AKRON Call it an All-Star rebuttal.
Akron RubberDucks starter Jake Paulson has gone from cast-off to All-Star in a matter of a few weeks and the 6-foot-7 right-hander couldn’t be more excited. In spring training, he was released by the Cincinnati Reds, the organization that drafted him and with whom he spent his first four seasons of professional baseball. It was a startling moment, but one that quickly turned into an opportunity when the Cleveland Indians, with whom the Reds share a spring training complex in Goodyear, Ariz., signed Paulson.
"Getting released by the Reds, it’s hard at first … that’s the organization I was drafted by, so I was there for a while, but the Indians gave me the opportunity and I’m going to play my role," Paulson said. "Sometimes it’s better for guys to get a new atmosphere, new coaches and to get new eyes looking at you. A change it sometimes good and I think it was good for me. I wasn’t starting over there and I wanted to be a starter, so I think it was the best case for me."
Getting rolling with a new team is a challenge in and of itself; doing so with just over a week left in spring training is another matter entirely. When Paulson signed with the Indians, he knew just two people in the organization, but as he spent extended time getting ready for the season with his new organization, he found that many players approached him to introduce themselves and welcome him.
That made for a smooth transition, but it still took time before he was deemed ready to take the mound in game situations for the Indians organization. Having been a reliever with the Reds during the end of his tenure, he had to build back up to starting and it wasn’t until April 9 that he made his debut with his new organization.
When he did, he pitched just 3.1 innings in his debut with Class-A Lynchburg. After four starts with the Hellcats, he was promoted to Akron and that’s when his season took off. Paulson won his first two starts with Akron and has never looked back, amassing a 4-3 record with a 2.91 ERA that’s even more impressive when you consider the fact that his ERA has been 2.92 or lower during his entire two-month tenure in Akron.
As a member of the staff that leads the Eastern League in earned-run average, that’s par for the course, but it was also enough to punch a ticket to the league’s All-Star Game at ARM & HAMMER Park in Trenton, N.J. Paulson is one of five RubberDucks tabbed for the game alongside outfielders Andrew Calica and Connor Marabell, third baseman Joe Sever and shortstop Willi Castro.
Asked if the selection feels like a bit of vindication after being released by the Reds, Paulson admitted it is on some level.
"Yes, it is. It’s an honor. I’m glad I was selected and I’m glad I’m representing the Akron RubberDucks and the Indians. I’m glad the Indians gave me an opportunity and they told me I was going to be a starter right away, so I’m glad I got a Double-A opportunity and I’m just trying to do the best I can," he said. "It definitely motivates me because essentially they’re saying they don’t want you anymore, so it motivates me, but I understand it’s a business and so hopefully they’re going to regret this and I’m going to keep on doing me and see where it goes."
When it comes to being an Eastern League All-Star, Paulson appreciates the chance to be alongside the best the league has to offer and admitted that having just two months in Akron to his credit, he hasn’t seen everyone in the league and is still getting to know names and faces.
Getting to share a locker room with other top pitchers and break down trade craft with them is a welcome chance as well and although his fellow All-Stars come from several different teams, Paulson said pitchers are generally willing to share ideas and advice with one another in such settings.
"Most guys are very open. if you ask how they hold a certain pitch, they’re going to show you and I’m always looking at guys who throw like me. Certain guys who throw 95 (mph) or have a 12-to-6 curveball, I’m not going to try to focus on how they’re doing it … I’m just going to try to focus on guys who throws sinkers, throw sliders and change-ups," he said.
Given that players are chosen for the All-Star team from a combination of voting among the league’s managers, broadcasters and writers, it seems that Paulson’s strong start in Akron has gotten him noticed with his new organization. Their recognition has also allowed him a measure of vindication and redemption as he continues trying to prove that the Reds swung and missed when they decided to release him.
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