friends like Jake Lamb and Archie Bradley ascend to the major-league level and have success with the Diamondbacks, and he’s been one of the organization’s more highly-touted prospects for some time himself.
But the 6-foot-2, 28-year-old fireballing right-handed pitcher, who has a 1-2 record, 4.33 earned run average and has struck out 38 batters in 35 innings over 27 games with the Aces this year, said that he isn’t putting the cart before the horse and spending too much time pondering when, or if, one of the most important telephone calls that he’ll get in his life might take place.
“Honestly, I have zero idea,” Fleck told the Mirror in a recent telephone conversation. “The big-league team is doing unbelievable this year, and that can affect things, because (the organization doesn’t) want to do anything to disrupt that (success). There really haven’t been too many call-ups this year.”
Fleck also went on the disabled list in late June for what was determined to be forearm fatigue in his pitching arm. In his last outing, June 17, he struck out two batters in one scoreless inning of relief against the New York Mets’ Class AAA affiliate Las Vegas 51s.
Then trouble set in.
“In my last outing, my fastball was at 95 (miles per hour), and I had a 1-2-3 inning with two punchouts, but something just didn’t feel right,” Fleck said. “I was throwing a lot early in the year, the most that I’ve ever thrown, and I think it caught up to me.
“I’ve had the same pitching coach, Gil Heredia, for three years at two different levels, and I’ve had a good working relationship with him,” Fleck said. “He didn’t feel that it was worth me pushing through. He felt that it was better for me to go on the DL for awhile, rather than to keep pushing and pushing. It’s forearm fatigue, nothing too serious, and I’m in a throwing program right now and feeling much better since taking some time off. The plan is for me to get back out on the field sometime after the All-Star break (which ends Thursday).”
Mike Bell, the Diamondbacks’ Director of Player Development, said that the Diamondbacks still have high hopes for Fleck.
“He’s got a lot of arm strength, he throws hard, he’s got a good slider, and he’s in the bullpen, where all of our guys are throwing one to three innings (per appearance), so he’s able to pitch in multiple roles,” Bell said of Fleck. “He’s having a great year. He just had a little setback, and we hope to have him back out there soon. These guys work hard and throw a lot, and sometimes they need a break.
“He’s throwing the ball really well for us, but it’s hard to be patient (waiting for a call-up from the major-league club),” Bell said. “All of our guys have done pretty well in the bullpen and in the rotation, (but) there’s always things (changes, trades and injuries) that come up during the season. Sometimes it’s just about waiting your turn.”
According to Heredia, a former long-time pitcher with several major-league clubs, Fleck has always possessed a major-league worthy skill set.
“He has the stuff,” Heredia said. “Many pitchers at Class AAA have the ability to pitch in the major leagues, but they just haven’t gotten the opportunity. That’s part of the game.
“He’s got a 92-to-96 miles-per-hour fastball — that’s a plus fastball. He’s also got a good slider. Some days, it has a lot of angle and tilt, and sometimes, it flattens out, and hitters can take advantage of that. He has a split-(finger) fastball or split-(finger) change-(up) that has been a good asset for him. He’s been pretty successful with that pitch.”
Fleck has walked just 11 batters this season and only two in his last 10 appearances over 11 innings.
“Earlier in my career, when I had bad outings, it stemmed from (issuing) walks,” Fleck said. “But you learn things as you move along. Now I just trust my stuff and let the defense work behind me. Now, if I’m going to get beat, it’s because I put the ball in play, not because I’m giving them free bases.”
Fleck was happy with the way his season was unfolding prior to the current stint on the disabled list.
“I had a couple rocky outings early in the year, but in the six weeks leading up to going on the disabled list, I thought I was throwing very well,” Fleck said. “My earned run average was a little higher than I would like, but even that was inflated by just one or two tough outings. I was happy with the way the year was going, and my season was headed in the right direction. Hopefully, I can pick things up again when I come back.”
Fleck’s major league-type of ability works in his favor. But with two short stints on the disabled list in both the 2015 and 2016 seasons prior to this season’s current DL stretch, the road hasn’t always been smooth for him.
And, at 28 — an advanced age for major-league prospects — he’s facing an important juncture in his career path.
“Kaleb is a great kid who has put his heart and soul into his career,” Heredia said. “He’s a great teammate, and we’re happy to have him as a member of this team. He hasn’t gotten that (major-league) chance yet, but he’s still giving it a shot. He’s coming to a crossroads in his career.
“We’ve had conversations about whether he wants to continue in baseball or move on in a different direction. That’s a decision that will be up to him to make.”
Fleck is focusing on what he can control and not dwelling on what he can’t.
Even when it comes to getting that all-important phone call.
“Obviously, you want to be in the big leagues, but so much of that is out of your control,” said Fleck, who is happy to see some of his friends enjoying a big season with the Diamondbacks as the team challenges for first place in the National League’s West Division.
“I’ve been with this organization for so long, and I’ve seen the (Diamondbacks’) struggles, so to see them finally having success (at the major-league level) is very exciting, especially when I have friends there like Jake Lamb, (an All-Star third baseman this year), and (relief pitcher) Archie Bradley that are doing so well,” Fleck said.
“My goal is to come back, finish this season healthy and strong, and whatever happens after that is a bonus.”