Hagadone returning to pre-surgery form

Hagadone returning to pre-surgery form

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The first thing you do when you meet Nick Hagadone is look up. It's an introduction that's hard on the neck.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Hagadone stands out at the Indians' Player Development Complex just by standing around.

Put the big left-hander on the mound, and he stands out all the more.

"He's incredible, physically," farm director Ross Atkins said. "Where he is is above the norm of all of our athletes. And mentally, as well. He's a very mature, smart individual and someone that has the ability to not only maximize his ability but take advantage of their resources."

The Indians had a valuable trading resource last summer in the form of All-Star catcher Victor Martinez. They dealt him to the Red Sox for a package of three pitchers -- Hagadone, 6-foot-6 right-hander Justin Masterson and 6-foot-4 right-hander Bryan Price.

It's too early to tell who got the better end of the deal, but it's clear the Indians have the advantage in inches.

While Masterson projects as the Tribe's No. 3 starter this season, the 24-year-old Hagadone might be the most intriguing acquisition. Though Tommy John elbow surgery cost him most of the 2008 season and slowed his path, his ascension to the Majors has the potential to be a relatively rapid one.

"Right now, I feel as good as I did before I got hurt," he said. "I'm ready to put that injury behind me and just go forward with my career."

Hagadone will begin the 2010 season at Class A Kinston, where he finished in '09. Though he was a reliever at the University of Washington, the Red Sox were stretching him out as a starter at the time of his injury, and the Indians are following suit.

"His highest ceiling is as a starting arm," Atkins said. "That's how we'll develop him. We certainly won't be disappointed if it takes another path. What we see is a guy with a mid-90s fastball and the ability to get more than that, with an above-average breaking ball and a developing changeup."

Hagadone had just thrown what he considered to be "the best changeup of my life" while on the mound for Class A Greenville in 2008. He went to throw another one and felt that unfortunate twinge in his elbow.

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"It came out of nowhere," Hagadone said. "That whole season leading up to that injury, my arm felt better than it ever had before."

Because he missed so much time in '08 and '09 (he only worked 45 innings last year), Hagadone's workload will be limited this season.

"We're not going to overexpose him," Atkins said. "But he'll have plenty of opportunities to develop."

Hagadone is still developing that changeup, but his fastball is a dangerous weapon, and his slider is considered above-average.

It was Hagadone's Washington teammate, Tim Lincecum, who inspired him to work on that breaking ball.

"When I came into college, [my breaking ball] was a 68-mph curveball," Hagadone said. "It was loopy, and you couldn't consider it a pitch for me. Lincecum threw his curveball 85 mph, and it was the dirtiest pitch I'd ever seen. I knew I had to improve my slider if I wanted to be good. I knew I had to throw it harder. I didn't change my grip or anything. Over time, it kept getting harder and harder, and I was able to command it better."

Of course, the fastball stands out most to the average eye. Hagadone routinely hits 94 or 95 mph with it, but, when he really reaches back, he can hit 97 or 98.

The speed, combined with the ability to throw the hitter off with the breaking ball, helped Hagadone compile a 2.74 strikeout-to-walk ratio and an average of 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings in his Minor League career.

"It gives me a lot of confidence to throw my fastball," he said. "I don't have any doubts when I throw that pitch that anything bad's going to happen. I always have full confidence in it."

Because of his stuff, size and skillset, the Indians see a bright future for Hagadone. And considering what the Tribe gave up to get him, Hagadone knows the organization believes in him.

"That was an honor to be included in that trade," he said. "I had a great time with the Red Sox while I was there, but, at the same time, I was excited and looking forward to the new opportunity with the Indians.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.