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Prospect Stiever set to continue climb in 2020

@scottmerkin
February 4, 2020

CHICAGO -- Fortunes have changed for the positive for Jonathan Stiever, the White Sox No. 6 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Those changes truly began last season when the right-handed hurler was promoted to Class A Advanced Winston-Salem. “I got promoted during the All-Star break, and getting promoted gave me

CHICAGO -- Fortunes have changed for the positive for Jonathan Stiever, the White Sox No. 6 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Those changes truly began last season when the right-handed hurler was promoted to Class A Advanced Winston-Salem.

“I got promoted during the All-Star break, and getting promoted gave me a confidence boost,” Stiever said during an interview with MLB.com at SoxFest. “I didn’t have the greatest start to the year, but still was confident and they believed in me. I got a short little time off to reset everything going to Winston.

“Fresh slate, work on some things before my first start there. I had a good first start. I was able to build off of that and keep that sort of momentum rolling in the second half.”

Stiever, 22, struck out seven and allowed one run over seven innings in his Dash debut on June 24. But after Stiever posted a 4.74 ERA over 14 starts with Class A Kannapolis in his first 2019 stop, it was the work he did with Winston-Salem pitching coach Matt Zaleski that accounted for the turnaround as much as anything else.

Zaleski cleaned up Stiever’s delivery, focusing specifically on the right-hander's direction toward home plate. That subtle adjustment became the biggest difference from Day One.

“It was like ‘Hey, we are going to work on this and see how everything else comes along from there,’” said Stiever, who had a 2.15 ERA and 77 strikeouts over 71 innings in 12 starts with the Dash. “Things started to click a little bit better.

“When I got there, I was a little across my body. He gave me a few drills just to overexaggerate not going across my body and then hopefully it realigns itself. It’s still something I always will probably have to make sure I’m being conscious of, just what I have to think about a lot. That was our main sort of space where we wanted to start.”

Pitch selection also became a big topic for Stiever, using data and analytics to see where he’d have the most success throwing certain types of pitches. Zaleski would present the information, showing Stiever the best avenues without Stiever overthinking during the process.

“I still want to be free and athletic in my pitching and everything,” Stiever said. “After a start, we’ll get the data. As long as it looks like we are throwing similar pitches, curveball depth is good, fastball life is good -- as long as that goes about right, we leave it at that and continue on the pace.

“Sometimes I’ll be off a little bit and have to adjust, and as far as opposing teams, you get the scouting report and just see how my strengths match up to certain hitters, how to attack them. Gave me a much clearer attack going into each start.

“Just sort of get the direction down, and then as things got better and better, slowly develop more fastball location, curveball location and start tinkering with the slider,” Stiever said. “It was a slower process. It made things simpler and I was able to focus on one thing.”

Nick Hostetler, who was in charge of the White Sox 2018 MLB Draft, during which Stiever was selected in the fifth round out of Indiana, watched him throw in the low to mid 90s in college and in the Cape Cod League the previous summer. Once Stiever got out of the cold weather, his velocity has consistently jumped to the mid-90s, topping out around 98 mph, making him a bit of a late bloomer.

“They are not going to be the ones who get sexy attention on Draft day,” said Hostetler, who is now a special assistant to general manager Rick Hahn. “They can be behind the scenes a little bit and kind of develop at their own pace without the magnifying glass being over the top of them at all times. We’ve done a really nice job in the past of identifying those middle-round pitchers that had upside left and had stuff we thought would develop.”

This development produced Stiever’s first non-roster invite to big league Spring Training. He’ll be reporting on Feb. 12 to Camelback Ranch, prepared to continue the climb to the Majors.

“I’m just going in as ready as I can be, just to know whatever their plan is, I’m ready,” Stiever said. “I’ll pitch anywhere. Just going in with an open mind and trying to learn as much as I can.”

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.