UPDATE: Graham Stoneburner was promoted 5/11/09 from Charleston to High A Tampa.
He is the pitching prospect with the Internet hype. He is also very high on the New York Yankee organizational support list, and Charleston RiverDogs pitcher Graham Stoneburner * did not disappoint in Wednesday's late morning start against the Lakewood BlueClaws.
*Late in the interview process, he was asked about his unique surname. Graham replied, "My ancestors used to heat up rocks and put them under peoples beds." Interesting. It had to be asked and reported as I knew people were dying to know the origins of what is one of the best names ever for a pitcher. By the way, Graham's older brother, Davis Stoneburner , is a shortstop in the Texas Rangers organization.
The Yankees 2009 14th-round pick out of Clemson dominated from the beginning, striking out 11 Lakewood hitters, while allowing two hits, no runs and walking two over seven strong innings. His fastball was consistently between 91-93, hitting as high as 95 on three different guns. He now has 43 strikeouts in 38 innings this season.
I have attended each of the first three games here in Lakewood to see the Yankee Class Low A affiliate Charleston RiverDogs compete. I will write an overall article regarding my thoughts on the team and its prospects after tomorrow's finale, but Stoneburner's game today warranted an extra piece.
Stoneburner struck out seven straight hitters at one point, his best work coming in the second inning which began that string of Ks. It was the first of two Lakewood scoring chances against Stoneburner. A hard hit ball by 2008 Philadelphia Phillies first round pick Anthony Hewitt got past the RiverDog third baseman, Jimmy Paredes, and scooted into left field.
The speedy Hewitt sprinted into second ahead of LF DeAngelo Mack's throw, but the ball got away and Hewitt raced to third. Man on third and no outs in the 0-0 game, but Stoneburner quickly retired the side in order on three whiffs.
When asked about that situation Stoneburner said, "The first guy I was trying to strike out, and the second hitter I was looking for a strikeout or ground ball. With the third hitter I was trying to make good pitches to let him get himself out, but I ended up with another strikeout."
Stoneburner struck out the side again in the third, mostly with heaters and a biting slider. "My two big out pitches today were the fastball and slider," he said. "Usually I try to pound the zone with both and use the change up to set up both the fastball and slider."
The supposed work in progress changeup appeared very good, getting several swings and misses. It came in anywhere from 79-81 and had good downward action.
UPDATE (5/6/10, 10:30 PM): During Thursday's Charleston game, I spoke with a couple of scouts who were at all four series games, and asked them their thoughts on Stoneburner's performance. Both were impressed by his command, but especially liked his improving change up. One long time scout said Stoneburner threw more changes than ever before, and it looked much better than he previously witnessed.
He was getting lots of called strikes and when asked if the umpire was a little generous, Stoneburner said, "I consistently hit some spots and, maybe, one or two he gave me. But other than that, he didn't really give me too much."
However, that particular umpire (Shaun Lampe) was also behind the plate Monday night, and in both games was consistent in giving pitchers the outside corners. Today's battery of Stoneburner and catcher Kyle Higashioka knew that and worked it to their advantage.
That is good baseball and Stoneburner gave much credit to his battery mate. "My catcher and I were on the same page all day. He called a great game and whatever he called I just tried to put it where he called it, and I was able to execute some pitches today."
But Stoneburner was in a little trouble in the fifth inning when after a leadoff walk, the next hitter lined a single to center field. The runner on first tried to take the extra base, but center fielder Ray Kruml came up firing and gunned the runner out at third.
Then after a stolen base (Lakewood has had eight steals in the three games) and his second walk issued, Stoneburner got a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. Kruml's throw was a huge play for Stoneburner and the RiverDogs.
While that inning-ending double play was nicely turned by second baseman Emerson Landoni, it was not the defensive highlight play of the day. That occurred in the bottom of the eighth inning with Lakewood runners on first and third with no outs against Charleston reliever Ronny Marte. At this point with the RiverDogs up 2-0, the game is still not decided.
The next hitter bounces back to Marte who wheels and throws to second for the force. The relay to first baseman Luke Murton was in plenty of time to get the batter for the double play.
But the runner on third did not begin to run home until the ball was already in the short stops glove for the first out, and Murton threw home to Higashioka to get the runner at home for the third out.
It was the first time for many jubilant RiverDogs in experiencing a triple play. It was all the talk in the clubhouse after the game.
But despite the defensive heroics, this day belonged to Stoneburner.
He was in control all day, and was still gassing the ball to the plate late in the game. During the bottom of the seventh inning, I was down behind home plate amongst scouts and the radar guns.
With one out and two strikes on the next hitter, Stoneburner fired an up and in fastball past the swinging No. 5 hitter, Darrin Ruf. All the radars showed 95 MPH on which was Stoneburners 95th pitch.
RiverDogs manager Greg Colbrunn, a 13-year Major League veteran, was impressed with his young starter. "He's got a chance to move through the ranks pretty quickly," Colbrunn said.
When Stoneburner was asked if he thought he could be promoted soon he said, "No, I don’t have any control over that, except for performing. So I just keep my mind focused on what I have to do and let everything else take care of itself."
When I mentioned that the Yankees have made it a yearly habit of promoting their top Low A pitcher each of the past two seasons (Zach McAllister in 2008 and David Phelps in 2009), he added, "I try to just keep it as simple as can be and pitch well. If I get called up, great. If I don’t, then I’m gonna stay here and hopefully continue to do well and every time out there, and just try to compete."
Charleston scored its first run in the sixth inning when Zoilo Almonte doubled and came around on a single by Paredes. Then in the seventh, Charleston tacked on an insurance run when Higashioka walked on a close 3-2 pitch, advanced to second on a ground out, and went to third on a bullet, line drive single to left field by Landoni, the second baseman.
Landoni was then picked off first, but stayed in the run down long enough to see Higashioka score from third. Interestingly, Landoni was almost picked off on the prior pitch, too.
Those two runs helped Stoneburner garner his first ever professional victory. When asked if he was getting frustrated after pitching well, but not getting any marks in the win column he said, "I just try and go out there and keep the runs to a minimum and do my best to put my team in a position to win. I don't worry about wins and losses too much because I can't control it. It's good to get a win, but it's really not the priority."
This is the second dominant performance this season for Stoneburner, who set down 20 men in a row against Rome on April 24, but received a no-decision.
Stoneburner is completely wrong about one thing. He does have control over whether he gets promoted or not. If he keeps pitching like he did today, the Yankees organization will have no choice but to start the promotion train.
And the young, talented Mr. Stoneburner will have a first class ticket to Tampa.