Hey out there, this is Neil Wagner. I play in the Cleveland Indians’ Minor League system and I’m going to be sharing my Arizona Fall League experience with you in this blog while I’m out here, so I’ll start by letting you know a little bit about myself.
I grew up in Minnesota in Eden Prairie, which is a suburb of Minneapolis. I managed to fly somewhat under the radar throughout most of my high school career, and as a result I was faced with somewhat limited college choices if I wanted to continue playing baseball, but I eventually settled on North Dakota State University in Fargo, ND. NDSU is known more for its football program (8 Division II national championships, currently No. 6 in the I-AA polls, Go Herd!), women’s basketball (five national championships), and school of agriculture than it is for baseball, but when I saw Newman Outdoor field on my tour, I decided it was the place for me. Playing in Fargo, despite the less than ideal baseball weather, was a great experience, and winning our conference in 2004 is still one of my proudest baseball moments.
I got drafted by the Indians in 2005 after a rough junior year in which NDSU was transitioning from D-II to Division I, and I signed at the end of the summer. There were a lot of adjustments I had to make moving from NDSU to professional baseball, starting with getting used to being half a foot shorter than basically all the other pitchers (especially true with all the monsters we have on our AFL team). I also had to start essentially from scratch in terms of throwing offspeed pitches, which I never did a whole lot of in high school and college. The curveball I threw my first year in Mahoning Valley is still somewhat of a recurring joke among the guys I played with there, but I’d like to think I’ve adjusted pretty well overall. I spent most of this season playing for Kinston in the high-A Carolina League and got called up to our Double-A affiliate, Akron, for about the last month of the season including the playoffs. Double-A is a whole different beast. Hitters are a lot more adept at picking up patterns and zoning out bad pitches, but it was a good learning experience for me and hopefully I can continue to refine my pitches and delivery this fall.
I’m really excited to get the ball rolling on the Arizona Fall League season and continue working on doing the things I need to do to make that step to the big leagues. Having my pitching coach from last year, Ruben Niebla, on staff should make things a little easier for me since he knows me and helped me out a lot last year (especially in scrapping my aforementioned curveball). So far it has been great getting to know some of the faces that are usually in the other dugout and catching up with some of the guys I played with in the Hawaiian Winter League last year, but I think I speak for all the guys when I say we’re all ready to get out of Spring Training mode and get between the lines for some live game action. I’ll be checking in throughout the fall league to bring you updates and also share a bit of myself and my experience in the fall league, so look for more in the near future.