Some players face adversity one they reach the highest level, some face it much before that, but the fact remains, every athlete deals with adversity. Keaton Steele, the 8th round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins, is a testament that hard work always prevails over adversity.
Steele entered his first college season in 2011 and missed the entire thing. Thanks to a surgery to repair a torn labrum and a torn rotator-cuff, Steele’s career was put on hold. As a follow-up to the surgery, he came back to win the Most Outstanding Player award at the Junior College World Series.
As a right-handed pitcher who battles with command and determination, Steele also possesses a strong ability at the plate. In 2013 for the Missouri Tigers, Keaton Steele was the only NCAA Division I player to lead his team in homers, wins and saves. Now focused solely on pitching, he is ready to climb the mound at Target Field.
I got a chance to talk with Keaton, and now it’s time for Twins Territory to meet him as well.
Puckett’s Pond: Having made the transition from Junior College in Iowa to Division 1 baseball at Missouri, what was the biggest difference?
Keaton Steele: There was a huge difference, from facilities, to classrooms and obviously the level of competition. Yes, every once in a while you might run into a guy at a JUCO that can really throw the ball, but rarely do you see a guy spotting up with it, and good off speed pitches they can throw for strikes. So, I think the biggest difference was the pitching by far.
PP: As a pitcher, has having had shoulder surgery already changed the way you pitch at all?
KS: I don’t think it has changed the way I pitched, but more the way I prepare. I have learned to do more stretches properly, and more consistently so that I keep my shoulder healthy. By doing the rehab properly, and taking some insight from all my coaches at Iowa Western, and especially my pitching coach at Missouri (Matthew Hobbs), we developed a good idea of what I needed to be doing on any particular day.
PP: Being a very good hitter as well, were you kind of hoping to be able to bat some at the next level?
KS: I think maybe at some point I wouldn’t have minded hitting, but I always knew my better talent was on the mound. I would rather control a game, than be playing a position where I maybe get to bat 3-4 at bats a game. I get to run out there for 7-9 innings, and I just enjoy that a lot more.
PP: Making significant jumps each year you have been drafted, what was your 2014 MLB Draft experience like?
KS: This year was much more relaxed and patient than anything. I hoped that I would go sometime during day 2 but wasn’t for sure. I was just excited more than anything, because I would be given another chance to start a professional career.
PP: Prior to being selected by the Twins, what was your knowledge of the organization?
KS: Growing up right around the Kansas City area, I was always a Royals fan, so I knew a little bit about the Twins. Whenever they were in the playoffs, and the Royals weren’t, I was rooting for them because they were also in the Central. While growing up I was a catcher, and always enjoyed watching Joe Mauer play. I can’t describe it but I just really enjoyed watching him play.
PP: Finally, past of present, who is your favorite major league player and why?
KS: I never know what to answer for this question because I never actually saw him play, but if I had to pick it would, be Pete Rose. Some people have a problem with him for obvious reasons, but I always heard stories of how hard he would play, and how much the game mattered to him; that’s what I want to replicate. He (Rose) just has a fire for the game, because there is only a short window for how long we can play the game.
As Keaton works to transition from the college game to the professional level, he left Missouri on a good note. In the final three weeks of the season, he hurled two complete games and pitched into the 9th in a third. The Missouri product has a great opportunity to become a starter at the next level, and watching the journey unfold should be a treat.
Keaton Steele, welcome to Twins Territory.