GOODYEAR, Ariz.-- Following a year of trying to keep his career alive in the independent leagues, pitcher Robert Stock wanted to keep his big league dream alive any way he could. But getting organizations to take notice required Stock to be resourceful.If Stock couldn't get scouts to come see him
GOODYEAR, Ariz.-- Following a year of trying to keep his career alive in the independent leagues, pitcher Robert Stock wanted to keep his big league dream alive any way he could. But getting organizations to take notice required Stock to be resourceful.
If Stock couldn't get scouts to come see him pitch, the right-hander would send his pitching performances to the scouts. He had his girlfriend, Sara, shoot and edit video of him throwing.
"I posted a YouTube video of me throwing in a park, at 98 mph, to a net," Stock explained. "Teams said, 'That was good, but let's see how you throw to a catcher and throw breaking balls.' I hadn't thrown to a catcher all off-season. Then I made a video of that. Then the Reds and some other teams invited me out to throw for them."
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On a chilly February morning, Stock threw for the Reds and his velocity was noticeable. With each pitch, a loud exhale from his nose was audible. Pro scout and special assistant to the general manager Shawn Pender watched along with player development senior director Jeff Graupe. Reds manager Bryan Price also came out to watch for a few minutes.
The radar gun was showing 94-98 mph when Stock pitched. The Reds signed him on Feb. 20 to a Minor League deal and he reported to Minor League camp last week.
"He has a very good arm, was very aggressive," Pender said. "A strike-thrower, which was one of the things he hadn't done well to that point, but some of these guys don't learn until later."
Stock could be a late bloomer at 27, but he was once a highly-sought player in high school and college. He was Baseball America's 2005 youth player of the year at 16 as a catcher and pitcher. He graduated high school early and attended USC.
The Cardinals made Stock their second-round pick in the 2009 Draft as a catcher. But he stalled and never materialized. By 2012, he was converted to a pitcher and still couldn't get past Class A Advanced. By 2015, Stock was in the Pirates' organization, and in 2016 he was out of affiliated baseball and admitted that his weaknesses got exposed in pro ball.
"For both pitching and catching, I practiced when I was younger way more than every other little kid. I got really good with kind of the wrong skills," Stock said. "Maybe my mechanics weren't good, but I practiced a lot, I was good. But as you move up the ladder, you have to have good mechanics and work hard."
Stock played last season for the New Jersey Jackals of the Can-Am League, the same team Tim Adleman played for in 2013 before the Reds signed him. Adleman reached the big leagues last season and is competing this spring for a rotation spot.
During a trip to scout the Yankees late last season, Pender stopped by to watch the Jackals and work out some players, including Stock. He broke the league record with 52 relief appearances and posted a 2.85 ERA over 60 innings.
"I liked his arm, liked his competitiveness and at the time, I thought he was a little overweight," Pender said.
Stock heard that and spent the off-season losing 25 pounds.
"I just ate one meal a day," he said.
"When he got out of the car [at the Reds complex], I didn't recognize him," Pender said. "That tells you a little about the kid and the motivation. Those are the kinds of kids you want to give another opportunity to because you know they're hungry."
Stock also wanted to get his velocity to increase and spent the offseason in Tempe, Ariz., working out at parks with the camera rolling. All the effort paid off once he hit 98 mph.
"I have a radar gun and I have a net. I just threw, threw, threw and threw," Stock said. "I'm just trying to take any path that is available to me."
Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.