Chasen Shreve Has Evolved From Unheralded Prospect to Unsung Yankee
Shreve has struck out 38 batters in 38.1 innings.
On Wednesday night, Alex Rodriguez bashed his 20th homer of the season, giving him 16 seasons with at least 20 — his first since 2010. The soon-to-be 40-year old did so in style, as his fifth inning blast was a 453-foot moonshot, according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, well over the wall in left-center field. After the game, however, Rodriguez deflected attention away from his gargantuan blast, instead giving the bullpen a shout out, particularly 25-year old southpaw Chasen Shreve.
“I think you can’t say enough about our bullpen,” Rodriguez told YES reporter Meredith Marakovits after the team’s 4-3 victory. “And the other guy that is an unsung hero is Chasen. He’s been terrific and a rock for us in the bullpen all year.”
In January, the Yankees traded longtime prospect Manny Banuelos, who Mariano Rivera once touted as the best prospect he’s ever seen, to the Braves for a pair of relievers, veteran righty David Carpenter and a relatively anonymous Shreve. Carpenter quickly drew the ire of Yankee fans with one bad performance after another and was designated for assignment after just 22 appearances in pinstripes. Meanwhile, Shreve shot his way up the bullpen ranks with one solid performance after another despite being a mostly-forgotten about 11th round draft pick out of the College of Southern Nevada, who Baseball America never ranked among Atlanta’s top 30 prospects in their Prospect Handbook.
“I guess I did think I could be in this role, but I never thought it would happen so fast,” Shreve admitted to me in the Yankees locker room. “With Miller (Andrew) going down, I think it helped me get into that role quicker. But I’m glad they have that confidence in me.”
Shreve was born in Las Vegas and graduated from Bonanza High School before attending the College of Southern Nevada, where his catcher was some guy named Bryce Harper. Shreve wasn’t especially effective in college, posting a 5.57 ERA in 42 innings. But he pitched to a decent 3.25 ERA during his senior year and scouts in to see Harper got a good look at the lanky left-hander.
“It helped a lot of us out. We were a good team anyway, I think we had 10 or 11 kids drafted that year,” said Shreve, who has known Harper since high school and still occasionally works out with him in the offseason. “He definitely helped us get looked at more than we would have.”
That might have helped Shreve get onto the draft radar of some teams, but the Braves already knew about him. They had drafted his older brother, Colby Shreve, in the 8th round in 2007. Colby chose to return to school, and was selected a year later in the 6th round by the Phillies. Atlanta selected Chasen in the 2010 draft and he ran up a nice 20/3 K/BB in 16 innings for Danville in the Appalachian League after signing, with a 2.25 ERA. In 2011, Shreve pitched out of the Low-A Rome bullpen with solid results (3.86, 68/26 K/BB in 70 innings) but didn’t stand out as anything more than a potential LOOGY.
He remained effective the following season in High-A (2.15, 41/17 K/BB in 46 innings) but he ran into problems with his command after moving up to Double-A Mississippi in 2013. While there his ERA nearly doubled and his 5.9 K/9 was the lowest of his minor league career. Later that season he was demoted back to A-ball and reports indicated an 86-88 MPH fastball with mediocre breaking stuff. There was nothing in either the numbers or the scouting reports to indicate a bright big league future.
He began last season back at Mississippi, and the same troubles followed him. But determined to change things up, he mentioned to M-Braves pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn that he was capable of throwing harder but had held back in past years to gain better control, which may have been the inadvertent consequences of advice from Braves icon Tom Glavine.
“He just said that later in his career he learned that spotting up the baseball and having control was more important than throwing hard and I just kind of took that to heart,” Shreve said of the advice Glavine gave him during the spring of 2011. “I went out that next outing and just tried to spot up and I think I was 87-89 maybe and I did well, got a lot of groundballs and stuff like that.”
Shreve may have been a victim of too much early success from dialing back his velocity in favor of control. But you can’t blame Shreve for taking advice from a Hall of Famer like Glavine. Most guys have to learn to scale it back and not throw as hard as possible every pitch so they can improve their command. But Shreve did it the other way and the results speak for themselves.
“Just from that day everything was better, my off-speed was better, I threw more strikes. It was complete night and day,” said Shreve, whose walk rate dropped and strikeout rate nearly doubled. “I didn’t really take much transitioning, I just started letting it go and things fell into place.”
He started throwing harder and the result was more strikeouts, fewer walks, and a better pitcher. He suddenly gained a good four MPH, which is almost unheard of. He went on to pitch to a 2.48 ERA last season in Double-A, and he pitched a few good innings for Triple-A before being briefly called up to the Major League team in July and returned when rosters expanded in September. During his short MLB cameo, Shreve struck out 15 and walked three in 12.1 innings while averaging 92.5 mph and topping out at 95.2 mph with his fastball according to Brooks Baseball.
Now that he’s throwing a 95-mph fastball in addition to good control, his complimentary pitches, namely his slider, changeup and splitter, are that much more effective. Shreve still isn’t a household name, but he’s easily one of the best rookie relievers in the game right now. He’s also so indispensable because he can get both righties and lefties out.
“Being successful against righties, I think it’s just working the inside of the plate with fastballs and everything else,” said Shreve, who has held righties to a .138/.216/.250 slash line in 80 at-bats during his short career. “Being able to throw my split for strikes and in the dirt when I need to. But besides that, I don’t know, I guess they just don’t like hitting off me.”
It seems like nobody likes hitting off him. Shreve has struck out 38 batters and pitched to a tune of a 1.88 ERA in 38.1 innings this season. In those innings, he’s allowed a measly 8 earned runs, 3 homers and just 22 hits. Despite pitching in the shadows of Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, Shreve has quickly become one of Joe Girardi’s most trusted relievers and one of the unsung heroes for these first-place Yankees.
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