Clevinger talks comeback from Tommy John

Tribe's No. 15 prospect shares thoughts at Rookie Career Development Program

Clevinger talks comeback from Tommy John

CLEVELAND -- It is no surprise that Indians pitching prospect Mike Clevinger, with long brown hair that shoots out from beneath his baseball cap while on the mound, has been mistaken for Mets star Jacob deGrom. The young right-hander has grown accustomed to the comparison.

"I felt like I've made a couple kids' days," Clevinger said with a laugh. "They're like, 'Oh, deGrom?' I'll just be like, 'Hey,' walking into stadiums."

Cleveland can only hope that Clevinger develops into a deGrom lookalike in terms of performance on the mound, too.

During a recent sit-down with MLB.com at MLB's Rookie Career Development Program, Clevinger discussed a variety of topics, including his comeback from Tommy John surgery. The pitcher is currently ranked as the Tribe's 15th-best prospect by MLB.com and be will be in camp with the Indians this spring after being added to the 40-man roster this offseason.

Following a strong showing in 2015, Clevinger received the Indians' Bob Feller Award as the organization's Minor League pitcher of the year. That is quite an achievement, considering the righty missed most of the '12 and '13 seasons due to reconstructive surgery on his throwing elbow.

"I felt like it was just a big comeback year for me," Clevinger said, "just finally getting back, getting my feet underneath me, back from Tommy John. I feel like I didn't rebound as fast as what I guess the usual rate is for Tommy John. ... It took me a while to get my arm back, and then I felt like, once we started breaking down mechanics and got that into place, that's when the command came back with the arm. And it was just like a puzzle, and the pieces just finally fit together."

The 25-year-old Clevinger -- acquired from the Angels in exchange for reliever Vinnie Pestano on Aug. 7, 2014 -- turned in a 2.73 ERA with 145 strikeouts and 40 walks in 158 innings for Double-A Akron this past season. In all of Double-A, the righty ranked second in WHIP (1.06), third in strikeouts and fourth in opponents' average (.219).

Clevinger then turned in 15 1/3 shutout innings with 17 strikeouts and only five hits relinquished in two postseason starts for Triple-A Columbus.

"It was one of the highlights of our development system last year, the progress Mike made," Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations, said last month. "He's on a really good path."

Clevinger said he has made tremendous strides with his mechanics since joining the Indians and added that he is finally feeling comfortable again after his career-altering injury.

"I do feel for the first time that I'm comfortable where I'm at and with what I'm doing," he said. "I could write a book about coming back from Tommy John, it feels like. That was definitely the biggest feat of my life. ... It was more the mental grind to get back through it, to keep going. And then it's like, you're the guy that's hurt, you're not being used. You're almost like the lost toy. That's just how I felt.

"So it was grinding through that, and then, once I got into the season, and once I hit the struggles in the season, it wasn't the same kind of mental breakdown with those struggles. It was like, 'Well, I knew this was going to happen. I've got to wait. I've just got to wait.'"

Patience paid off for Clevinger last season, putting him firmly on the Indians' radar.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.