AA Pitcher Steven Wright improved his record to 2-1 with a 1.45 ERA but the numbers don't tell the whole story of this one time prospect who has transitioned himself over the last 2 seasons to become a promising knuckleball pitcher.
Wright is a 27 year old prospect that the Indians drafted in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft out of the University of Hawaii. From 2007 through the early stages of 2010 Wright went from 2nd round pick to non-prospect when something very interesting happened. Wright, who had long been fascinated with the knuckleball and threw it while horsing around went over to Akron Aeros catcher Miguel Perez and threw him one to him to see if he could catch it. The ball went right by Perez and Wright threw three or for more with the same outcome.
According to Wright, Indians special assistant Jason Bere and Aeros Pitching Coach Greg Hibbard witnessed this and requested that he throw a couple more. Hibbard encouraged him to begin using the pitch in game situations which he did and as he told Benjamin Hill of MiLB.com he finally had an out pitch:
"I started using it as an out pitch, the way you'd use a split-finger or forkball. Now, when I got to two strikes on a batter, I finally had a good swing-and-miss pitch,"He continued to work on the knuckleball in the offseason following the 2010 season and in Spring Training of 2011 the Indians had former knuckler Tom Candiotti come in and evaluate and work with Wright. Candiotti came away impressed and after his endorsement the Indians assured Wright that they'd back him if he wanted to move forward as a knuckleball pitcher.
For Wright the 2011 season was like starting over. He had to remain back in extended spring training and began his season in Lake County. During the 2011 season he moved up and down the Indians organization wherever he was needed in whatever role making appearances in Lake County, Kinston, Akron, and Columbus. Although his numbers in 2011 weren't outstanding 4-8, 4.58 ERA, 6.5 K/9, 4.8 BB/9 the comfort level with the knuckleball and transition to being a knuckleball pitcher were complete.
Thus far in 2012 Wright, now part of the Aron Aeros rotation, throws the knuckleball 70% of the time along with a fastball/slider/changeup. In 5 starts he has posted a record of 2-1 with a 1.45 ERA with 8.4 K/9, and 4.1BB/9.
Wright has a long way to go to be considered a major league prospect but he has certainly made tremendous strides since he was horsing around with the knuckleball and Wright himself is convinced as he told Tony Lastoria of Indians Prospect Insider:
“I like it and it is what I do now,” Wright said. “I just want to hone in on it and get it ready for the season. If I am successful with it I could do it until I am 40.”