With every outing, short as they have been, Blake Bivens has felt a change.
Assigned to the Gulf Coast League to begin his professional career, after being drafted in June out of high school in Danville, Virginia, the right-hander has been used in twenty innings, making four starts. In that time, he’s given up nine runs, 23 hits, allowing 10 walks, while striking out 16 for the rookie league club. He’s pitched no more that four innings at a time, with most of his appearances lasting just two innings.
There have been challenges for the Rays 4th round pick as he’s made the transition.
"It’s been a big adjustment," Bivens said Sunday. "The first time out I was very nervous. You get more comfortable with more innings. And you have to quickly make adjustments or you’ll get in trouble."
The Rays drafted a lot of pitching in the early rounds, including Brent Honeywell (2nd round) and Brock Burke (3rd round), Bivens current teammate, and also a high school pick. Like anyone drafted out of high school, the moment of decision is a heavy one. But for Bivens, who turned down a scholarship offer to Liberty University, there was little hesitation.
"I’d thought about college of course. And I thought I’d go to school. But then the Rays called and that changed everything," he said.
As a senior in 2014, 6-foot-2 200 pound Bivens posted a 9-0 record with a 0.36 ERA, striking out 99 batters in 53 innings for George Washington High School. MLB.com reported that his fastball had improved and sits 90-92 mph. Bivens already understands the importance of throwing his fastball for strikes at the pro level.
"If you can’t do that, you’re going to have problems. Hitters here can hit better velocity here. So I’m working on keeping the ball down and staying ahead of them."
He’s pitching to contact, and keeping the walks to a minimum, a promising sign as the nineteen-year old improves his command and faces quicker, smarter hitters at the next level in 2015. All arrows point to him remaining a starter, which he was for almost entirely through high school. But it’s still early to tell what the Rays plan is for him. Every report projects him in a starting role, particularly if he can develop a third pitch.
High school picks certainly come with their share of questions. But far beyond developing their skills so quickly in a pressure-filled environment, they have to exhibit maturity that might not come so easily. It’s that aspect that Bivens quickly mentions when looking ahead at the rest of this inaugural season.
"I’m working mostly on the mental mind-set. You can’t let things get to you. If a guy hits a ball and it’s hard hit, he turns it into a single. And I can’t let that frustrate me. I look ahead at getting the ground ball double play. The mental part has been the biggest thing so far, and I think I’m doing pretty good so far."