NILES - Last year at this time, Sean Brady was a happy-go-lucky 18-year-old who just graduated.
Now, he's preparing to be the Scrappers' Opening Day starter.
Brady, a 2013 fifth-round pick by the Indians, just celebrated his 20th birthday on June 9. He also could have celebrated flying through the Arizona League (a rookie league), where he posted a 1.97 ERA with 30 strikeouts and six walks in 32 innings last season.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Mahoning Valley Scrappers outfielder D’Vone McClure, right, and catcher Shane Rowland stretch during practice Thursday before the annual Media Day at Eastwood Field. The Scrappers begin the 2014 season tonight.
"It feels like just yesterday I was pitching in high school," said Brady, who graduated from Ida Baker High School in Cape Coral, Fla. "It's gone by pretty quick."
The fun keeps coming for Brady, who pitches tonight when the Scrappers open the season on the road against the Jamestown Jammers. Brady, a hard-throwing left-hander, is ready for the opportunity.
"I'm already really excited," he said. "Obviously there's going to be a little nerves, excitement - all that combined together."
What's most important to the 6-foot, 175-pound Brady, who turned down a scholarship to the University of Florida to join the Indians, is that he continues the process that led to his quick promotion. He left high school throwing around 94 mph, and his velocity actually decreased since he joined the Indians organization (he's now around 91). The dropoff is because of his increased workload of throwing every day, he said, and while he wasn't crazy about the decline, it's actually aided his learning curve.
"It's creeping back up, but that's not really the big deal, velocity," he said. "The location of my pitches is the biggest thing. In high school, I really just tried to rear back the fastball and throw it by kids, and I was able to do that, but you come out here and you can't do that anymore. You've really got to focus on locating your pitches now."
One of his rookie-ball teammates didn't enjoy Arizona as much. D'Vone McClure wasn't bothered as much by the competition as he was the scorching Arizona heat.
"Two summers in the Arizona League - man, it was hot," said McClure, a 6-3, 190-pound outfielder who was selected in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. "It was a good experience though. I learned a lot. You really do learn a lot about yourself when you're out there playing every day. It's not so much about stats. It's about repetition and getting better at what you do. You got everything you need - cages, weight room, great coaches. I really tried to take advantage of it the best I could."
McClure didn't put up the most impressive numbers (batting .211 in 2012 and .218 in 2013), but as he mentioned, his time was more focused on polishing his skills, specifically his throwing. He said he only he used his arm to throw when he arrived at Arizona, and while that may seem normal, he added that it's imperative for an outfielder to drive off his back leg when releasing the ball.
"I was more of just an athlete throwing the ball from the outfield (in high school)," he said. "So I really worked on incorporating my legs. It really was huge for me. I've got stronger throws and my ball carries more."
The 20-year-old McClure said he's still working on his swing. The former football player - a highly touted wide receiver prospect at Jacksonville High School in Arkansas - says "I'll show my wheels when I need to," but he doesn't consider himself a singles-hitting speed demon.
"I worked hard with all my hitting coaches down there," said McClure, who singled out Mahoning Valley's hitting coach Phil Clark as someone who made a big impact. "He was big with me finding myself, finding my swing. Right now, I'm pretty much gap to gap and doubles. I'm hoping to have a few more in the home run column this year. I definitely think I'll turn into a doubles-and-dingers guy."
Both of the young prospects (McClure was ranked the Indians' No. 15 prospect by Baseball American and Brady was No. 30) have a chance to continue taking their careers in the right direction starting tonight.