This time last year, the season had gotten off to a shaky start for one of the top young pitching prospects in the Phillies system.
After three starts, Franklyn Kilome had permitted 19 runs and 10 walks. His ERA had spiked to 15.83.
"At the beginning I was just throwing like fastball/changeup, because my breaking ball was really bad," Kilome says. "I don't know why, but it was bad."
Kilome's fastball sits in the mid-90's, but to be effective he needed an offspeed pitch he could rely on. Thus the 6'6" right-handed hurler began working with Lakewood Blue Claws pitching coach Brian Sweeney on a slider.
"That helped me a lot, that pitch," Kilome says. "I get a lot of strikeouts with it."
Now with a new weapon, Kilome settled in as the season wore on. His performance steadily improved, and by summer's end, he led all South Atlantic League starting pitchers in strikeouts per nine innings, with a rate of 10.20 K/9.
Threshers pitching coach Aaron Fultz believes both the slider and the curveball can be effective offerings for the young right-hander.
"He's still got to learn a feel for his changeup," Fultz adds, "But both his breaking balls at times are very good."
The 21-year-old finished last season with a 3.85 ERA - including a 2.77 ERA in the second half. He did not allow a run over his last two regular-season outings with the Lakewood Blue Claws, and struck out 15 batters in 13 innings.
Kilome is now a member of a stacked Clearwater Threshers rotation, which also features Phillies No. 21 prospect Jose Taveras and No. 26 prospect Alberto Tirado, as rated by Baseball America. Now in his fourth season in professional baseball, the Phillies No. 7 prospect has already had to make some important adjustments, both on and off the field.
"My first year, I didn't speak English, so that was hard," Kilome says.
"You go to some place and you ask for something - you don't know how to say it, you don't know how to talk to the people, and when the people are talking around you, you know nothing. You don't feel comfortable…You don't know if they're talking about you.
"So I said, I need to learn English quick."
The Phillies offer English classes to their foreign-language minor leaguers three times per week, but Kilome also put in the extra work outside of the classroom in order to expedite the learning process.
"I started listening to music in English, trying to - everyday - to learn something."
While the classes were a good start, Kilome says that being around the team and working to communicate with his English-speaking teammates is the biggest key.
"My English was really bad at the beginning, really, really bad," he says. "But you just have to try if you want to learn something new."
Kilome, a native of La Romana, Dominican Republic, started playing baseball when he was 13 years old and quickly took to the hill. He returned to the Dominican Republic this offseason and worked to add strength as well as developing a new changeup grip.
"It's a regular changeup, but different grip," he explains, "Something more comfortable."
Kilome made his season debut with the Threshers on April 8 against the Dunedin Blue Jays, taking a no-decision after working 4.2 innings in his first appearance in the Florida State League. He allowed four runs - three earned - walked three and struck out five, throwing 53 of his 88 pitches for strikes.
Fultz noted that one key for Kilome's success is maintaining an aggressive approach throughout the game.
"I saw a very dominant first inning, over-powering" Fultz says of Kilome's debut. "After that it just looked like he was trying to pace himself, instead of going all out, so that's part of the intensity we're going to shoot for."
Kilome bounced back in is second outing, holding the Palm Beach Cardinals to just a run across six innings. He struck out seven and did not permit a walk.
This season Kilome, who is the youngest member of the Threshers rotation, lists lessening his walk total and staying down in the zone as two of his goals.
"More consistent in the strike zone," Kilome adds.
"I just want to be the very best I can."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.