It is a widely accepted belief that the jump from Hi-A to AA baseball is the hardest jump that a minor league baseball player as to make in his career. For me, when I made that jump it seemed to me that the hitters got more patient and they would wait the pitch that they wanted to hit, instead of chasing everything. If you are a pitcher that throws strikes, this shouldn’t be a big problem for you, but if you have problems locating a fastball then you could get hurt with a big hit if you happen to walk a few people. The biggest difference in hitters when making the AA to AAA transition is now every pitcher throws relatively hard and knows where it is going. Now, not only does the physical side of the game come out a lot more in AAA, but you hear the terminology of being “cerebral” be thrown around a lot, and it took me a few days to recognize what that really means. To me it means thinking but not…..make sense? Well, as a pitcher, you cannot be on the mound and thinking, “ok I want to throw a fastball… but what if he’s expecting a fastball? Does he know, I know what he’s possibly thinking? Maybe, I should go throw a curveball here.” See what I mean? Being cerebral to me means knowing what pitch you want to throw in what count and having conviction in it, no matter what the pitch is and what the count is. I recently had an outing where I felt extremely strong and I felt extremely positive about a certain pitch I wanted to throw to lead a batter off, and he just happened to deposit it over the wall…..it happens. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the hitter. And it was in that second, that I learned very quickly that sometimes things like that will happen, more so at the higher levels.
From what I have seen since I have made my AA to AAA jump, is that the biggest difference in the game is everyone has a clue in what they want to do. When the batter is in the box he knows exactly what he is looking for in every count and if it’s not there they will not swing under any circumstances, and every pitcher knows what they want to throw in every count. There seems to be no guess-hitters in the lineup or pitchers who are just up there throwing, like you see in the lower levels. I will admit that I have gotten away with some pretty poorly located pitches, but they weren’t the pitches the hitter was looking for. In my last outing, a batter hits a 0-0 low and away fastball the opposite way for a homerun. There is a lot more thinking going on at the AAA level that I have noticed. Gone now are the free-swingers and the rear back and “huck-it” guys. Looking back now, it wasn’t truly pitchers and hitters.
I have been fairly pleased with the way I have been performing up here, and I am just taking it day by day in hoping to stick with the club. It’s very hard to stick around at the higher levels, especially when you were a “call-up” because guys are going up and down at the major league level so much so, that when you get a chance you have to prove to the coaching staff and upper level management that you belong there. There is a very small window to try and stick, and every time you step in the batter’s box or on the mound you have to go out there with something to prove. The days are gone of “just feeling for it.”
Traveling is different up here as well. Gone are the days of the 10-13 hour bus rides. Instead there is the welcoming arms of 4am wake-up calls and 530am flights to your destination city with an hour layover, usually somewhere only to turn around and play at 7pm at night. Don’t get me wrong, I love that the extremely long bus ride days are over, but 5am flights aren’t something to write home about to mom either (haha). I feel, up in AAA, there is very much a big league feel, like inadvertently they are trying to keep the same atmosphere that is up with the big club in order to keep your up and down AAA/MLBers accustomed to it and letting us newbies get adjusted. Overall, I say things have been very positive for me and I only hope I can stick around and keep progressing and learning everyday, just as I have been doing all season.
After all whether you are in short season ball or AAA ball, we are all on those backfields together and it is the goal of everyone to get off those and become the player whose name you cannot forget and not the “player to be named later.”