Claysburg-Kimmel High School and University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown pitching product Kaleb Fleck has no personal timetable for advancing through the National League Arizona Diamondbacks' minor league system, but the year 2013 couldn't have started much better for him.
After spending the 2012 season with the South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks - the Diamondbacks' long-season Class A team in the Midwest League - Fleck was promoted by the organization to start this spring with Arizona's high Class A Visalia (Calif.) Rawhide affiliate in the California League.
In his first five appearances with the Rawhide this season, all in relief, the right-handed Fleck pitched five scoreless innings, posting one victory and one save. He allowed just two hits in those five outings, striking out two batters and walking four.
Claysburg-Kimmel graduate Kaleb Fleck is pitching in the Arizona organization.
"It's definitely been a good start,'' Fleck, 24, said in a recent telephone interview. "This is a hitter's league for sure, and having success right away builds my confidence. It's a good feeling.''
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Fleck, who was a starting pitcher during his college days at UPJ, now feels right at home in the bullpen. Last year with South Bend, he logged a 4-2 record and 2.73 earned run average with three saves and seven holds while working 29 innings and appearing in 24 games. He struck out 19 batters, walked 16, and allowed 28 hits.
"I was a starter all through college, but I'm definitely getting used to the transition [to the bullpen],'' said Fleck, who was picked up the Diamondbacks as a non-drafted free agent in September 2011. "I enjoy coming into the game and getting the save or the hold.''
Fleck - who grew up playing baseball in the Hollidaysburg Area School District - had an interesting spring training with the Diamondbacks this year as well. On Wednesday, March 19, he pitched two shutout innings against the San Diego Padres in a major league game at Scottsdale, Ariz. Facing established players like Chase Headley and Mark Kotsay, Fleck allowed just one single, struck out two batters, and walked none.
"I threw the sixth and seventh innings that day,'' Fleck said. "It was an awesome experience. I had faced some major leaguers in spring training last year while playing in minor league games, but that's the first that I pitched in an actual major league spring training game. Headley and Kotsay both grounded out. My adrenalin was definitely moving that day. It's a dream to get to that level. To get a taste of that was awesome.''
Fleck's pitching coach at Visalia this year is Gil Heredia, who won 57 games in an 11-year pitching career with four major league teams - the Oakland Athletics, Montreal Expos, San Francisco Giants, and Texas Rangers. Heredia thinks that Fleck possesses impressive velocity on his fast ball.
"Kaleb has a plus fast ball, where a lot of our pitchers don't have that,'' said Heredia, who also worked with Fleck in the Diamondbacks' extended spring training in 2012. "His velocity ranges from 90 miles an hour to 95 miles per hour. That's pretty good. His velocity is a luxury for him. He still needs to learn to use his secondary pitches, like his curve ball and slider. If he gets his secondary pitches to become a lot crisper and sharper, he has the potential to be a big strikeout pitcher.''
Heredia also appreciates Fleck's work ethic.
"He's a good person who's very disciplined,'' Heredia said. "He's a hard worker, and he has the potential to go far in this game.''
Fleck - who finished his college degree in biology last December at UPJ - joins every other minor league player in his aspiration to someday make it to the major leagues. But he knows that the only thing he can control is his own individual performance on the mound.
"My goals are to keep progressing through the system, and to do what I can to keep moving up levels [in the organization],'' Fleck said. "There are so many factors that come into play as to whether you can move up. Some are completely out of my control. I've just got to throw well here, and whatever happens, happens.''