Through The Ranks

Swarmer, Alexy en­joy sec­ond sea­sons in pro base­ball

The Kutztown Area Patriot - - SPORTS - By Darryl Grum­ling

Last June, Matt Swarmer and A.J. Alexy be­gan their pro­fes­sional base­ball jour­neys.

Fif­teen months later, the two for­mer Berks pitch­ing stand­outs ap­pear to be on sat­is­fy­ing and suc­cess­ful paths.

Swarmer and Alexy each com­pleted their sec­ond Mi­nor League sea­sons last week, and both did plenty to brush up their pro mound re­sumes.

The 23-year-old Swarmer, a Gov­er­nor Mif­flin High and Kutz­town Univer­sity prod­uct, en­joyed an odyssey that saw him per­form at three dif­fer­ent lev­els (Sin­gle-A to TripleA), high­lighted by a high­ly­suc­cess­ful de­but for the Class AAA Iowa Cubs.

The 19-year-old Alexy, mean­while, racked up an im­pres­sive 113 strike­outs over a com­bined 94.1 in­nings for two Class A squads.

*** Af­ter be­ing drafted in the 19th round by the Chicago Cubs last year fol­low­ing a sea­son in which he was named to the All PSAC-East first team, Swarmer spent the sum­mer do­ing some “post-grad” work of sorts in the Ari­zona Rookie League. The 6-foot5, 175-pound right-han­der posted an 0-1 mark and 3.38 ERA with 23 strike­outs over 18.2 in­nings.

“I ba­si­cally had to learn how to pitch bet­ter,” said Swarmer, who throws a low90s four-and two-seam fast­ball to go along with a slider

and change-up. “In col­lege, I knew I could get away with most of my stuff, and I was pretty ef­fi­cient with my pitches.

“Mov­ing to pro­fes­sional base­ball, you have to learn how to set up your pitches, and each one has a pur­pose. You def­i­nitely need to throw strikes and get ahead in the count. If you don’t, the hit­ters are just go­ing to sit on a fast­ball and make you pay.”

Swarmer started out this sea­son at Sin­gleA South Bend (In­di­ana), where he was pri­mar­ily used as a long-re­lief man out of the bullpen. Two months into the sea­son, he was sent to short-sea­son Eu­gene (Ore­gon) to stretch out into a starter, and his pitch count grad­u­ally in­creased as the sea­son pro­gressed.

Af­ter re­turn­ing to South Bend, Swarmer fig­ured he’d just fin­ish out the sea­son there. But in the wee hours of Aug. 19, with South Bend in a se­ries at Lans­ing, Michi­gan, Swarmer was awak­ened by a phone call from man­ager Jimmy Gon­za­lez, in­form­ing him he was be­ing sent up to Triple-A Iowa – and had to make a 6 a.m. flight to Nashville, where the Cubs were fac­ing the Sounds.

“I had no idea,” Swarmer re­called. “When I got the call, I just fig­ured they had an open ros­ter spot that I was go­ing to fill.”

Lit­tle did Swarmer know he was go­ing to be start­ing for Iowa on the mound later that night.

“They didn’t tell me un­til like 3 or 4 (p.m.),” Swarmer said. “I was pretty ex­cited. I just wanted to see how my stuff held up against those hit­ters. It’s a big jump. At Sin­gle- and Dou­ble-A, hit­ters are re­ally ag­gres­sive and will go up there hack­ing. At TripleA they’ll take pitches and just wait for you to make a mis­take.”

Suf­fice it to say Swarmer didn’t make too many mis­takes in his Triple-A de­but. He struck out a sea­son-best eight and fired a sea­son-high seven in­nings of five-hit shutout ball, al­low­ing just one walk in an 84-pitch stint that spear­headed a 4-0 Iowa win.

Though Swarmer was sent back down to South Bend a few days later, he was more than sat­is­fied with a sea­son that saw him fin­ish up the fi­nal two weeks at Dou­ble-A Ten­nessee. He fin­ished a com­bined 7-5 with 105 strike­outs over 101.1 in­nings and a 4.71 ERA that was some­what in­flated by a rough fi­nal out­ing for Ten­nessee.

“It felt like I was all over the place,” Swarmer joked of his trav­els. “And mov­ing from Sin­gle-A to Triple-A in a year, even if it was only a spot start, was a great feel­ing.”

Now Swarmer hopes to take the next step in his pro­gres­sion through the sys­tem of the de­fend­ing World Se­ries cham­pi­ons.

“I’d like to im­prove as far as throw­ing more in­side and work­ing both sides of the plate,” he said. “I’ve also been work­ing on an in­side fast­ball to try to de­velop an­other out pitch. My weight’s close to 180. I’m try­ing to even­tu­ally get to 205, and maybe that can help with my ve­loc­ity. And I’d like to get quicker outs, maybe pitch to con­tact more and not al­ways try to strike guys out.”

*** Alexy’s pro ap­pren­tice­ship came in the sum­mer of 2016 af­ter he was taken in the 11th round by the Los An­ge­les Dodgers. The 6-4, 195-pound righty went 1-0 with a 4.61 ERA and 12 strike­outs in 13.2 in­nings in Ari­zona Rookie ball be­fore be­gin­ning the ‘17 cam­paign with the Sin­gle-A Great Lakes Loons.

Fea­tur­ing a live fast­ball com­ple­mented by a curve and change, Alexy en­tered this sea­son ranked the 17th-best prospect in the Dodgers or­ga­ni­za­tion by mlb.com. He fanned 86 bat­ters over 73.2 in­nings while post­ing a 3.67 ERA and de­ceiv­ing 2-6 mark be­fore be­ing sent to Texas as part of the Yu Darvish trade in late-July.

Alexy adapted to his new sur­round­ings just fine, notch­ing a 1-1 mark with a 3.05 ERA and 27 strike­outs over 20.2 in­nings for the Hick­ory Craw­dads of the Sin­gle-A South At­lantic League. He fin­ished the sea­son with a flour­ish, strik­ing out eight over five in­nings of one-hit shutout ball in ab­sorb­ing a no-de­ci­sion in a 2-0 loss to Charleston Aug. 30. Op­po­nents hit just a com­bined .180 against Alexy this sea­son.

At Twin Val­ley, Alexy was a first-team All-USA To­day se­lec­tion as a se­nior, when he went 6-1 with a 1.24 ERA and 71 strike­outs over 48.2 in­nings in help­ing the Raiders win the Berks Con­fer­ence Divi­sion 2 ti­tle and ad­vance to league semi­fi­nals and District 3-AAA quar­ter­fi­nals.

*** Two other for­mer lo­cal star pitch­ers – Boyertown grad A.J. Bogucki and Wil­son grad Andy Ravel – also re­cently closed out their sec­ond pro­fes­sional sea­sons.

The 22-year-old Bogucki, a two-time Mer­cury Area Player of the Year, posted a 4-2 mark with a 3.56 ERA, one save and 50 strike­outs in 55.2 in­nings for Class A Hager­stown of the South At­lantic League. The 6-foot-3, 187-pound Bogucki was taken in the eighth round of the 2016 draft out of North Carolina by Wash­ing­ton.

Ravel, a 22-year-old who played col­le­giately at Kent State and was taken in the sev­enth round of the ‘16 draft by the Blue Jays, went 6-9 with a 7.56 ERA and 75 strike­outs over 114.1 in­nings for the Lans­ing (Michi­gan) Lugnuts of the Class A Mid­west League.

For­mer Oley Val­ley and Kutz­town Univer­sity prod­uct Nate Reed, a 29-yearold left-han­der, posted a 3-2 mark over 52 in­nings for the Rich­mond Fly­ing Squir­rels of the Dou­ble-A Eastern League.

COUR­TESY TEN­NESSEE SMOKIES

Matt Swarmer (Gov. Mif­flin) played in the Cubs’ farm sys­tem in the 2017 sea­son and as­cended as high as Triple-A.

KU ATHLETICS

For­mer Kutz­town pitcher Matt Swarmer (Gov. Mif­flin) as­cended as high as AAA in his sec­ond sea­son in pro base­ball in the Cubs’ sys­tem.

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