The Indians' 32nd-round pick out of the University of Virginia in 2009, left-hander Matt Packer
's superlative 2010 season vaulted him into the Minor League limelight. The Tennessee native began the campaign with Class A Lake County
, where he went 8-5 with a 1.60 ERA in 24 games (13 starts) before jumping straight to Double-A Akron
in August. In six outings with the Aeros, Packer barely missed a beat, posting a 3.16 ERA.
Overall, his 2.04 ERA ranked second among qualifying Minor Leaguers. In 132 2/3 innings, Packer struck out 123 -- fifth-most in the Cleveland organization -- while walking only 22. He also kept the ball down, yielding seven homers (three of them in his six Double-A appearances) while inducing 2 1/2 times more groundball outs as fly outs. As he prepared for Spring Training, Packer spoke with MiLB.com about his strong season and hopes for the upcoming year.
MiLB.com: What have you been up to during the offseason?
Matt Packer: Not a whole lot, apart from working out and getting ready for the season. I've played a little golf, but mainly I'm enjoying just being home.
MiLB.com: It's often said that the jump from Class A Advanced to Double-A is the hardest for Minor League prospects. You skipped Class A Advanced altogether, going straight from the Midwest League to the Eastern League. Was that a surprise?
Packer: (Laughs) Yeah, it was a big surprise -- I was as shocked as anybody. I was just trying to fit in and prove [the Indians] right for promoting me like that.
MiLB.com: What were the biggest differences between the two levels for you?
Packer: I think the biggest difference was that Double-A hitters will pounce on your mistakes. If you make, say, five mistake pitches in a game, maybe in Class A you get away with four of them. In Double-A you might get away with two. You have to be that much sharper.
MiLB.com: The Indians have had you alternating between starting and coming out of the bullpen. Are you more comfortable doing one or the other?
Packer: I'm pretty comfortable doing both. I did both in college, though with more relieving. Being a starter is nice in that you can really get into a routine, though.
MiLB.com: What big leaguers did you look up to or model yourself after when you were growing up?
Packer: I wouldn't say I modeled myself after any particular player. I thought of myself more as a hitter when I was in high school. I enjoyed watching hitters like Frank Thomas and Mark McGwire back in the day and Albert Pujols more recently. As far as pitchers go, I liked Roger Clemens. (Laughs) I'll bet you get that a lot.
MiLB.com: Yeah, that's a very popular answer. When did you start to think of yourself as a pitcher?
Packer: Towards the end of high school it seemed like I was better at pitching and had a better chance of moving on doing that.
MiLB.com: You have outstanding numbers for a guy with just a little more than one professional season under his belt. In fact, your stats are slightly better as a pro than they were at Virginia. How have you made the transition so well?
Packer: In some ways, it's been easier for me to do my own thing as a pro. I can prepare the way that works for me and call my own pitches with the Indians. And so far, it's worked well.
MiLB.com: You played in the Cape Cod League in 2009. What was that experience like?
Packer: Oh, I loved every minute of it. I had a great host family, our team was full of great guys, and we made the playoffs. The only complaint I have was that the ocean temperature was too cold to swim.
MiLB.com: Do you have any superstitions or routines before you pitch, like a favorite food to eat or music to listen to?
Packer: I'm not really superstitious, but I do try to keep to the same routine, especially if I'm pitching well. Maybe by eating the same amount of time before the game, things like that.
MiLB.com: After pitching so well and making that leap to Double-A last year, do you have any goals or expectations for this season?
Packer: I'm trying to go into it with the same mind-set I had last year and just go with the flow. I don't have any specific goals besides working hard and pitching well.