By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
The internal expectations for the Washington Nationals are higher than ever following the club's first NL East title in 2012. On Tuesday at Major League Baseball's winter meetings in Nashville, manager Davey Johnson went so far to say next year's slogan will be "World Series or bust."
One player who could benefit from that positive outlook is Cullman High graduate Caleb Clay, who signed a minor league contract with the Nationals in mid-November, after spending six seasons in the Boston Red Sox farm system.
“I was a free agent after the season,” Clay said. “I called my agent, and the Nats were one of the first teams who showed good interest in me. They gave me a quick offer, and I decided it was the best route to take at the time.”
Clay has spent his last two seasons at AA Portland, pitching mainly out of the bullpen.
The former Bearcat posted a 4.61 ERA overall in his 2012 campaign, striking out 61 batters in 66.1 innings pitched while being used in a variety of ways.
“I saved some games, got some holds and pitched in some long-relief situations,” Clay said. “They used me in a lot of different situations.”
Clay’s role, however, is likely to change again with his new organization.
“The contract I signed was for a AAA starting position,” Clay said. “They want to see what I can do as a starter since I have four pitches I can use.”
As far as preference goes, Clay said he didn’t care if he started or came out of the bullpen.
“There are pros and cons to each one, obviously,” he said. “You can make more money as a starter, but it’s also more taxing on your body. I’ve enjoyed both and honestly don’t prefer one over the other.”
Washington’s AAA club resides in Syracuse, NY. Clay said he’s looking forward to getting out there.
“I’m very excited and anxious,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for me.”
Clay has also been invited to a parallel camp, which although not a big-league camp, gives the former Cullman great ample experience heading into the 2013 season.
“I’ll get to work with some big-league guys and get seen by the big-league staff,” he said.
The move to AAA could put Clay one step closer to reaching his dream of playing in the majors. To get to that goal, Clay knows he must continue to improve himself every day.
“I feel like I consistently need to be at my best,” he said. “I know that is really hard to do at this level, but if I keep getting experience and getting reps, I think I am going to be OK.”
Clay cited command inconsistencies as being a key detriment if he plans to keep moving up in the ranks.
“This past season, I’d have two really good outings in a row,” he said.
“And then the next time out, I wouldn’t be able to command my fastball, which is elementary in the big leagues..”
The change from Boston to Washington comes as somewhat of a bittersweet moment for Clay as the Red Sox took him as the 44th pick in the supplemental draft right out of high school.
“I’m not sad, but I do have some fond memories with them,” he said. “I thank them for the opportunity they gave me and wish them nothing but the best in the future.”
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.