To be a dominant reliever is to be an impenetrable wall.
Cam Bedrosian's wall has been shook and the pieces have fallen apart at times, but with each passing blow, he's found a way to pick up the rubble -- the advice he's received, the hardships he's endured, the experiences he's gained -- and rebuild.
His most impressive efforts came three years after Tommy John surgery sidelined him. In a season in which he changed uniforms 10 times, the No. 5 Angels prospect topped the organization with 18 saves. Bedrosian sported a strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 5-to-1 on his way to earning the MiLBY for Top Relief Pitcher, as well as a nomination for Breakout Prospect.
"Honestly, I know it sounds cliché, but I always thought I could do this. From when I was in high school, my dad always told me, he knew I could do it. It's just a matter of lining up the stars. It's about being healthy," the 23-year-old said. "I think the thing for me, it was just getting comfortable after the surgery and hopefully this is the first of many good years."
Akeel Morris, Savannah
Akeel Morris In his first try at a full-season league, Mets prospect Akeel Morris led not only his Class A Savannah teammates but the entire South Atlantic League with 16 saves in 17 opportunities. After beginning the season with 12 straight scoreless appearances, the 21-year-old right-hander notched a 0.63 ERA -- the best of his five-year career -- and a 4-1 record. Morris also reached personal best with a 0.72 WHIP and by holding SAL foes to a .103 average over 41 games. All tolled, he makes a fine selection by the fans as the Reliever of the Year. Voting results »
Stopper in the name of love
Steve Bedrosian knew all five of his kids were athletically talented, but there was something different about his youngest son. Steve, the 1985 Cy Young award winner, wanted to name one of his boys "Rock" after his "Bedrock" nickname -- given to him by his one-time Class A Greenwood manager Bob Veale -- and after their fourth son was born, Steve's wife, Tammy, finally gave the OK.
A couple weeks after Cameron Rock Bedrosian was born in Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, he flew with his mother to Minneapolis to watch his father pitch for the Twins in the 1991 World Series against Dad's former team, the Braves. After a memorable seven-game series, the Bedrosian household welcomed its first championship ring.
Eventually Cam was old enough to hold a ball and Steve was there to coach him, as he did all his sons, and the father quickly saw the potential.
"I wasn't great at every aspect of the game, so the things I wasn't good at I tried to get him to work on those things that no one taught me," Steve said. "But even as a 10-year-old, I knew he had a good arm, I knew he had a good work ethic."
As Cam's baseball ceiling grew, he took his father's advice to put football aside when he entered high school. The former quarterback focused on pitching and soon saw his velocity shoot up.
When he took the mound in summer ball, the teenager landed in the bullpen -- just like his father did so many years before -- learning a different set of nuances about the game.
"I don't know what formula makes a good closer from someone that's not as successful at it, but you just have to be able to stop it. That's what [my dad] called it -- he called it a stopper," Cam said. "You have to be able to shut the door in the ninth inning and not let anything happen. I think it's more of a mind-set -- the game is up to you and you have to finish it."
Though the Angels drafted him 29th overall in 2010 as a starter, Cam held on to what he learned about being a late-inning guy. He remembered the words Cal Ripken Sr. once told his father, the words his father would always repeat to him.
"You can never learn enough from this game -- every day you come to the park, there's something you can learn," Cam recalled. "I try to instill that when I'm at the park, if ... I feel some drop [in my mechanics] or I guess anything or any problem I have, I can just talk to the manager or coaches or players and try to learn from it."
Dreaming with a broken elbow
Five games into his professional career with the Rookie-level Arizona League Angels, Cam felt some pain in his pitching elbow. During the subsequent offseason, he tried to rehab it, but by the end of Spring Training 2011, his fear became a reality -- he would need Tommy John surgery.
The procedure, which has almost become a rite of passage for professional pitchers, was not new to the Bedrosians. Eldest son, Kyle, who played at Mercer University in Georgia, had undergone the surgery, and Steve knew from his days with the Braves that Dr. James Andrews was the surgeon of choice for pitchers who wanted to continue their careers, so that's what Cam did.
"It wasn't easy. I almost missed a year and a half after the surgery happened," the right-hander said. "I was just anxious during the process to get back onto the field but knew that it was a process."
Through the vigorous stretches and the gamedays on the couch, Cam considered himself lucky. He didn't have to do it alone because he had friend Carmine Giardina rehabbing alongside him. Together with Giardina, who was drafted 14 rounds after him in the same year and underwent the same surgery three weeks before him, Cam got through the recovery and the season on the bench.
The Georgia native soon realized that getting back into a game was not the same as being back.
In 21 starts with Class A Cedar Rapids in 2012, Bedrosian went 3-11 with a 6.31 ERA, walking 52 Midwest League batters while striking out 48. He didn't have his secondary pitches and his fastball topped out in the high-80s.
"Hang in there, Cam, things are going to get better," Steve said in a routine postgame call.
"Dad, you keep saying that, but it's not," he remembered his son replying.
Cam's next start for the Kernels, though, turned out to be one of his best. However, more tough outings followed, and every loss made it that much harder mentally to win the next game. After a long season, the Angels informed Bedrosian that they would like to try him in the bullpen.
"It was a little shocking at first, but I knew it was probably going to come -- I wasn't doing as well starting as I wanted to," he said. "I talked to [my dad] about it and he said, 'Just roll with it, don't let it get you down, don't let it affect you. Just whatever position you're put in, just do the best you can.'"
Cam began the 2013 season with a 5.30 ERA in 37 appearances -- 35 in relief -- for the Angels' new Midwest League affiliate in Burlington, Despite his numbers, Bedrosian was promoted to Class A Advanced Inland Empire. He finished the campaign by allowing four hits over 8 2/3 scoreless innings. Finally finding into a groove, the 6-foot hurler received an invitation to the Arizona Fall League to log more innings and continue to develop as a reliever.
"Pete Harnisch, one of the coordinators with the Angels, was telling me what he wanted me to work on was bouncing back from bad outings," he said. "You have a bad outing, the next outing, just go back out and just forget it."
Bedrosian tried to implement Harnisch's advice, knowing that resilience was key to his success on the mound and as a professional baseball player, especially as a reliever.
Earning his halo
Bedrosian didn't get the initial invitation to big league camp this spring, but he did get a "just in case" invite, meaning he would move up from Minor League camp on days the Angels needed an extra pitcher. That's when he started to flourish in the bullpen.
The then 22-year-old -- he turned 23 earlier this month -- allowed two hits over six appearances for three scoreless frames, striking out three along the way. He remained hopeful about his Opening Day roster spot at the top levels of the Angels system, but by the end of March, he knew he was going to return to Inland Empire.
"He wasn't bummed at all," the elder Bedrosian said. "You can tell he has a plan and he knew what it was going to take, and so he went to High-A."
After five near-perfect appearances with the 66ers -- holding California League foes to one hit and two walks over 5 2/3 frames while striking out a remarkable 15 -- it was off to Double-A Arkansas.
"If you were to put a picture of him in the dictionary, it would go under dominance for what he did in High-A this year," Inland Empire manager Denny Hocking said of Bedrosian's brief stint. "When he would come out of the game or finish his inning, he would always go up to the pitching coach and find out what he didn't do right. He was always looking to improve off his weaknesses."
Bedrosian didn't show any signs of slowing at the next level. The Georgia native held Texas League foes to a .097 average while striking out 57 over 32 1/3 innings and notching 15 saves in 16 opportunities for a 1.11 ERA.
He's not positive what led to such extreme effectiveness. Maybe it was the friends who surrounded him or the fun he was having. He credited the support of his father, coaches and teammates -- especially Los Angeles' No. 8 and No. 15 prospects, Alex Yarbrough and Eric Stamets respectively.
The Angels took note of the closer's achievements, and on June 3, Bedrosian jumped to the big club for his Major League debut in Houston. His parents as well as Kyle, his wife Kelley and his younger sister, Katelyn, were there to watch the youngest son of the family toss a perfect inning.
"That was incredible, just being in front of a big crowd in a real nice stadium and stuff like that, pitching to big league hitters -- that's something you always dream and I was fortunate enough this year to realize that dream and hopefully start my career," he said. "My first outing I wasn't as [nervous] as I thought I'd be. I don't know why, but I felt pretty good."
He savored his time in the Majors, soaking up the knowledge of players like righty Garrett Richards and catcher Chris Iannetta. They all said the same thing: few players stay in the Majors their first time up. And in fact, Bedrosian bounced between the big leagues and the Texas League five times.
After his third stint with the Angels, the right-hander ended up in Triple-A Salt Lake. A new team brought new challenges but also new people to learn from, specifically Michael Kohn, who has pitched in the Majors in parts of four of the last five seasons.
"Just don't let it affect you -- just no matter what they do to you, you just have to do your job," Bedrosian remembered Kohn telling him.
Although his Major League numbers didn't match his Minor League dominance -- a 6.52 ERA over 17 appearances -- Cam showed promise with 20 strikeouts, and so as the Angels pushed for the AL West title, he kept getting the call to Anaheim.
"Some guys play 15 years, have 15-year careers and never get the chance to be with a team that wins the division or wins the pennant, and I was just lucky enough where I got to be on one my first year," Bedrosian said. "I was just so happy to have a year where I can play in the big leagues. Of course I wanted better results, but the big part was just getting there and breaking in and getting my feet wet and I'll take it from there."
Bobby Scales, the Angels' director of player development, isn't concerned by Bedrosian's early big league results. He thinks it's the typical problem of players trying to do too much when they get promoted.
The 23-year-old knows it will be an adjustment and he fully intends to do just that -- after an offseason of recovering mentally from a long season, plus training and duck hunting with his dad.
"Whatever the situation is, I just have to do my job and have fun with it. There's a lot of times you can get caught up in something or something might not go your way," he said. "After being successful in Double-A and then getting to the big leagues and having a couple bad outings, I feel like it would be easy to let your guard down and get mad at yourself, something like that.
"But just like I said, being up there was an amazing experience. Hopefully, I get to do it again next year, and hopefully, I will in the future a lot more."