Clay product A.J. Achter is at the point in his baseball career where he could get a call to the major leagues at any moment.
Achter, who turns 25 in August, is a right-handed relief pitcher for the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats of the Eastern League. New Britain is located in central Connecticut, about a half hour southwest of Hartford.
“There isn’t too much to do around here,” Achter said. “A lot of time is spent with teammates. We play a lot of video games and watch a lot of movies. Netflix has saved a lot of boring days for us.”
The Rock Cats are the Double-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, which is the team Achter hopes to play for some day. Last year he split his season between the Twins’ “low A-ball” team in Beloit, Wisc., and with their “high A-ball” team in Fort Myers, Fla.
“There isn’t too much difference in talent,” Achter said. “There are still a lot of young guys still trying to learn the game in A-ball. When you make the jump to Double-A, there are more seasoned veterans. I’ve played against some guys who are 30 years old and a couple guys who have played in the big leagues. A lot of guys get called from this league right to the big leagues. It’s definitely just a call away now.”
The 6-foot-5, 205-pound Achter, who was selected by the Twins in the 46th round of the 2010 draft out of Michigan State, pitched in 22 games through June 26 and had a 1-0 record with a 2.18 ERA. In 33 innings he gave up 25 hits, three home runs and 18 walks and struck out 32. Opponents were batting .208 against him.
“My season’s going pretty good,” Achter said. “They say it’s the biggest transition in the minor leagues, to go from high A to Double-A. I was fortunate to make this team in spring training. I have a high number of walks, which is a little discouraging, but I’ve been able to make pitches to keep guys from scoring.”
Achter said he’s concentrating on his four best pitches — a two- and four-seam fastball, slider and change-up. He does not throw many curveballs.
“I threw curves in high school and college, and it was always a pitch that was always tough for me to get a grasp on,” Achter said. “The slider has just been an easier pitch for me to control and get used to. I’m much more consistent with it than I have been in the last couple years.”
Achter was back in Ohio last week, when the River Cats played the Akron Aeros. On June 21, in a 13-4 loss, Achter pitched the sixth inning and gave up one hit with two strikeouts. He pitched one perfect inning on June 22 in a 12-7 win as the Cats improved to 35-38.
“That was pretty cool,” Achter said. “I had a lot of friends and family there, close to 30, and it’s pretty awesome. We had a three-game series in Erie (Pa.) before we went to Akron, and I didn’t pitch in any of the games. I had a good feeling I would throw one of the first two games in Akron, and I threw the first two days. I had family there both days.”
Achter was was moved to the bullpen full time last season.
“I’ve been coming in out of the pen since a spot-start last year,” he said. “I love it. I come to the field every day with an opportunity to pitch. With each start, you’re only going to be in there every fifth day. This rejuvenates you as a ballplayer, knowing you could play every day. The bus rides in minor league baseball are long. When you come to the field knowing you can pitch every day, if that doesn’t get you amped to go, you’re in the wrong business.”
The next step up from New Britain in the Twins’ minor league chain is Triple-A Rochester, of the International League. To get there, Achter said, will take more consistency in everything he does.
“I have to throw strikes more consistently and throw my off-speed pitches more for strikes,” Achter said. “My downfall has been a pitch that I’ve struggled with the most, and I’m finally starting to get consistent with it.”