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Locks of (g)love: Clevinger confident at camp

Tribe's No. 7 prospect has gained strength from TJ recovery, retooled delivery
MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It is easy to find pitching prospect Mike Clevinger on one of the Indians' practice fields. Just look for the long brown hair that flows from underneath his cap, a look that has led to a few people mistaking Clevinger for Mets starter Jacob deGrom when out of uniform.

Clevinger cracks a smile when asked about his long locks. This is not an attempt to stand out -- his arm has taken care of that over the past year, putting him firmly on the Tribe's radar -- or a passing phase for the pitcher. The look is something that dates back to Clevinger's days as a Little Leaguer in Jacksonville, Fla., where his second team was none other than the Indians.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It is easy to find pitching prospect Mike Clevinger on one of the Indians' practice fields. Just look for the long brown hair that flows from underneath his cap, a look that has led to a few people mistaking Clevinger for Mets starter Jacob deGrom when out of uniform.

Clevinger cracks a smile when asked about his long locks. This is not an attempt to stand out -- his arm has taken care of that over the past year, putting him firmly on the Tribe's radar -- or a passing phase for the pitcher. The look is something that dates back to Clevinger's days as a Little Leaguer in Jacksonville, Fla., where his second team was none other than the Indians.

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"I had hair down past my shoulders then," Clevinger said.

Clevinger produced a photo to show exactly what he was talking about. Six years old at the time, a young Clevinger wore a white jersey with "Indians" in the team's familiar red script across his chest. The Chief Wahoo logo was on his navy blue red-brimmed hat, and a smiling Clevinger held a baseball in a four-seam fastball grip, resting it on his oversized Spalding glove.

In Major League camp for the first time with Cleveland this spring, Clevinger is suddenly a grown-up version of his youth league photo shoot.

"It's all one big circle," he said.

Tweet from @MLBastian: Long hair and an Indians uniform isn't anything new for Mike Clevinger (@Mike_Anthony13). Feature coming Thursday. pic.twitter.com/EapPy38wH9

Clevinger recalled that Indians team being the second baseball team that he played for growing up. As it happens, the Indians are Clevinger's second professional team, too. Cleveland acquired the 25-year-old right-hander from the Angels on Aug. 7, 2014, in exchange for reliever Vinnie Pestano. Since that deal, Clevinger retooled his delivery, moved further from Tommy John surgery and developed into a legitimate prospect for the Tribe.

Last season was a breakout campaign for Clevinger, who worked closely with Ruben Niebla -- Cleveland's Minor League pitching coordinator -- and the team's player development staff on shifting into a healthier and more powerful delivery. That included better using his lower half, generating more tilt and being more consistent with staying out front on his pitches.

"He really did a nice job in the offseason, two offseasons ago, applying himself to that," Niebla said. "This year, he just kind of kept going. We were able to meet with him three times this offseason and kind of do some checkpoints with him. He did a nice job with it."

Clevinger said it took roughly a year to feel completely comfortable with the changes. In the process, he took home the organization's Bob Feller Award as the Minor League pitcher of the year for his showing in 2015 with Double-A Akron. In 158 innings, Clevinger posted a 2.73 ERA to go along with 145 strikeouts, 40 walks and a 1.06 WHIP.

"I'm just kind of proving myself," said Clevinger, who is ranked seventh on MLB.com's Top 30 Indians prospects list. "I got my feet back under me from the surgery, so that was a big, final nail in the casket to Tommy John [surgery]."

Tweet from @MLBastian: Clevinger, Bradley take home Tribe's top Minor League honors https://t.co/BHFvZcdaVN via @mlb

Over the winter, Clevinger met a handful of times with Indians ace Corey Kluber, who also lives in Jacksonville. They partnered for a few rounds of catch, and Clevinger picked Kluber's brain about creating a consistent routine. While the 2014 American League Cy Young winner has yet to see Clevinger pitch in a game, Kluber was nonetheless impressed with the young righty.

"The ball was jumping out of his hand," Kluber said. "I think that, from everything that I've heard, everybody says he's got a chance to be really good. From catching him, I can see why they say that."

This spring, Clevinger has approached mound sessions like his long, flowing hair is on fire.

Kluber laughed and said that is not uncommon for a young pitcher experiencing his first big league camp with Major League coaches watching. Niebla also smirked and said that Clevinger only "has one gear." Indians manager Terry Francona added that he and pitching coach Mickey Callaway have reminded Clevinger a few times to pace himself this early in the spring.

"He looks like he's ready for Game 7 of the World Series," Francona quipped. "We're trying to kind of rein him in a little bit."

Tweet from @MLBastian: Francona told Mike Clevinger to pace himself this spring: "He looks like he's ready for Game 7 of the World Series." pic.twitter.com/4PXZ9HRV3Z

Pitching in the World Series with the Indians would be a dream realized for Clevinger.

This spring, the right-hander has kept a large dreamcatcher hanging over his jersey at his locker in the clubhouse. Clevinger, who is part Native American, also has a tattoo of a dreamcatcher on his left forearm. The pitcher described himself as a free spirit, adding that he added the locker decoration to "bring some good vibes to the locker room."

The more Clevinger talks, it is clear that the long hair fits his personality.

It might also be useful on the mound, too.

"It's a little distracting to the hitter," Niebla joked. "I'm sure when they get out there and they see the flaps going, it's going to work in his favor."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.

 

Cleveland Indians, Mike Clevinger