Ian Clarkin sits in the Charleston RiverDogs dugout after batting practice, explaining how he throws the curveball that made him a first-round draft pick of the New York Yankees last summer.
RIVERDOGS ON TV
The Charleston RiverDogs' Thursday night game against the Kannapolis Intimidators at Riley Park will be televised live on the CBS Sports Network as the Minor League Game of the Week.
The 19-year-old San Diego native picks up the baseball and shows the grip that most pitchers use when throwing a curveball. Then Clarkin makes a subtle adjustment with the index finger on his left hand and demonstrates his grip.
Ian Clarkin file
Innings pitched: 41.2
Earned run: 17
He'd love to say that the grip was his idea, but that credit goes Kevin Davis and Rob Kaminsky, who were teammates of Clarkin's during the summer of 2012 when they played on the U-18 U.S. Baseball team.
Kannapolis Intimidators vs. Charleston RiverDogs
When: Thursday (7:05 p.m.); Friday (7:05 p.m.); Saturday (6:05 p.m.); Sunday (6:05 p.m.).
Where: Riley Park
Affiliation: Kannapolis - Chicago White Sox; Charleston - New York Yankees.
"The coaches kept telling me that I needed a little more spike on my curveball and Kevin was really the first one to show me his grip," Clarkin said. "We started tossing the ball in the outfield one day and that's how it all started."
Clarkin tried it out in a couple of games but had trouble controlling his new pitch. He went to Kaminsky, the St. Louis Cardinals' first-round selection in the 2013 Major League Draft, for help.
The left-handed Clarkin refined his mechanics and his curveball became the stuff of legend during his senior season at James Madison High School. He was nearly unhittable, striking out 133 batters and finishing with a 0.95 ERA in 2013. Clarkin routinely threw his fastball in the low-90s mph, but it was his sharp, dropping curveball that made him the 33rd overall pick by the Yankees last summer.
Clarkin can throw his curveball for strikes or have it break off the plate, embarrassing hitters with wild misses.
"He's got a big-league curveball, it's got a big-time break," said Charleston RiverDogs pitching coach Carlos Chantres. "He'll throw it at any time in the count and he can throw it for strikes or have it break out of the zone. That's his go-to pitch right now."
Clarkin's Yankee career got off to an inauspicious start. During a taped interview prior to last summer's Major League Draft, Clarkin told the MLB Network he "couldn't stand the Yankees" growing up and one of his fondest baseball memories as a kid was Luis Gonzales' walk-off single in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series that lifted the Arizona Diamondbacks past the Yankees.
When the Yankees picked him, Clarkin quickly apologized, telling the media that the quote was a family joke. His father, Jim, was a Pittsburgh fan, while his mother, Lydia, had been a die-hard Yankee fan.
"It was more of a joke toward my mom; it was taken out of context completely," Clarkin told reporters last June. "I told my mom that I would say that just to tease her a little bit. I didn't mean anything by it and I'm extremely excited to be a part of this wonderful organization."
The decision to turn pro wasn't easy for Clarkin. He had verbally committed to the University of San Diego as a sophomore in high school and told anyone who would listen that his signing bonus with the Yankees would have to be "life-changing money" to lure him away from college and his hometown.
Clarkin received a $1.65 million signing bonus.
"It was the toughest decision I've had to make so far in my life," Clarkin said. "The hardest phone call I had to make was to the coaches, especially Jay Johnson (San Diego's assistant coach) because we'd gotten so close during the recruiting process. I think about them all the time, I'm still a huge USD fan."
Right after Clarkin signed, he rolled his ankle during a drill and was sent to Tampa to rehab his injury at the Yankees' training facility. While Clarkin was there, he routinely bumped into long-time Yankees captain Derek Jeter.
"I think everything happens for a reason," Clarkin said. "Derek Jeter is sitting right there next to me, going through his rehab and he's talking to me and calming me down. It was amazing to be around him and pick his brain and talk about the game.
"He treated me as a teammate even though I hadn't thrown a single pitch for the Yankees. He's so down to earth. He's like your neighbor. I loved being around him every day."
Initially there wasn't a spot for Clarkin with the RiverDogs when the season started in April. He was stuck in Tampa in extended spring training until he was called up in May.
"I don't question where they put me," Clarkin said. "That's not my decision. I'm not worried about where I'm at because it's still baseball. I still have to work hard and improve every day."
In his Charleston debut against Delmarva, he threw five shutout innings, striking out five batters.
"The first night, his first game, he acted like he'd been here all year," Chantres said. "He went after the hitters with all three pitches and he threw them all for strikes. He wasn't nervous at all. He was very poised and just attacked every hitter he faced. He wasn't intimidated at all. He's mature beyond his years."
Clarkin is widely considered to be the top pitching prospect in the Yankees' farm system. In nine starts with the RiverDogs, Clarkin is 2-3 with a 3.67 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 412/3 innings.
"Ian throws a good fastball, curveball, change and can throw all three in any situation," Chantres said. "The sky's the limit for Ian. Obviously, the Yankees are going to be patient with him and bring him along slowly because he's only 19."