The Major League dreams of Robinson Secondary School graduate Paul Clemens could become reality in 2012.
Clemens, who had worked his way up the Atlanta minor league ladder, was traded by the Atlanta Braves along with three other players to the Houston Astros on July 31 for big leaguer Michael Bourn.
At the time the 6-foot-4 Clemens was pitching at the Class AA level with Mississippi in the Southern League, where he was 6-5 with an ERA of 3.73 in 20 starts. He was also traded along with pitcher Brett Oberholtzer, who had been another top prospect in the Atlanta system.
“From the business aspect I understood completely,” Clemens, 23, a right-hander, said of the trade from his parents new home in Oxford, PA. “We were on the road in Jackson, TN. That day we packed up and having Brett along, that made it a lot easier. It was a hectic day. We had to jump from airport to airport.”
The Braves are annual playoff contenders at the big league level and their minor league system has been strong for many years.
“I thank the Braves for everything I did,” Clemens said. “Without Atlanta, I don’t think I would be in this position.”
The Astros, meanwhile, were 56-106 last year and that means Clemens and other young players may have a chance to crack the Houston roster in 2012.
“I feel this year I will definitely get my shot at some point during the year,” said Clemens, who is projected to start 2012 at the Class AAA level in the Houston system by Baseball America. “Things have been going great for me the past few years. When I get a shot I will be ready.”
Clemens has been invited to Major League spring training in February in Kissimmee, FL and was recently named the No. 5 prospect in the Houston system by Baseball America, the industry leader in the coverage of the minors.
"Clemens needs innings to keep honing his repertoire and control as a starter," wrote Baseball America. "At worst, he profiles as a big league reliever."
After being traded in July he pitched for Corpus Christi (TX) at the Class AA level in the Houston system and was 2-1 with an ERA of 2.35 in five starts.
"He has a good fastball," former big leaguer Tom Lawless, his manager at Corpus Christi, told Patch. "There is no doubt about it. He has a pretty good idea of what he wants to do out there. I am sure he will feel comfortable in spring training" after being traded late in the season.
Clemens also made one start at Class AAA Oklahoma City, the top farm club in the Houston chain.
Clemens, with a fastball in the upper 90s, was a standout pitcher at Robinson High. He broke strikeout records that had been held by Javier Lopez, who played at the University of Virginia and pitched in the big leagues in 2011 for the San Francisco Giants.
“That is an honor to be mentioned with Lopez. I watch Javier very, very carefully. He is a true professional,” Clemens said. Clemens got to meet Lopez when the veteran big leaguer made a visit to Robinson a few years ago.
Now Clemens hopes to join Lopez as a pitcher in the big leagues. And with a powerful fastball that could happen in 2012.
“My fastball tops at about 97. I throw a circle change and a curve. I have worked some on a two-seam fastball but I have real life on my four-seam fastball. The two-seam is not something that I need. I hope to compete for a job at the big league level. That is my goal," Clemens said.