By DAVID DRIVER
ABERDEEN, Md. — It may be nearly 3,000 miles from Vermont to Oakland but Logan Chitwood, a former pitcher for UT Tyler, says the chasm does not seem that far between a minor league team of the A’s in New England and the big league club in California.
“Not at all,” says Chitwood, 23, a pitcher for the Vermont Lake Monsters of the New York-Penn League. “I know several guys on that team that have been in spring training and extended spring training.”
He was teammates with Jemile Weeks of the A’s in the Arizona League, and was teammates with Oakland pitcher A.J. Griffin in the Arizona League and with Vancouver of the Northwest League, both in 2010.
Chitwood spent time in extended spring training last year with pitcher Sean Doolittle, who was called up to Oakland earlier this season for his big league debut.
But Chitwood, a 6-foot-3 right-hander from Kilgore, is still a long way from Oakland in the short-season New York-Penn League. He was not listed among the top 30 prospects in the organization prior to this year by Baseball America, an industry leader.
Drafted by Oakland in the 19th round in 2010 out of UT Tyler, he is in his second year in a row with Vermont. Last year he was 2-0 with a 4.18 ERA in 19 games out of the bullpen, but this year he was 3-0 with a 1.54 ERA in his first 10 outings as a reliever for the Lake Monsters.
He pitched 2.2 innings of scoreless relief on Sunday, July 22 and had not allowed more than one run in any of his first 10 games. In 23.1 innings he gave up 20 hits with 19 strikeouts and eight walks. He did not allow a homer in his first 10 outings.
“I feel pretty good this year,” Chitwood, who had Tommy John surgery when he was 16 but has been healthy since, said in a telephone interview. “I am starting out good. I feel a lot better than I have in previous years. I am going to try and build off that and have a good year.”
Vermont will begin a series here July 28 against the Aberdeen IronBirds at Ripken Stadium. A co-owner of the team is Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr., the former Baltimore Orioles’ shortstop and third baseman.
“The park is great,” Chitwood said of Ripken Stadium, about one hour north of Baltimore.
Aberdeen is an affiliate of the Orioles and draws some of the best crowds in the New York-Penn League. Chitwood played at Ripken Stadium with Vermont last season and said it is among the three best venues in the league, along with Brooklyn (Mets’ farm team) and Staten Island (Yankees’ club) in New York.
“It has given me a little more experience,” Chitwood, a closer at UT Tyler, said of returning to the New York-Penn League. “I have adjusted to the hitters better this year. It shows with his results.
The next goal for Chitwood is to advance to a full-season minor league club in the Oakland system and the next step up the ladder is with the Burlington (Iowa) Bees in the low Class A Midwest League. “It is always a realistic goal this year. You just never know how things go with all of the moves. All you can do is pitch,” he said.
Vermont was 17-17 in games through July 23 and had a team ERA of 3.61. The 76-game regular season began in mid-June and runs through early September. Chitwood said he plans to return home and work out in Tyler during the offseason in preparation for 2013.
One of the challenges of life in the minors is road trips on the bus. The longest trip this season for Vermont has been about eight hours. “I watch movies and listen to music on (my) iPod,” Chitwood said.
Editor’s note: David Driver is a free-lance writer in Maryland and has covered the New York-Penn League for several years. He can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com