The baseball world got to know Anthony Claggett on Nov. 10. That was the day the Detroit Tigers acquired Gary Sheffield from the New York Yankees for what the press called either "three Minor League pitchers" or "right-hander Humberto Sanchez and two other Minor League pitchers."
Some stories written about the trade included Claggett's name, and even had it spelled correctly (two Gs and two Ts), but they said little, if anything, about the two prospects not named Sanchez that the Yankees got in return for Sheffield.
All you need to know about Claggett you can learn from his last nine outings of the season for the Class A West Michigan Whitecaps. The right-hander pitched an inning in each appearance and didn't give up a hit, while racking up a win and six saves in nine innings. In fact, he allowed just one base runner, a walk against Lansing on Aug. 31.
It's the relief pitcher's version of a no-hitter and Claggett nearly had a perfect game. He retired 27 of the 28 batters he faced and stuck out 10. That final stretch of the season was just part of the reason Claggett was named MiLB.com's Class A Relief Pitcher of the Year.
"I was definitely surprised. A guy from the Tigers called me that morning. I was real shocked to hear my name was in the trade, just because of what I heard from Tigers coaches -- 'Great year' and 'Can't wait to work with you next season,'" Claggett said. "I'm excited to be with the Yankees, not disappointed at all."
They should be excited to have him, based on the astounding numbers he had in the Midwest League. He had a 0.91 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .174 batting average while giving up 35 hits in 59 1/3 innings. Claggett struck out 58, walked 20 and finished with a 7-2 record and 14 saves, despite being a setup man for much of the season.
Claggett didn't allow a run in his first 13 appearances of the season, which covered 18 1/3 innings. When he finally did permit a run, he was punished for it with a loss. Claggett then went 15 more appearances without allowing a runner to cross the plate. That streak lasted 17 1/3 innings and by the time June ended, Claggett had given up just that one run in 28 appearances. At that point, he had a 0.25 ERA in 36 innings.
"It was a great season. I just felt a lot more confident out there. Everything just kind of fell into place," Claggett said. "A lot of things went right. Balls were bouncing my way, I got some luck like that. I had a great defense behind me making great play after great play."
It was easy for Claggett to remember his worst outing of the season because he gave up as many as two earned runs only once. That came against Southwest Michigan on July 12, three days before his 22nd birthday. That appearance made his July ERA balloon to 4.00 in nine innings. It was the only month his ERA was above 1.00.
Although his numbers alone are impressive, the fact that it's just Claggett's third season as a pitcher makes them even more so.
Claggett grew up in a baseball home in Palm Desert, Calif. His father coached baseball and the two played in the backyard all the time. Claggett played Little League and high school ball, but he was a middle infielder who showed a strong arm at shortstop and good hands at second base.
After high school, Claggett attended the University of California-Riverside. He played the infield for two seasons before the team's pitching coach asked him to throw a bullpen session near the end of his sophomore year.
"I was excited. I thought it would be fun, just going out there and throwing as hard as I can," Claggett said. "I knew being a position player wouldn't get me drafted. The pitching coach tried to talk to me and told me I could pitch. He taught me so much that it really worked out. I'm still new to pitching so my arm is really fresh."
When he returned for his junior season, Claggett became the team's middle infielder/closer. The combination required some dexterity. When he played second, Claggett would throw a sort-of bullpen session to his first baseman, who would crouch and catch him, or he would run out to the bullpen to warm up while his team was hitting. The Tigers thought enough of him to select him in the 11th round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.
Claggett throws a fastball that ranges from 91-93 mph and occasionally touches 94. He also has a slider and change-up in his arsenal. The key to his season was the improvement of his breaking pitches, which led to more consistency.
"The whole pitching thing is new to me. I'm still getting used to it," Claggett said. "I'm still improving a lot, but I just started pitching. I think I can be more consistent with my pitches and throw a lot more strikes, and my delivery can be more consistent. I just want to work on all those things. If I do that, I can be where I want to be."
For now, he's hoping to land a spot with the Tampa Yankees in the Florida State League. After spending his first two professional seasons in Oneonta, N.Y., and West Michigan, Claggett wouldn't mind returning to a warmer climate.
"When I got traded to them it was a shock," Claggett said. "You hear all the stories about being with the Yankees and how coming up through the farm system is impossible. Now, I'm hearing that they're building up their farm system and the fact that guys are making it is encouraging. I expect that if I make it to the big leagues it will be as a Yankee. That puts a smile on my face."