Saturday, November 15, 2008

K as in Kyle

The Pirates sent 41 guys to the fall leagues during the off season, some to hone their game, others to go through the crucible of better competition. It's safe to say that no one has created more of an off season buzz than AA pitcher Kyle Bloom.

The lanky lefty (6-3, 185 lbs) is an cornbelt kid, born on February 21, 1983 in Schaumburg, Illinois. His family moved to Iowa, and he still lives in Bettendorf. Bloom went to Pleasant Valley HS, where he was 5-0 with a 1.29 ERA and 88 K’s in 43-1/3 IP as a senior, and was named first-team All-State. An all around athlete, he earned four letters in tennis and three in golf at PVHS.

Bloom went on to Illinois State University (2002-04), and posted a 14-16 record and 5.31 ERA in 42 games while leading the Redbirds in strikeouts all three seasons. He was a second-team Louisville Slugger/TPX Freshman All-American in 2002 and an honorable mention All-Missouri Valley Conference pick as a sophomore.

The Pirates took him as their fifth-round pick in 2004, the 143rd player picked in the draft. Bloom's a three-pitch guy, with an upper 80 MPH fastball, curve, and change-up, and is a fly-ball/strikeout pitcher with a good strikeout rate and equally high walk rate. He's now spent five seasons with the Bucs, with his share of ups and downs.

Bloom started off in short-season Williamsport in 2004. He was 4-3, but with a 2.60 ERA and 46 K in 45 IP. That merited him a promotion to A Hickory the next year. The LHP went 4-1 there with a 1.87 ERA in half a season, but his walks per 9 IP doubled, from 2-1/2 per game to nearly 5.

He was sent to Lynchburg in high A halfway through the season, and his lack of command caught up to him. His walked more batters than he fanned, yielding 6 free passes per game. It showed on his line, too, which ended up 3-5 with a 5.86 ERA.

Bloom would spend 2006-07 with the Hillcats, putting together a 16-20 record and watching his ERA climb from 4.30 in 2006 to 5.51 in 2007. Control was still an issue, as he walked 4 batters per game, though his K rate was still pretty good.

His inability to throw strikes led to some monster pitch counts, and in 2008 he was pegged for bullpen work at Altoona, where he stopped for a cup of coffee in 2007.

He was eligible for the Rule 5 draft after 2007, but with his struggles at Lynchburg, the scouts crossed him off their list. That might not be true this time around.

The first stroke of serendipity happened when Todd Redmond was shipped to Atlanta for Tyler Yates. That put Bloom into the Curve rotation. He didn't exactly grab that opportunity by the horns, getting blasted early. But he settled down, after the Altoona coaches eliminated a hitch in his motion.

After going winless in April and May with ERAs of 8.15 and 4.15, his ERA improved to 3.63 in June, 2.45 in July and 3.86 in August. Bloom finished the year 5-8 with a 4.19 ERA. His control was still poor - he walked 4-1/2 batters per nine - but his steady improvement merited him a shot at winter ball, in the eyes of the Pirate suits. So off to West Oahu he sailed. And he's kicking butt there.

The 25 year-old is second in the league with a 1.50 ERA. He is 2-0 with 32 K to 11 walks and has allowed just 15 hits in 30 innings in seven starts with a week to go in the winter season. Pretty dramatic stuff in Hawaii from Mr. Bloom.

"Honestly, it's just fastball command," Bloom told Stacy Kaneshiro of Baseball America. "A lot of these (the hitters) are from Class A ball, so they're pretty aggressive on fastball. So what I usually try to do is initiate the inside part of the plate and then use my offspeed if I fall behind, kind of keep them honest. Mainly, it's just moving my fastball in and out."

His game plan was simple. "Be consistent, go out there, log innings, go deep into games, keep my fastball command," he said. "Also, I want to work on my secondary stuff, changeup and curveball. But just pitch efficiently, try to go five innings, not throw so many pitches."

He's done well enough that the Pirates have a decision to make. The organization is short on upper-level starting pitching, especially from the left side. And while Bloom has been quite impressive in Hawaii, he's an old vet in what's basically an A+ level league.

The Pirates have one spot left on their 40-man right now, and that belongs to Neil Walker. Jose Tabata may or may not need protected this year, too. And Jeff Sues is pushing for a spot, along with a couple of bubble players.

Tune in November 20th. The suits have already done some weeding of the 40-man roster, and that date is when they have to finish the job. The future depends on how well they do it.

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