WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—For the first two months of the season, Andrew Chafin pitched up to his status as the 43rd overall pick in last year’s draft.
At the end of May, the Diamondbacks lefthander ranked sixth in the high Class A California League with a 2.91 ERA after 59 innings for Visalia, and he had a 3-0 record to go with it. He punctuated May by striking out 11 over eight innings against San Jose on May 27, but then the wheels came off.
Little has gone right in Chafin’s four June outings, as he’s given up 25 earned runs in 15 1/3 innings, inflating his ERA to 5.35 in 74 innings of work.
“It’s definitely going to be a learning experience for me,” Chafin said. “My last few outings have been a little bit rough, but I try not to worry about that and just go out and try to continue having the success I had in the beginning part.”
The biggest culprit has been Chafin’s losing the strike zone. His slide began when he walked five in 4 1/3 innings on June 1, and he’s issued 13 free passes in 11 innings since.
Like almost any first-year player, Chafin admits he’s still adjusting to the rigors of a full season in the minors. He threw 89 innings in last year’s college season for Kent State and only one inning in the pros after he signed in August. He’s going to blow by that total before long with his 74 innings in the books at the halfway point of the minor league season.
Despite his June struggles, Chafin still leads the Cal League in strikeouts (97) and tops all league starters in strikeouts-per-nine innings (11.80), largely on the strength of his devastating slider and power fastball as he earned himself a trip to the California-Carolina League All-Star Game in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Pitching the third inning for the Cal League, Chafin retired Red Sox prospect Xander Bogaerts on fly ball to right to start his inning, but that was followed by a walk, a double by the Orioles’ Ty Kelly and an RBI groundout from the Red Sox’s Jackie Bradley. Chafin induced a groundout to short from the White Sox’s Michael Earley to end the inning.
Chafin’s fastball can get up to 95 mph but he operated in the 88-90 range in his inning of work in Winston-Salem. When Chafin’s at his best, he can get some cutting action on his four-seamer while mixing in a two-seamer with run and sink, with the slider as his knockout pitch.
He possesses a changeup too, but it’s required more work.
“We did change my changeup grip a little bit,” he said. “It’s a little bit more relaxed of a grip where I can get more of a better feel off the end of my fingers.”
Chafin has been practicing his new changeup grip as much as possible, from using it to play catch to working it into his game work more frequently, though the pitch remains his No. 3 option.
But this season will be more than learning a new way to throw a changeup. The Cal League is an unforgiving place for young hurlers, and Chafin is learning to fight through a kind of struggle he didn’t face in college or in the first two months at Visalia.
“Learn to keep my head up,” he said. “You’re going to have failures at some point. You can’t sit back and think on that. You gotta maybe look back, see what you were doing right when you were pitching well, and just try to get back to that, turn things around.”