In a fashion befitting his rapid rise through the Red Sox farm system, Jalen Beeks knows how to make friends in new places fast.
The date was June 3, 2017 when the left-handed pitcher from Arkansas was assigned to the PawSox from Double-A Portland. In no time, the 24-year-old became friendly with a fellow southpaw whose locker in Pawtucket's home clubhouse was next door to his. A friendship was struck with Edgar Olmos, a 2017 International League All-Star who fulfilled just about every conceivable pitching role for the local Triple-A outfit.
This offseason, before signing a 2018 contract with a Japanese team, Olmos moved his family from California to Fayetteville, Arkansas. As a result, he is now based just 10-15 minutes away from Beeks, who quickly became his new offseason workout partner. Introductions weren't necessary.
"We saw each other five or six days per week during the offseason," said Beeks. "We'll be friends forever."
Even though Olmos has 3½ years in age on Beeks, the relationship doesn't resemble a little bother following the lead of his older brother.
"We helped each other out," explained Beeks. "I gave him feedback and vice versa."
In baseball circles, Beeks is known as a crafty pitcher whose deceptive arm motion and late movement helps him hide the ball from hitters and makes squaring him up a challenge. That motion has vaulted him through the minors to the point where he found himself in position to forge a strong bond with Olmos in just his third full season as a pro.
Drafted in 2014 by Boston in the 12th round with the 374th overall pick, Beeks didn't mince words when describing his in-season jump to the PawSox as it relates to his long-term ambitions to one day join his well-known University of Arkansas teammate at Fenway Park. Beeks played college baseball with current Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi.
"You're one step away from realizing your dream. You're right there and as close as you can be without actually being in the majors," said Beeks.
Beeks relies on a four-pitch arsenal. Typically, he'll start hitters with something off-speed before mixing in his fastball that sits between 92-94 miles per hour but has the potential to have the hitters believe it may cross the plate a few ticks faster thanks to his Houdini-esque delivery. Scouts note that he can pitch to both sides of the plate and possesses the ability to elevate his fastball if the situation warrants.
Listed at 5-foot-11, Beeks is known as a tough cookie who knows how to work and is armed with a fierce determination. That would help to explain the road he traveled en route to putting together a strong 2017 season that helped him land a coveted spot on Boston's 40-man roster.
In 2015, Beeks' first full year as a Red Sox farmhand, he had a good feel for his fastball and changeup. In 2016, his breaking ball took a major step forward. He added a cutter in advance of last season. Throw all those elements together with the command and deception that he's always had, and it's little wonder why he has climbed to such lofty heights.
In his first Triple-A go-around in 2017, Beeks posted a 3.86 ERA in 17 starts, piling up 97 strikeouts in 95 innings while holding hitters to a .236 batting average. Jalen turned in a brilliant July posting a 1.96 ERA in four starts for the PawSox. Prior to docking in Pawtucket, Beeks had a 2.19 ERA in nine starts with Portland.
"He did a really good job of finding out what would allow him to be successful. He realized what his strengths are and pitched to them," said first-year PawSox pitching coach Kevin Walker, who worked with Beeks in Portland in each of the past two seasons. "He goes out there and competes and doesn't give in to any at-bat. He's going to go out there and give you everything he's got every fifth day."
Beeks did himself plenty of favors when the Red Sox hosted Team USA in an exhibition game in advance of the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Originally, the former Razorback was scheduled to toe the rubber for the Red, White, & Blue. After Roenis Elias, that day's original starter for the Red Sox, strained his rib cage while warming up, Beeks was told that he would be starting for Boston.
Facing a star-studded USA lineup that included notable sluggers like Giancarlo Stanton and Paul Goldschmidt, Beeks turned in two scoreless innings. He retired six of eight batters and threw 21 of 31 pitches for strikes.
From there, it was game on as far as continuing to distinguish himself to the point where Beeks is now one of top starting pitching options in the event the Red Sox have a need at the major-league level.
His biggest Triple-A takeaway was that the pitch sequences that enabled him to record outs at the lower minor-league levels had to change. Attacking hitters with big-league time under their belts meant a different course of action had to be chartered.
"It's another trial-and-error process … working with new catchers and adjusting to new hitters in a new league," said Beeks, named the 2017 Red Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Year. "You've got to learn from everything and move on."
In four minor-league seasons, Beeks has started 78 times and made two relief appearances. Following the 2016 season, the Red Sox sent him to the Arizona Fall League. With an eye towards lessoning his workload, he pitched exclusively in a relief role (10 games, 12.1 IP, 9 ER, 13 SO). The bullpen stint represented his first extended foray as a reliever since his sophomore year at Arkansas.
"There's some minor adjustments when pitching out of the bullpen, but overall it was a good experience in Arizona," said Beeks. "If I ever do transition there, I have those game reps to fall back on."
"It was a great experience for him to get exposed to it, but we still believe he'll be a successful major-league starter," said Red Sox farm director Crockett.
Beeks comes across as someone with a cool confidence about him. He has much to be proud of based on what he's accomplished to date, but he knows there's a bigger picture to keep in mind as he looks to cross that remaining threshold that his good friends Olmos and Benintendi already have the distinction of reaching.
"It's exciting, but I'm more excited to be blessed with being able to still play baseball at a high level," said Beeks.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.