Kloffenstein enters 2022 aiming to take step forward

Blue Jays pitching prospect is focused on rebounding from a rough '21

March 5th, 2022
Jared Ravich/MiLB.com

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- There’s a long list of reasons Adam Kloffenstein is glad to have the 2021 season behind him. But he doesn’t want it to fade from the rear-view mirror entirely.

With a 6.22 ERA over 23 starts at High-A Vancouver, Kloffenstein got his first prolonged taste of adversity in baseball. For a gifted young player who is held up as one the organization's top pitching prospects, that feeling can be brand new -- so it hit Kloffenstein hard.

“I was young when I was drafted. I’ve always been blessed, always been successful in this game -- which has made it a lot of fun,” Kloffenstein said on Saturday. “Last year, I didn’t have as much fun. I had a lot of ups and downs and let it get to me a lot -- whether it was mentally, my body being beat up, whatever it was. It took a toll on me and I was honest about that. I told [the club] at the end of the season … obviously, I’m bummed out about the season. I’m 20, 21 years old, and we’re going to look back on this in a couple years and it’s going to be the most important season I ever had.”

Kloffenstein threw his second live session of the spring on Saturday in Dunedin, simulating two innings. His average fastball velocity is already sitting above his ’21 averages, and his slider froze a pair of Minor League hitters while rows of coaches watched. It’s March 5, far too early for any of this to carry much weight, but this was a brief glimpse of the big, bold version of Kloffenstein from Vancouver in ’19, when he pitched to a 2.24 ERA.

Kloffenstein views the lost Minor League season in 2020 as a wake-up call. That started a maturation process which was tested in ’21. Kloffenstein dealt with COVID just prior to camp last spring, then his grandmother passed away towards the end of big league camp, causing him to leave Dunedin briefly. His pitching, which was secondary at those times, felt interrupted.

Finally, after a lost year and a long year, “Kloff” feels like he has everything moving in the same direction at the same time.

“I hate losing -- and I lost a lot last year,” Kloffenstein said. “It got to the point where, instead of being mad and upset about it, I’ve got four or five months to really turn this around. I’m coming up on a big year.”

The key to a big year? Limiting big innings.

When Kloffenstein was pitching to a 6.22 ERA, it didn’t look like that all the time. He’d breeze through a few innings, have an ugly one, then close out just fine. The talent is clearly there when it all clicks, but unravelling for a few batters at a time was enough to drag the rest down. Kloffenstein is optimistic he can adjust by making changes to how he self-evaluates.

“The biggest thing I’ve done is to change some of the things I put weight on after an outing,” Kloffenstein explained. “How did I feel? How was the fastball in the zone? How was I attacking guys? Was I commanding the baseball on the mound and making them make decisions? If I’m on the offensive the whole time, I’m already in. As soon as I step foot on the mound and grab a baseball, I’m already in. I’m already the aggressor. I’m already in an advantage.”

The role of aggressor suits him naturally. Like so many other big, young arms in Blue Jays camp, he’s learning to channel his energy forward. He’s putting in the work for his own reasons now -- not because he’s trying to prove people wrong or quiet the noise, which he sees as one of the most important changes in his baseball life as he's grown.

This all needs to translate, of course, making Kloffenstein one of the biggest pitching names in the system to watch when the Minor League season opens in April. Still just 21, there’s still plenty of time for Kloffenstein, despite how long you’ve known the name. He’s part of a crowded, talented competition for the Double-A New Hampshire rotation in camp.