With all the hoopla surrounding the Washington Nationals drafting can’t-miss super prospect pitcher Stephen Strasburg, it’s worth noting the cautionary tale of Clint Everts.
This cautionary tale, though, still may have a happy ending.
Everts may not have been the Strasburg of the 2002 baseball amateur draft, but he was a highly touted 17-year-old high school hurler out of Texas. The Montreal Expos thought high enough of him to draft him fifth overall.
Kansas City took phenom Zack Greinke after the Expos took Everts. Same with Colorado and Jeff Francis and again with the Mets and Scott Kazmir - Everts’ teammate at Cypress Falls High School in Houston.
Greinke is now the Royals’ ace. Francis has been a major league pitcher for five years and has won 51 games. Kazmir pitched for Tampa Bay in the World Series last year.
Everts, 24, was just promoted to Class AA ball for the first time since that draft seven years ago. But he was promoted because, as a reliever, he has found success and consistency and mastered a wicked curve ball that could have him in the major leagues with his 2002 class peers by next season.
“It’s finally working for me,” said the 6-foot-2 Everts, who underwent Tommy John surgery at the end of the 2004 season.
It is working for Everts, who was a top-rated starting pitching prospect, in the bullpen. As a reliever, he has gained command of an effective fastball and a curve ball that his manager at Class AA Harrisburg, John Stearns, called a “major league-plus curve ball.”
“He has such a good breaking ball that it can be in the dirt and guys are swinging at it,” Stearns said. “The curve ball reminds me of Bert Blyleven’s curve ball, [which Stearns saw as a major league hitter]. It’s almost that good.”
Maybe that’s why the organization never gave up on Everts through seven difficult years in the lowest rungs of minor league baseball.
Everts has struggled since the Expos drafted him in 2002. He struggled with command, he struggled with control and he struggled to stay healthy. But the one thing Everts never struggled with was his desire to be a major league pitcher, even after the years passed and he remained stuck in “A-ball,” with a career record of 24-37.
This year, the right-hander went 3-0 with an 0.90 ERA for Class A Potomac, striking out 26 batters in 20 innings and walking only five while holding opponents to a .194 batting average. Those impressive numbers warranted a promotion to the Class AA Harrisburg Senators last week, and he has continued to be nearly unhittable. Through four appearances with the Senators, Everts has yet to allow a run in six innings, and he’s picked up one save.
“There were some times where I felt like I was doing the same thing over and over again and not moving with my career, but this is what I was born to do - play baseball,” Everts said. “It’s all I ever wanted to do with my life. So as long as I was still playing baseball, I was OK. The Nationals gave me a chance all these years, and I really appreciate the opportunity they have given me. I just kept working.”
Everts said he spent a lot of time working with Nationals minor league pitching coordinator Spin Williams and attributed that work to his turnaround.
“Over my career, over the last few years, I had been walking a lot of guys,” he said. “But this year I have worked with Spin Williams, and we changed my delivery a little bit. I don’t know what happened, but it worked. I haven’t walked many guys, and I have been going after hitters.”
He also spent some time this winter in Houston working out with Roger Clemens, who despite a disgraced national reputation remains a Texas pitching icon.
“He is all about baseball, very passionate about it,” Everts said. “He worked with me and Garrett Mock. We went to his house a few times and threw some bullpens with him. He gave us a lot of good advice.”
Stearns has watched Everts pitch only four times in games but likes what he has seen.
“Everyone talks about his curve ball, but he spots his fastball down and away and gets ahead in the count and then comes upstairs with it when he is ahead and pitches to both sides,” he said. “He throws strikes with his fastball, and that makes his major league-plus curve ball even better.
“He is throwing strikes. Nobody has hit him. … There is no reason why he can’t be a quality reliever in the major leagues. He needs to keep it up.”
If he does, the Nationals, thanks to their patience, may have found themselves a relief pitcher. Everts, combined with the team’s second selection in this year’s draft, Drew Storen, could turn around Washington’s bullpen woes next season - provided Everts can survive the Nationals’ franchise curse that trickles to all levels of the organization.
Last weekend in Reading, Pa., Everts got conked on the head with a foul ball.
“I was in the bullpen sitting down, and it was fouled off over there,” he said. “I grabbed the chair and went to run out of the way, and the left fielder is running at me. So I turned around to go the other way, and the third baseman is coming at me. I froze and took my eyes off the ball, and it hit me square on the head. It was one of the most embarrassing things ever. But I am OK.”
He has come too far to let a foul ball stop him.