In a span of a year, Josh Fleming went from rehabbing his elbow to pitching professional baseball with the Tampa Bay Rays organization.
On his way to becoming the first player in Webster University history to be drafted by a major league team, Fleming set the school record for ERA and lowest opponent’s batting average.
The biggest change for Fleming was adjusting to the level of competition from Division III baseball to the Rookie League.
“Instead of facing two or three good hitters every game like in college, you’re facing a whole lineup of guys who batted third or fourth on their teams,” Fleming said. “It’s pretty noticeable too. Every guy in the lineup has the ability to hit the ball 400 feet.”
Fleming said the coaching staff was key in helping with the adjustment to Rookie League level baseball. He became friends with the other pitchers on the staff, who helped show him some tips.
“It was really exciting, actually,” Fleming said. “It reminded me of going into my freshman year at Webster, again. Seeing new faces and getting to meet my future teammates, and learning about where they played at in college and high school.”
According to Fleming, he was able to adapt to a more rigorous schedule with more travel than college.
“Road trips and bus rides were always fun,” Fleming said. “The furthest trip we had was only about three hours, so it was not bad at all.”
On the road, Fleming roomed with Tyler Day, who is a right handed relief pitcher.
Day said the pitchers on the team would often play cards in the clubhouse during down time. He also said the coaching staff advised the pitchers to slow the game down and take a deep breath.
“The pitching staff spent everyday together and would often share pitch sequences with each other, and on what opposing hitters struggled with in certain counts,” Day said.
In his first appearance for Princeton, Fleming pitched two scoreless innings and earned a win. However, he endured a stretch in July in which Fleming allowed ten runs in three straight outings.
Fleming would only allow ten more runs in his final seven starts after his rough stretch. He struck out a season high five batters in his final start.
While the competition was better, Fleming said he went with the same approach on the mound.
“You just kind of have to have the same mentality you had in college,” Fleming said. “Just go after the hitter and have confidence in all of your pitches.”
Day said Fleming has the same attitude on the field regardless of it being a good or bad outing.
“Josh does a good job of changing speeds and knows when he could throw certain pitches in different counts,” Day said. “He also stays very composed on the mound, and stays calm.”
Tampa Bay scout Matt Alison said the organization sees Fleming as a starting pitcher. He also said it takes time for a starting pitcher to develop the stamina to handle a long schedule.
“Typically you are trying to get guys built up over time,” Alison said. “You don’t want a guy going from throwing 40 innings one year to 200 innings the next year. That is not optimal for trying to keep guys healthy and strong.”
Fleming threw 127.2 innings between college and professional baseball last season. It was more innings than he had thrown in the prior two seasons combined
Tampa Bay will give Fleming some time to rest his arm before starting an offseason workout program, according to Alison.
Alison said Fleming has good attributes and just needs to work on bettering his craft. He also said he thinks Fleming will continue to progress and learn to execute all of the pitches in his arsenal.
“He has always been a really good fastball command guy,” Alison said. “The changeup is good and I think it will continue to get better. I know he has been working on his breaking ball this summer from my conversations with him.”
Fleming said he hopes to build on the momentum of the past season.
“My goal is to come back, bigger, stronger and faster,” Fleming said. “I would like to put on some muscle and get to spring training feeling better than ever.”