Angels Dig Deep To Find Late-Blooming Reckling

SALT LAKE CITY—On a mild Las Vegas day in early April, Trevor Reckling faced the heat of his first Triple-A starting assignment with a poise that belied his 20 years of age. The Salt Lake lefthander breezed through the first four innings without a snag against a potent 51s batting order.

Trouble, however, wasn't long in coming.

A couple of walks, an error and an infield hit helped contribute to bases loaded situations in the fifth and sixth innings.

Reckling bore down, never panicking, and escaped with a pair of snappy double-play groundballs.

Just like that, the 2007 eighth-round pick had made his mark in his typical fashion.

"It's just baseball," Reckling said afterward. "I tried to treat it as just another game."

Reckling was not quite as efficient in the two starts immediately afterward. He struggled with location, leading to eight walks and a 6.28 ERA.

"(The Pacific Coast League) is not a forgiving league for a pitcher," Salt Lake manager Bobby Mitchell said. "It's a tough league for a 20-year-old pitcher. He's moving right along, though. He's shown a lot of maturity for his young age."

Despite his struggles, Reckling's tools for success, beyond his physical gifts, are evident. The Angels believe their 6-foot-2, 205-pound prized package will tread the same path as homegrown rotation mainstays Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana.

"He has tremendous talent," Angels farm director Abe Flores said. "He has three pitches for strikes and he's a lefthander. When you talk about three plus weapons with command, you're going to move.

"Trevor is smart and aware. He's a good listener and a hell of worker."

Driven To Succeed

Reckling's work ethic and desire to succeed, on top of his talent, have helped his star rise like a rocket through the Los Angeles system.

Already there is talk about the big leagues in 2011, or maybe as soon as late this season. None of this was expected—except by Reckling—a few years ago. Not bad for a kid from St. Benedict's Prep, a small private school in Newark, N.J.

Three years ago, Rick Porcello was the big gun coming out of New Jersey.

"I was the kid who was underestimated," Reckling said. "I wasn't 'that guy.' I wasn't a Rick Porcello. I had to work for it. I use it for motivation.

"My dad said, 'No one is going to believe in you? I'll believe in you.' I'm going all the way now."

Reckling's lack of velocity in high school discouraged many scouts. He was throwing in the low- to mid-80s. Right now, his fastball has been clocked in the low 90s, but Reckling's curveball and changeup are nearly big league ready.

"Trevor should have been drafted a lot higher," Angels scouting director Eddie Bane said. "We got lucky. We were a little less dumb than everyone else."

Fortunately for Los Angeles, their Northeast area scout Greg Morhardt, who also signed Mike Trout in 2009, looked beyond Reckling's lack of a big heater. He saw great athleticism, excellent arm speed and a maturity and poise.

"He was focused and a competitor," Morhardt said. "His father (Richard) created a tremendous support system. We can all fall in love with the radar gun. But this was a guy who just loved to compete."

Reckling's pitching improved once he stopped being a multi-sport competitor at St. Benedict's.

"I played basketball, but my dad shut that down," Reckling said. "He didn't think I was going to grow anymore."

Competing with and against older athletes played a large role in Reckling's makeup. Long before throwing his first varsity pitch as a freshman, Reckling had worked out with the team.

"Even with the bases loaded and three balls on the hitter, he still looks like he's in charge," Morhardt said. "They like being in that setting—in the moment of competition."

Reckling's early development was shaped by three mentors: Edwin Ortiz, Michael DiPiano and, most important, his father Richard.

A product of MLB's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, Reckling played for Ortiz from age 12 to 18. Ortiz taught him the curve and change as well as thinking beyond baseball or the tough streets of Newark.

Former St. Benedict's baseball coach DiPiano simply gave Reckling the ball.

"When he was in seventh grade, he started hanging around practice," DiPiano said. "He was able to step right in as a freshman. He always knew what he wanted to do more than anyone else. He was not going to pitch for some junior college."

Father Knows Best

Reckling's father was the one constant. Even as his mother and father divorced, they made sure their son had a strong base of support.

"My dad always kept me in line," Reckling said. "He was a strong person who kept me out of trouble and on the right path. I get calls from buddies of mine back home, guys I played with who are out there doing wrong things, and they tell me how fortunate I was to have the dad I had."

For Richard Reckling's part, he was also the product of a broken home and didn't have a relationship with his father. He vowed to be everything to his children that his father wasn't.

"I was tough on him," Richard said. "I'm militant. I believe life is hard and you work for what you get. I'm very proud of Trevor. His success doesn't surprise me."

Reckling found success right off the bat. Fresh out of the draft, the 18-year-old struck out the first two batters he faced as a professional in the Rookie-level Arizona League.

The next season with low Class A Cedar Rapids, Reckling went 10-7, 3.37 in 26 starts while striking out 128 batters in 152 innings. He began 2009 with high Class A Rancho Cucamonga, but he quickly was ushered to Double-A Arkansas to fill a roster spot following the death of Nick Adenhart.

As a 20-year-old in the Texas League last year, Reckling went 8-7, 2.93 with 106 whiffs in 135 innings for Double-A Arkansas. He walked too many batters, 75, but made up for it by being so tough to hit. He allowed just four homers in 23 starts.

Later that summer, Reckling threw seven shutout innings and struck out 11 in an 8-0 victory against China in a World Cup game in Regensburg, Germany. The 11 strikeouts set a record for a Team USA pitcher in World Cup play.

Part of a trio of promising young starters for Salt Lake, including Sean O'Sullivan and Trevor Bell, Reckling has shown flashes of why he is a top prospect.

"I don't want him to worry about command so much that it takes away from his fastball," Bane said.

Described as a good teammate—"People gravitate toward him," Bane said—Reckling has been able to mentally shrug off the one bad inning that plagued both starts since his wonderful first outing in Las Vegas.

"I've always wanted to get to the big leagues and stay there for a long time," Reckling said. "It's always been a dream of mine."


Martin Renzhofer covers the Bee
 for the Salt Lake Tribune