Trey Haley used to be the kind of high school athlete who could practically roll out of bed and pitch his Central Heights High School team to a win, even in the ultra-competitive hotbed of high school baseball that exists in Texas.
Blessed with a tall, wiry frame at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds and boasting a right arm that could blow fastballs past hitters in the mid- to high-90 mph range, it often was as if the current Aeros reliever was just toying with outmatched opponents in high school.
It’s a big reason why Haley passed on a scholarship to play at Rice University in 2008 and instead chose to begin his professional career after the Indians made the then-teenager their second-round (76th overall) draft pick out of Nacogdoches, Texas.
But Haley quickly found that despite being ranked by Baseball America as the 33rd-best high school pitching prospect in the nation, the learning curve in the jump to the pros was tougher than he’d expected. Add injuries, a role change and the need to morph from just being a hard thrower into a smart pitcher, and it’s been a wild ride for Haley.
Because he didn’t sign until mid-August, Haley made just three appearances in short-season ball at the end of the 2008 season. Then he spent the next three years in the low Class-A Lake County Captains’ starting rotation, before being converted to a reliever in 2011 after two starts.
Haley began to see better success in the bullpen and was promoted to high Class-A Kinston, but a groin injury forced him to miss nearly two months and limited him to 29 appearances.
Finally at the start of last season, Haley began the best stretch of his career at high-Class-A Carolina, limiting opponents to a 1.26 ERA with a save in nine appearances.
But just when he was on the upswing, he reinjured his groin. Haley underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia in June. After four rehab innings in Arizona, Haley was moved to Carolina and quickly began lighting up radar guns in the high 90s, even touching 100 mph before making his Double-A debut with the Aeros in August.
Haley’s arrival in Akron was a huge shot in the arm for the bullpen. Haley did not allow a run in six of his nine outings down the regular-season stretch for the Aeros. He helped to eat valuable late innings by working two innings or more in five of the appearances.
As if the second half of his season wasn’t impressive enough, Haley pitched well in the prestigious Arizona Fall League, posting 1.64 ERA with the Scottsdale Scorpions.
Haley earned a coveted spot on the Indians’ 40-man roster. Finally, Haley’s professional career seemed on track. Back with the Aeros at the start of this season, he held hitters to no runs and gave up five hits over his first seven appearances before a new adversity hit.
This time, there wasn’t an injury to blame, despite his velocity being down by 8-10 mph. Something was wrong, but for a full month beginning in mid-May, neither Haley nor Aeros pitching coach Greg Hibbard could get a handle on why he was so out of whack.
“When I first got here I felt really good,” Haley, 23, said. “Then I had a couple outings where my body just wasn’t feeling the way it needed it to be.”
From May 14 through Jun 16, Haley struggled, giving up 14 runs on 13 hits and 11 walks – in a span of 3⅔ innings.
“We’re trying to figure out the answer to why he’s not at his best,” Indians director of player development Ross Atkins said recently. “We know he’s working hard to find it.”
But with dual mental and physical adjustments, little by little Haley (1-1, three saves and a 5.64 ERA) and Hibbard have worked to tame the bout of wildness.
“There were some subtle ways we attacked some delivery issues within his routine,” Hibbard said. “We incorporated some things in his throwing program to help allow him to repeat his arm slot on a daily basis. But because he had such a power arm, you have to be careful with how much you give a guy like that.”
So far, the mechanical adjustments are working and Haley’s mental approach has sharpened as well. Despite throwing between 92-94 mph, Haley has not allowed a run in his last six appearances and has given up just four hits.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Aeros blog at http://www.ohio.com/aeros. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.