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College-bound one-armed pitcher finds way

Stevens, recent Division III signee, models approach after Abbott
MLB.com @lindsayberra

When you watch Josh Stevens pitch for Vestavia Hills High School outside of Birmingham, Ala., the first thing you'll notice about the 18-year-old right-hander is his size. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Stevens is a big boy, and he uses his muscled legs to perfect effect during his pitching delivery.

Stevens, who has committed to play for Division III Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala., throws four-seam and two-seam fastballs with a lot of movement in on right-handed hitters, an effective curveball and a changeup. As a senior, he compiled a 5-1 record, 37 strikeouts and a 3.23 ERA in 56 1/3 innings. Stevens has a shock of curly blond hair that protrudes from under his cap, an easy and infectious smile and only one arm.

When you watch Josh Stevens pitch for Vestavia Hills High School outside of Birmingham, Ala., the first thing you'll notice about the 18-year-old right-hander is his size. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Stevens is a big boy, and he uses his muscled legs to perfect effect during his pitching delivery.

Stevens, who has committed to play for Division III Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala., throws four-seam and two-seam fastballs with a lot of movement in on right-handed hitters, an effective curveball and a changeup. As a senior, he compiled a 5-1 record, 37 strikeouts and a 3.23 ERA in 56 1/3 innings. Stevens has a shock of curly blond hair that protrudes from under his cap, an easy and infectious smile and only one arm.

Yes, you read that correctly. Stevens has only one arm.

Josh's parents, Ralph and Susan, found out the day Josh was born that he'd been subjected to Amniotic Band Syndrome, which occurs when an unborn baby becomes entangled in fibrous, string-like amniotic bands, and which caused the amputation of their son's left arm two inches above his left elbow.

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"It didn't matter to us," Ralph said. "Our philosophy has been that's the way God made him, and we didn't think twice about it. It's been hard for us to call it a birth defect, because we didn't look at it that way, and Josh didn't, either."

When Josh was a boy, his parents were thrilled to see that he didn't look at himself as any different than his classmates. They would ask him, "Josh, who are your best friends?" And he would rattle off some names. Then, they would ask, "Well, how are you different than Peyton?" And Josh would say, "Well, Peyton is shorter than I am, and his hair is a little whiter."

"He would never think of anything else," Ralph said.

What Stevens would do, though, is figure out a way to accomplish whatever task was placed in front of him, and play every sport that piqued his interest. He learned to tie his shoes and play the guitar with one hand. He played basketball, soccer, and flag and tackle football.

Stevens doesn't really remember a time when he wasn't throwing baseballs, and he said he was about 6 years old when his parents first showed him YouTube videos of one-armed pitcher Jim Abbott, who played 10 seasons in the big leagues with the Angels, Yankees, White Sox and Brewers. Ralph and Susan hoped that watching Abbott handle his glove would give their son an idea of how to handle his.

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"I based what I was going to do off of him, and took time modifying a way that was comfortable to me that I could use and be successful with," Stevens said.

Stevens' method today is similar, but not identical, to Abbott's.

"When I'm throwing, my glove is under my left elbow, tucked into my chest," Stevens explained. "When I come through and throw and I bring my leg over, as I'm bringing my leg over, as soon as I release the ball, I'm going toward my left side and trying to get my right hand in there."

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Stevens is so efficient with the maneuver that his coaches and teammates don't worry that he won't be able to protect himself, or field ground balls and throw to first. He handles it just fine, and with the same aplomb that he handles both spoken and unspoken inquiries about his missing arm.

Josh often makes light of his situation as a way of broaching the subject so it isn't taboo, so others don't feel awkward or uncomfortable around him. One of Vestavia's longtime coaches calls Stevens "Left-hander," though he does not have a left hand. His teammates -- including right-hander Caden Lemons, who is No. 77 on MLBPipeline.com's ranking of the Top 200 Draft Prospects -- uniformly call him "Nub."

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"The best thing about Josh is he's just Josh," Vestavia head coach Jamie Harris said. "He wants no special treatment. It is never a topic of conversation unless he makes light of it."

Stevens has also played first base and right field in his high school career. Until his junior year, he even hit -- right-handed, pushing a 33-ounce bat through the strike zone with just his right arm. But it became clear that Stevens would have a better chance at a college career if he concentrated solely on pitching.

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Despite the fact that Stevens is unable to use his front side when he throws -- try holding something under your front arm and throwing, hard, and you'll see just how difficult it is -- his fastball sits in the mid-80s. Vestavia pitching coach Kris Thomas works with Stevens to help him get as much power as possible out of his lower half. He thinks Stevens will be able to touch 90 mph before his college debut.

"Because of where Josh's glove has to be tucked, there is nothing he can do with that front side, so it's about trying to be as athletic as possible through the windup," Thomas said. "The goal is to get his lower half even more involved, so he can get more out of his legs."

To that end, Thomas has Stevens follow programming from Driveline Baseball in Kent, Wash., along with pitching guru Ron Wolforth, working on pitching drills like box-squats, jump-backs and hooks that promote explosiveness through the hips. Stevens does speed and agility drills, lifts weights and regularly uses weighted balls to promote good mechanics and increase velocity.

Stevens, his work ethic and his ability to overcome adversity have garnered him a lot of media attention in recent months. His story has inspired several youngsters who, like Stevens, have only one arm, and they have reached out to Stevens for words of encouragement, and to express their admiration for all he has accomplished.

"It's been really cool to see that," Stevens said. "It lets me know that there are people out there who are looking up to me whether I know it or not, and that's kind of a surreal feeling. I know that I need to keep doing what I'm doing, and stay on the narrow path, and be an example for these kids who are dealing with the same thing I went through. I need to be held accountable for how I act and how I perform."

Lindsay Berra has covered a variety of sports, from baseball and hockey to tennis and the Olympics, since 1999. She joined MLB.com in 2013.