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April 4, 2011

TILL IT'S OVER: Eitel hopes to catch big club’s eyes

TERRE HAUTE — Following his selection by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the June draft, Rose-Hulman graduate Derek Eitel’s first season in professional baseball went about as well as he could have expected.

But the 23-year-old Marshall, Ill., native, has decided not to read too much into anything as far as what he or anyone else has in the form of expectations.

“Don’t assume anything and things happen really fast,” Eitel said. “I’ve seen guys that were slated for Double-A get released. It’s such a crazy business, can’t ever get comfortable. It’s so competitive. You want other people’s job and you just have to keep working to get better.”

Eitel has someone else’s job to start the season due to injury. After expecting to return to the South Bend Silverhawks to pitch out of the bullpen, the Diamondbacks have sent him to Visalia, Calif., to join the five-man starting rotation for the Visalia Rawhide. It’s a promotion from low-A to high-A ball.

“Originally I was put in the South Bend bullpen, I thought that was the plan. One of the starters in Visalia hurt his back a few days ago,” Eitel said Friday.

Eitel hopes to take advantage of the opportunity and impress Diamondbacks management.

“Hopefully that’s a long-term thing,” he said. “In reality, it could be a week or two weeks. You never know.”

Eitel thinks he’s set himself up for success with a solid offseason workout regimen, and then absorbing as much as he could during minor league spring camp.

Diamondbacks pitching coordinator Mel Stottlemyre Sr. was a sinker-ball specialist during his 11-year career with the New York Yankees. Eitel relies heavily on the sinker as well, and his velocity is steadily between 89 and 92 miles per hour.

“I touched 93 this spring, which is up from where I was last year,” said Eitel, who was encouraged by Stottlemyre’s teachings.

 “Don’t give hitters too much credit. Mel Stottlemyre has really talked to me a lot about that. Trust that sinker. It’s an out pitch. It’s not that nasty hook [some pitchers have], but it’s a pitch you don’t have to nip corners and be too fine.”

Eitel’s 2010 numbers show his sinker being effective. He allowed just three home runs in 64 1/3 innings, while walking 28 and striking out 51.

With an array of five pitches — a sinker, curveball, slider, split-finger and change-up — Eitel is best suited to be a starter, but if working from the bullpen gets him to the big leagues he can change his focus.

“I would focus more on the split as a reliever,” he said, meaning the change-up wouldn’t be as necessary in shorter shifts. “I’m preparing to be a starter with a backup plan to make it as a reliever.”

Eitel went 2-0 with a 1.80 earned-run average in four appearances out of the bullpen for South Bend after starting eight games for Missoula.

Eitel will work with another former MLB pitcher to hone his craft. Doug Drabek, the 1990 Cy Young winner in the National League for the Pittsburgh Pirates, is the pitching coach for the Rawhide and father of current Toronto Blue Jay Kyle Drabek.

“He’s a really good coach. Real approachable. Has a ton of knowledge,” Eitel said.

Eitel was playing Division III baseball for Rose-Hulman this time last year. Now, he can at least envision himself in the majors.

Like he said, things can happen fast.

I I I

n Phegley heading for Birmingham — While we could not get in touch with Josh Phegley, the former Terre Haute North and Indiana University standout is headed for Birmingham, Ala., to suit up for the Double-A Barons in the White Sox organization.

Phegley played 18 games at Double-A last season, hitting .292.

Viewed by some as a top-10 prospect in the White Sox organization, Phegley’s health was an issue last season.  He was diagnosed with Idipathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura, a platelet disorder that causes blood clotting issues.

Phegley had his spleen removed in November, and he told MLB.com that has helped combat the problem.

“Spring Training is meant to get ready for the season, but I missed most of last year,” Phegley was quoted.

“So, I’ll use this time to get ready for the season and get back to where I was before all this hit me.”

The 2009 first-round pick (38th overall) is set for his third professional season. He has hit .253 in 100 minor-league games.

n Also with the White Sox — Another Terre Haute North graduate, Nick Ciolli, is slated to begin the season with the Winston-Salem Dash, the Chicago franchise’s high-A level team.

Ciolli, a corner outfielder and former Indiana State standout, might have the opportunity to play alongside Jared Mitchell, the White Sox’s first-round pick in 2009.

Ciolli hit .375 in 10 games with Winston-Salem last season, hitting six doubles and one homer in 40 at-bats. Ciolli had a huge season in low-A ball, cracking 12 home runs to go with 73 RBIs for the Kannapolis Intimidators.

Brazil native Brady Shoemaker is set to return to Kannapolis, where he hit .293 with 12 homers, 23 doubles and 55 RBIs in 2010.

Jake Petricka, a second-round pick out of Indiana State, will pitch for Kannapolis to start the season.

Craig Pearson can be reached by e-mail at craig.pearson@tribstar.com or by phone at (812) 231-4356. Follow him online at blogs.tribstar.com/craigpearson or on twitter @craig_pearson.

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