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'Ultra-competitive' Clayton Andrews Intent On Proving Himself At Every Stop

Clayton Andrews Buckdavidsongetty
Clayton Andrews (Photo by Buck Davidson/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Clayton Andrews knows he can’t escape “the elephant in the room.”

The left-handed pitcher, who has also been a standout center fielder at points throughout his career, has done nothing but produce at whatever he’s been asked to do going back to high school, at Long Beach State and now in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

But at 5-feet, 6-inches in height, Andrews is often overlooked.

“Even on this team, I’m pretty undersized to be playing professional baseball. That’s the only chip I really go in with,” Andrews said. “I think that I’ve proven that I don’t really need to try to prove myself, but I mean, I usually go out there and that’s exactly what I try to do. Because, I know the elephant in the room that most people are thinking is that I’m shorter, and I’m just trying to prove that you don’t have to be a really big guy to succeed in this game.”

And now he’s proving it with his country on his chest.

Andrews was a key contributor as Team USA advanced to the Super Round of the Premier12 tournament, setting down all six batters he faced in relief across two games of Group-A play in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Against the Netherlands on Saturday, Andrews threw a 1-2-3 seventh inning on just seven pitches, including a swinging strikeout. He was called back into action against the Dominican Republic on Monday with one out in the third and got two quick outs on five pitches, and then got a two-pitch flyout to open the fourth. His two outings ended up mirroring each other in what matters most: three batters faced, three batters retired, seven pitches thrown.

It’s exactly what USA Baseball General Manager Eric Campbell envisioned from Andrews and the reason he’s on this team after a solid stint in the Arizona Fall League.

“We knew from him at Long Beach that he’s ultra-competitive,” Campbell said. “He played great not only at Long Beach, but in the lead-up in the Cape Cod League. So we knew he could pitch and play.

“He’s impressed a lot of seasoned pro coverage scouts, and they’re like, ‘Hey, if you can get this guy, he’ll flat out go get anybody at any time.’ The way he pitches, he doesn’t just have one pitch, he uses secondary stuff really well. And (he’s) just tough as nails.”

USA Baseball pitching coach and former Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price agreed.

“He commands three pitches,” said Price, who was recently named pitching coach for the Phillies. “He competes well. He’s obviously a superior athlete to be able to pitch and to be a center fielder and defend, hit and run the bases. (I) kind of feel like we got a special talent there.”

Andrews’ three-pitch mix features a changeup and slider that he admits is “a bit slurvey,” but Price said it all builds from how he uses his fastball that sits in the low 90s.

“(Pitchers), they’re only as good as the fastball,” Price said. “If you respect the fastball, you’re more vulnerable to the offspeed pitches, in particular the changeup. He has a phenomenal changeup and feel for it.

“But he’s not afraid to use the fastball, and he’s not afraid to pitch inside. And I think (that) is an important part, not just for starting pitchers but for relievers as well, to allow him to match up against those right-handed hitters, tough right-handed hitters. Because he has the equipment to get both-sided hitters out.”

Campbell said Andrews’ ability to play outfield and be a pinch-runner is considered a “bonus,” but Team USA is primarily using him as a reliever, especially given that it’s mid-November. But even with that, Andrews is pleased with how his stuff has progressed in 2019, a year he finished at Biloxi, the Brewers’ Double-A affiliate in the Southern League.

“I think I’m exactly where I want to be right now,” Andrews said. “Being able to have faced the competition I did, facing some of the guys that are on this team now in the Fall League, I think that helped prepare me for this. Now, I feel pretty good.”

An added bonus of playing on Team USA is the chance to reunite with high school teammate Andrew Vaughn. Both played at Maria Carillo High School in Santa Rosa, California. The two have been close for years, especially given that Vaughn’s middle name is Clayton and Andrews’ father name is Vaughn.

They didn’t know they were going to be on the team together until Andrews went over to Vaughn’s place in Arizona to hang out while Andrews was in the Fall League.

“I go over, we get all the, ‘Hey, how you been doing?’ stuff out of the way,” Andrews said. “He was like, ‘I’m just doing passport stuff right now.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I know how you feel, I just did my passport stuff.’ He was like, ‘What did you do your passport stuff for?’ And I was like, ‘What did you do your passport stuff for?’ He was like, ‘I think you know.’ I replied, ‘Team USA?’ And then we got all excited for a second, like we’re teammates again.”

Vaughn called it a “cool moment” and added, “I’m super excited. Not everybody can say they’re playing with a guy they played [with in] high school on a professional team representing their country. It’s pretty special.”

During his time at Maria Carillo, Andrews was a sensational pitcher, finishing his varsity career with a 1.06 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 85 innings. All this was capped off by a senior year in which he struck out 77 in 48.2 innings with a 0.58 ERA.

But it wasn’t just on the mound where he shone. After batting .364 in an injury-riddled junior season, Andrews exploded at the plate his senior year, batting .396 with 36 hits, 25 runs scored and 22 RBIs. Andrews struck out one time in 103 plate appearances while earning All-State honors from CalHiSports.

He even out-homered Vaughn, who was a junior that year, by a count of 1-0. That memory brought a smile, a laugh and a little clarification from Andrews.

“To be fair, my homer was an inside-the-parker,” he said. “I’ll take them any way I can get them. But, on his side and to hype him up a little bit, he got a triple before I got a triple. Give and take. He got the first triple, I got the first home run.

“Now when we talk about it, it’s a good laugh for everyone because he’s the big home run guy and I just recently started swinging the bat again. I never even brought that up either, so now I’ve got something I can use in my arguments.”

After high school, Andrews chose the junior college route and went to Cabrillo College in Aptos, California, where he had two stellar seasons, earning Coast Pacific Conference Player of the Year honors as a freshman in 2016 by batting .410, tallying 41 runs scored and 17 stolen bases. He also won an ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove Award as an outfielder that year and picked up six saves as a reliever in 19.1 innings with a 4.19 ERA.

He followed that up as a sophomore by hitting .399 with a .483 on-base percentage and 39 runs scored, while also pitching 39.2 innings in 21 relief outings with a 0.91 ERA, 69 strikeouts and nine saves. Andrews was taken in the 40th round by the Dodgers in the 2017 Draft, but he instead chose to go to Long Beach State and had a breakout season in the Big West as a starter. He had a 1.99 ERA in 99.2 innings, striking out 118 while allowing just 78 hits and 17 walks.

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Considered a pitchability lefty with an above-average changeup and elite command entering the 2018 MLB Draft, Andrews was selected by the Brewers in the 17th round and signed for $75,000. After a quick stop at Helena, Montana, in the Rookie League, Andrews was a dynamite long reliever for Low A Wisconsin, going 6-1 with a 1.33 ERA, a 0.704 WHIP and 42 strikeouts in 27 innings across 14 games.

Andrews started 2019 in extended spring training but became the closer for High A Carolina in late April, going 11-for-13 in save opportunities with a 3.86 ERA in 28 innings before getting promoted to Double A Biloxi on July 2. In 31.1 innings for the Shuckers, Andrews had a 2.59 ERA while striking out 33 and allowing 19 hits and 15 walks.

For Vaughn, seeing Andrews’ progression from when they were in middle school until now has left him with an unwavering belief in the left-hander’s ability.

“I just noticed over time that he’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen,” Vaughn said. “I mean, he gets knocked for his height, but you put that kid on a baseball field, football field, or a basketball court, he’s going to show a lot of people that he’s a phenomenal athlete. That’s why he’s gotten here so far. He can do it.”

And for Andrews, wearing the red, white and blue is just another step on the fast track toward the big leagues, hoping to prove that the elephant in the room is a mirage and become the shortest pitcher to reach the Majors in the 21st century, measuring an inch shorter than Tim Collins.

Ask those around him and they agree that he’s got the mentality it takes to do it.

“I think the word the scouts use is he’s a baseball player,” Campbell said. “Whether he’s a pitcher or a left fielder, he’s a baseball player. He’s a California kid who just loves to play the game. That’s the definition of Clayton Andrews: baseball player.”

Vaughn added, “He definitely puts a chip on his shoulder. You can see it by the way he plays, the way he goes about his business. And he just does it the right way. He’ll make a joke here or there, but he really doesn’t let it phase him.

“He’s not a tall guy, but he acts like he’s 6-5 sometimes, and it pays off.”

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