The Book of Ely | The Golden Sombrero Baseball Blog | MLB, Fantasy, College & High School Baseball News

The Book of Ely

May 18, 2010

When Vicente Padilla landed on the DL, the Dodgers decided to call up John Ely from AAA.  For those who have not heard of him, Ely was one of the players that the White Sox surrendered in the Juan Pierre trade.  No, I’m not bringing this up because I wish he were doing this for the White Sox.  Actually, I played against the Homewood-Flossmoor High School alum in various showcases during both my junior and senior high school seasons.  As I reflect on Ely’s immediate success with the Dodgers, I cannot help but recall my memories of him as a 16/17 year old flame thrower.

My first encounter with the major league winner was during the Jack Kaiser Memorial All-Star game which placed some of the best Illinois, prep prospects against each other.  I’m going to go ahead and boast here for a second because, well, I can.  At the beginning of the summer, I was selected to play in the Northwest Suburban Junior All-Star Game, which was essentially the premiere, prep scouting combine in the state; I’m talking radar guns, stop watches, sun glasses and collared shirts everywhere, literally lining the fences.  Every conference within state was represented by a 25-man squad whose constituents were selected by the coaches association.  I played pretty well that weekend and followed with a ridiculous summer that ultimately lead to my selection for the Jack Kaiser Memorial All-Star Game.  Essentially, it was an all-star game of the all-star game.

I had heard Ely’s name off and on for the previous two years and was therefore psyched to learn that he was the starting pitcher for the other team.  As I stood at the top of the dugout with a few teammates, watching him warm up in the opposing bullpen, I found myself marveling at his every pitch.  It was, without a doubt, the fastest I had ever seen.  Back then he was not the 6’2″, 200lbs. pitcher that he is now.  There was no way that he could have been anything more than 6’0″, 170lbs. at that time.  But how could this skinny bastard throw so hard?  Well, he had a unique, wiry frame that allowed him to generate an absurd amount of tilt and arm speed.

On that day, Ely only made it through the first inning.  While I don’t exactly recall his line, my guess is that it was something like 1 IP, 6 ER, 3 H, 5 BB, 3K, 2 wild pitches.  With every pitch, Ely let out a grunt that indicated that he was either giving birth, or just trying to light up the radar gun for some scouts(I believe both).  There was no denying that he threw hard, but his control and overall makeup were suspect.  Due to the fact that I was part of the second wave of players that entered the game in the 5th inning, I never got to face Ely that day.

The next fall arrived and I was still unsure as to where I might be playing the following year.  I had it narrowed down to what I believed to be my four best options, but was nowhere close to making a final decision.  One of these schools, Miami University(OH), had invited me to their final showcase before handing out scholarships; I had performed well at their summer camp and was looking to make one final, lasting impression.  You can only imagine how I felt when I learned that I would be facing Ely, who apparently was already a scholarship lock.  I guess no major programs wanted to risk a scholarship on him- probably due to his mechanics, attitude or height.  I was skeptical of him as well.  After all, I did witness his disastrous first inning only a few months before.

That day, Ely put on one of the most impressive pitching displays I have ever seen.  His previous composure and control problems were gone and a new pitcher had been born.  Topping out at 91 mph, he struck out 7 of the 9 batters he faced- one of which was me.  My at-bat went some like this.  1st pitch: absolute gas on the outside corner, called strike.  2nd pitch: took a late hack at a letter-high fastball, strike two.  3rd pitch:  fouled off a devastating slider. How? No clue, especially considering that I always struggled with good sliders.  4th pitch: an even more devastating slider that I really struggled with.  I was one of three batters who managed to make contact while only one of those was put in play- a weak groundball to second base.  The next year, our first season of collegiate baseball, Ely was a Freshman All-American at Miami(Ohio).  Need I say more?

After watching each of Ely’s 4 starts this season, I am beyond impressed with what I have seen.  He is no longer the skinny, smoke thrower that he was when I faced him then.  In fact, quite the contrary.  Ely’s fastball consistently sits in the high 80s and is complemented by a sharp curve and change-up that drops off the table.  He also features a 2-seam fastball in the low to mid 80s that generates tremendous, late movement that reminds me of Jake Peavy’s.  He is a strike throwing machine who is making a name for himself as a control expert.  Here are what his first four starts looked like:

April 28th at Mets:  6 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 4 K, 3 BB – 116 pitches    Loss (0-1)

May 6th vs. Brewers:  6.2 IP, 4 H, ER, 7 K, 0 BB – 108 pitches   ND (0-1)

May 11th at Diamondbacks:  6 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 6 K, 0 BB – 105 pitches   W (1-1)

May 17th vs. Astros:  7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 8 K, 0 BB – 97 pitches   W (2-1)

2010 Overall:  2-1, 25.2 IP, 21 H, 10 ER, 25 K, 3 BB  –  3.51 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, .219 BAA

No you are not misreading those stats.  Ely has not walked a batter in his last three starts which spans 19.2 IP and 84 batters – the longest active streak among pitchers.  While I doubt that he will continue at his current, absurd pace, I honestly believe that Ely will continue to succeed and warrant the opportunity to throw every 5th day for the Dodgers.  It is already clear that Ely is a pitcher who just knows how to get guys out and stay within himself while doing so.  Still, there is no way that he will continue his freakish control; there will come a day when his pin-point accuracy is slightly off and he gets knocked around.  It happens.  However, the moxie that Ely has displayed leads me to believe that he will have no problem bouncing back when this happens.  In this era, an era where all of the top pitching prospects are smoke-throwing phenoms, Ely’s success is a refreshing deviation from the norm.  It has reminded me that young, intelligent pitchers still exist in baseball but are just buried beneath all of the hype and mayhem that surrounds the game’s well-known prospects.

Plus, I get to tell people that I have faced a guy who out-dueled Dan Haren in a game where Haren struck out 9 in his first 3 innings.  I’m just saying….

1 Comment

  1. Patti Rosenbaum says:

    OK. I’m hooked! Although I’m the mother of Mike Rosenbaum,
    I’ve also witnessed the evolution of Ely, the pitcher. Mike’s description is most impressive in that he visually portrays his own perspective from the receiving end of this new pitching wonder, as well as reminding the sports world that young athletes can grow and develop from the “Wild Thing” into a professional success story! Baseball is a metaphor for life – Never give up hope – and hard work!
    PS. Ms. Meisler’s article once again restores faith that we women are truly a force not to be taken lightly!!!