GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Zach McAllister refuses to get comfortable. He has heard that he is a leading candidate for a rotation job, but he knows how baseball works. The Indians pitcher has been around the game his entire life.
Parts of McAllister's childhood were spent in the first few rows behind home plate at small ballparks around the Midwest. As a grade schooler, he would tag along on scouting trips with his father, Steve, and that gave McAllister an early education into how the game works, how it should be played and how it should be respected.
"I just learned about the baseball atmosphere," McAllister said. "So many scouts are ex-players and have stories. You know what the game is supposed to be like. I had a pretty good idea of what it was supposed to be like when I was a young kid. It's helped me have that kind of mentality throughout my life.
"I knew that if you did things right, good things were going to happen."
That is the attitude McAllister has adopted this spring.
The front of Cleveland's rotation is set between the trio of Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Brett Myers. Indians general manager Chris Antonetti has said on multiple occasions that McAllister has a "leg up" on the rest of the field for a fourth job. The fifth spot on the starting staff has a mix of experienced and young starters jockeying for position.
The list of candidates includes Carlos Carrasco, who is returning from a season lost due to a right elbow injury. Also in the hunt are a pair of former stars in Daisuke Matsuzaka and Scott Kazmir. Top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer (acquired from Arizona in an offseason trade) and Corey Kluber (a part of rotation at the end of last season) are in the mix, too.
Under the circumstances, McAllister takes Antonetti's proclamation as welcomed praise and nothing more.
"That's definitely nice to hear," McAllister said. "That definitely makes a player feel like the team believes in you and they have expectations. They expect you to compete and do what you're supposed to do and take that job. It's nice to hear, but at the same time, I have the mentality that I have to go out there and compete.
There's guys here that have all pitched in the big leagues, expect to pitch in the big leagues and want to take that job. I have the same expectations."
McAllister's performance with the Indians last season was strong in stretches and rough in others. It was the kind of showing that gave Cleveland a glimpse of his potential, but also made it clear that there is plenty of work left to do for the pitcher.
Overall, McAllister went 6-8 with a 4.24 ERA across 22 outings in the Majors, striking out 110 hitters and issued 38 walks in 125 1/3 innings. He went 4-2 with a 3.18 ERA in his first 10 games, and then ended with a 2-6 record and a 5.29 ERA across his last 12 turns.
McAllister crossed the season's finish line with a 3.91 ERA over his final four apprarances, allowing him to head into the winter months on a better note.
"It was a huge learning experience," said McAllister, who was promoted from Triple-A in both May and June last season. "I was able to come up early and have pretty good success and pitch the way I normally did. Then I got called back up and did the same thing, and it didn't work.
"The other teams made adustments and it took me a while to adjust back to them. Once I was able to do that, I thought I had a pretty good finish in the end."
This spring, one of McAllister's goals is to gain more confidence in his secondary pitches.
The right-hander already took a step in that direction in his two-inning spring debut Monday, when he notched one of his two strikeouts with a 3-2 curveball. McAllister said that he would almost exclusively fire a fastball in that situation last year.
McAllister's willingness to work and learn have impressed Antonetti.
"He's made great strides," Antonetti said. "Part of what we feel makes Zach such a special guy is the way he prepares, the way he competes and how he learns from things, whether it's throughout his time in the Minor Leagues or his Major League experience last year.
"I think we'll see Zach really excel this year at the Major Legue level. I think to a man we all feel he's ready to take that next step."
That type of work ethic can be common among players who grew up around the game.
"You see that a lot of times with like sons of coaches," manager Terry Francona said, "where there's a respect for the game and things like that. You see that a lot, yeah."
Steve McAllister currently serves as the Midwestern regional supervisor for the D-backs, but he previously worked as a scout for the Brewers, Angels and Red Sox. The elder McAllister was a shortstop -- he was drafted by the Astros in 1981 and spent six years in the Minor Leagues -- so he could only do so much to help his son's development as a pitcher.
When he was young, Zach McAllister was a catcher and third baseman, giving his dad a chance to teach him sound fundamentals.
Things changed in McAllister's senior year at Illinois Valley Central High School in Chillicothe, Ill.
"I grew a lot," McAllister said with a laugh.
He is listed at 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds in the Indians' media guide, but Francona is not sure that is entirely accurate.
"I feel like every time I walk in, he grows," Francona said. "He's so big."
McAllister's size has helped his abilities on a mound.
"Some feedback from hitters," Francona said, "is that when he lets go of the ball, it feels like he's right on top of you. That's not a good feeling for a hitter. You add the good arm to boot. He's got tremendous amount of poise for a young kid. He really competes.
"There's a reason that we like him this much. There's a lot of reasons."
McAllister plans on doing everything he can to reward such praise.
"You can't get comfortable," McAllister said. "You just have to go out and compete and do what you're supposed to do, and let the rest take care of itself."