NILES - When Julian Merryweather stepped onto the mound during Mahoning Valley's 2-1 loss to the Auburn Doubledays Tuesday, he said he felt some butterflies, something Merryweather didn't think he'd experience again.
The Cleveland Indians' fifth-round pick in the 2014 MLB first-year player draft was making his first minor-league appearance, but it was a minor-league appearance that two years ago seemed extremely unlikely.
The 6-foot-4 right-hander was coming off his sophomore season at Skyline College, a junior college in San Mateo County, Calif., where he went 0-7 as a starter and recorded an ERA of more than 6.00. Merryweather had no prospects of playing collegiate baseball outside of Oklahoma Baptist University, an NAIA school, and that's when things started turning around for the Berkeley, Calif. native.
"It was a bumpy career, honestly," Merryweather said. "I started at junior college for two years, didn't see a lot of success and faced a lot of adversity. I went out to Oklahoma, played there for two more years, really kind of figured stuff out there, found myself there and just took off my senior year. That's probably the best I've done up to this point."
Merryweather's statistics at Oklahoma Baptist were mind-boggling if one happened to know his work at Skyline. Over a two-year span, the 200-pound pitcher went 22-5, had an ERA of 1.73 in 182 innings of work and registered 208 strikeouts as a Bison. His senior season was enough to garner interest from major-league organizations, as Merryweather went 12-3, pitched 105 innings, amassed more than 130 strikeouts and tied the second-lowest ERA in a single season in school history with a 1.07.
That performance led to Merryweather receiving a phone call on June 6, and with the 158th overall pick, the Indians selected him.
"You're hearing from different teams, and when you finally get that call saying you're getting drafted in a few picks, it all hits you," Merryweather said. "Especially going top five (rounds), that was a dream come true for me. I could have never thought that was going to happen."
The 22 year old joined Mahoning Valley five days before his first appearance, and from what Scrappers pitching coach Greg Hibbard has seen so far, things are looking good.
Merryweather is more of a power pitcher who relies on three pitches - a fastball, changeup and a curveball. His fastball has been clocked in at just more than 90 miles per hour.
"Just looking at his mechanics, he's right over the top with the right-arm slot," Hibbard said. "He kind of squats when he goes to the rubber, but he's a drop-and-drive guy. So, for the time that he's here, that's not going to be many adjustments that we're going to do with him."
On Tuesday, Merryweather said he tried to establish his fastball command early and struggled, but his assessment may have been too harsh. He tossed two scoreless innings and allowed just one runner to reach base safely - a lead-off walk to Cody Gunter in the seventh. Of his 23 pitches, 13 of them were strikes.
"Once he kind of got a feel for his delivery, he commanded the ball at the bottom of the zone and he threw that well," Hibbard said. "He threw some really good changeups. He didn't get many offers on his changeup tonight, but he was commanding it down in the zone with consistency."
It was an unfamiliar situation for Merryweather, as he's used to starting off games instead of coming in relief. While saying he enjoyed getting his first shot with the Scrappers, he admitted his main goal is to start off a game.
"That might have been my third relief appearance ever," Merryweather said. "I've always been a starter. I definitely enjoy it. I like coming in the game and just letting it out for a few innings, but I'd say I'm definitely more comfortable as a starter."
Based on his track record, it's not hard to see him getting an opportunity to start at some point.