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T-Rat Talk: Craig Yoho

Veteran Mindset, New Changeup Generate Significant Success for Rattlers Reliever
May 6, 2024

Craig Yoho is making noise as a Timber Rattlers reliever. The right-hander from Indiana has has worked through injuries as a position player to develop a changeup that rates as one of the best in the Brewers system. Kyle Lobner has the story on how Yoho deveoped that pitch, closing

Craig Yoho is making noise as a Timber Rattlers reliever. The right-hander from Indiana has has worked through injuries as a position player to develop a changeup that rates as one of the best in the Brewers system. Kyle Lobner has the story on how Yoho deveoped that pitch, closing games with the Rattlers, why some prospect watchers think Yoho could climb the ladder in a hurry.

After a long wait to get back on the field, things are happening fast for Timber Rattlers reliever Craig Yoho.

A native of Fishers, Indiana, Yoho started his college career as a position player at the University of Houston but his time there was abbreviated by a variety of factors: He had appeared in just one game as a pinch hitter during the 2020 season before that season ended early due to the pandemic, then knee and elbow injuries cost him the entirety of the 2021 and 2022 seasons. By the time Yoho returned to the field it had been over 1000 days since his last college game. During that time Yoho transferred closer to home, joining Indiana, and converted to pitching.

“The one thing that everyone asks me is ‘was there ever a point where I was going to give up?’ and honestly, no,” Yoho said. “Whenever I hit one of those road blocks I would just figure out the math on when I was going to be able to play again, practice again, hit those benchmarks and just keep working towards my dream. That drive has always been with me and still is.”

Yoho made 18 appearances in relief for the Hoosiers in 2023 and struck out 63 batters in 37 innings (15.3 per nine). His resume reel might not have been very long, but it certainly generated some attention: Before the MLB Draft Yoho had committed to transfer to the nation’s top collegiate programs at Arkansas, but then he was selected by the Brewers in the eighth round and opted to begin his professional career.

Yoho pitched in just three games during the Arizona Complex League Brewers’ regular season but played a key role in their postseason run, pitching a scoreless eighth inning with a pair of strikeouts in the decisive Game 3 of their championship series.

“That was awesome,” Yoho said. “Anytime you can compete for a championship it’s always special. Coming in with our draft class and playing with those guys, we’ve built that bond already. Being able to compete, wear the Brewers jerseys and win a championship in our first year, that was awesome.”

Since joining the professional ranks Yoho has shown one of the organization’s most devastating pitches, a changeup that has already generated swings and misses from batters across the Midwest League. It’s not a pitch he threw in college and, given the Brewers’ reputation for helping pitchers reshape their arsenal in their “pitch lab,” it’s sometimes assumed that he learned it there. In his case, however, the pitch started in a much more analog fashion.

“I learned that on my own in 2023, in the summer,” Yoho said. “I would play catch with my dad and I would clip up a towel to the fence and throw pitches until I saw them move. I kind of started to learn it then, and as I started pitching more and more I started learning how to use it, where to start it to get it to end wherever I wanted. It’s really become one of my best pitches.”

Armed with that changeup, his fastball, a slider (sometimes identified as a curve) and a new cutter he added over the winter, Yoho quickly experienced success in the Midwest League this spring. He made eight relief appearances in the month of April without allowing an earned run, striking out 16 batters across eight innings of work. He’s one of three Timber Rattlers pitchers (along with fellow relievers Yerlin Rodriguez and Chase Costello) who pitched at least eight innings without allowing an earned run in April. They’re the first Timber Rattlers pitchers to do that since 2019 and the only three to do it since the team moved to the High-A designation.

“Just getting ahead early,” Yoho said when asked for the key to his hot start. “If I can get to two strikes I know it’s basically over for the hitter, and that’s been my focus is getting to two strikes as quick as possible and then putting guys away.”

Despite being in a bullpen with several pitchers experiencing success, Yoho has nonetheless emerged as one of manager Victor Estevez’s top late inning options. After recording just one save in college he’s already recorded three of them for Wisconsin this season. While the extra adrenaline of recording the final outs might create differences for some, Yoho said it doesn’t make a difference for him.

“All three outs are weighted the same. If you come in during the fourth inning, those three outs are still three outs. The mindset never changes. I come in, I attack hitters and I get outs, and just try to be as efficient as possible. Closing the game is fun, because you get to be the guy who comes in to close the door, but at the same time the mindset never changes. I’m the closer if I’m closing the fourth inning, or the sixth inning or the seventh inning,” Yoho said.

Craig Yoho in a game against the Great Lakes Loons on May 3, 2024.Wisconsin Timber Rattlers

Even before his successful start to this season, however, there was already some hype around Yoho’s potential. In October Geoff Pontes of Baseball America highlighted Yoho as one of eight pitchers selected in the 2023 draft who could make their MLB debuts in 2024.

“He mixes a two-seam fastball at 92-93 mph, with nearly 20 inches of armside run on average, a curveball in the mid-70s with two-plane depth and late sweep and a changeup with serious tumble and fade. If Yoho can consistently throw strikes, he’s got big league bullpen stuff already,” Pontes said.

Yoho said he saw and appreciated that story, but doesn’t feel like it put any additional pressure on him.

“I saw that but at the same time it’s just outside noise,” Yoho said. “It doesn’t change anything that I’m going to do day-to-day. I’m still going to work hard. It’s cool to kind of get recognized, because where I was at the year before that was never even in the picture, really. So it’s kind of motivation that I belong here, and I’m going to keep doing my thing, and if I just keep doing everything I can, that’s reality.”

Yoho is still only 24 years old but he has a different set of life experiences from many of his teammates. Two years ago, while some of his teammates were still in high school, he was getting married. He said he’s enjoyed the opportunity to get to know and bond with some of his younger teammates.

“It’s cool because I kind of get to see them grow up as well, some of my good friends,” Yoho said. “I was good friends with Brett Wichrowski (Timber Rattlers Opening Day starter, since promoted to Biloxi), he’s quite a bit younger than me, but I kind of get to see him grow up and that’s cool. They kind of ask questions, some things I do are cool to them. So it’s kind of cool to be the older guy in the house, but at the same time just be one of the guys.”

Yoho has been a big part of the Timber Rattlers’ hot start to the 2024 season and, like his teammates, he shares the goal of winning as many games as he can while he’s here. Individually, however, his goals for the season involve staying on the field and seeing how far his arsenal can carry him.

“Obviously #1 is staying healthy, and then just seeing how far I can make it in this organization, wherever that may be that’s awesome,” Yoho said.