Diekman's road to Majors paved with AFL adversity
Lefty, an Opening Day roster lock, impressed in '11 Fall League after stumbling in '10
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Jake Diekman knew he had landed squarely on the Phillies' radar during a long drive from Arizona to Nebraska in the autumn of 2011.
Following a strong performance in his second tour through the Arizona Fall League, Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan called to inform Diekman that the Phils had placed him on the 40-man roster. He would be headed to big league camp the following spring, with a chance to impress not only folks on the Minor League side of the organization, but then-manager Charlie Manuel, pitching coach Rich Dubee and others.
"Once you get drafted to the time when and if you make the big leagues, there are so many steps," said Diekman, who is a lock to make the Opening Day roster. "For me at least, that was a huge step toward making the big leagues an actual reality."
Diekman could not wait to share the news in person with his father, Paul, but he had eight hours remaining on the trip. However, he could not look too elated during the drive, which he shared with former Phillies pitcher Tyler Cloyd and his wife.
Cloyd had not made the 40-man roster at the time.
"I felt weird, because [Jordan] told me everybody they put on," Diekman said. "So I knew."
Then, with about four hours to go, Diekman's father called. He heard the Phils had placed his son on the 40-man.
"No! I was going to tell you when I got home," Diekman said.
Diekman made his first appearance in the Arizona Fall League in 2010 with the Mesa Solar Sox. He actually had returned to his home in Nebraska following the regular season with Class A Lakewood and Clearwater, his first full season throwing sidearm, not knowing if he would go to the AFL. So Diekman just threw on his own for a few weeks before he got a call from the Phillies telling him to head to Arizona.
"I got thrown into facing hitters right away," he said. "It was brutal. I might have the highest ERA ever there."
Diekman made five appearances for the Solar Sox. He allowed 14 hits, 13 runs (12 earned), four walks and struck out three in just 3 2/3 innings for an incredible 29.45 ERA.
It was so bad that Diekman wondered if the Phils would start to think, "This guy can't cut it."
"Yeah, definitely," Diekman said. "Because I got lit up. The first couple outings I was like, 'OK, that's fine.' Then I was like, 'What the [heck] is going on?'"
But the following fall, Diekman remained in Clearwater to participate in the instructional league before he drove from Florida to Arizona with Cloyd.
"In 2010, we had like one car and five guys," he said.
This time, Diekman pitched with the Scottsdale Scorpions, and it went much, much better. He gave up three hits, two runs (one earned), six walks and struck out 14 in 11 1/3 innings for a 0.79 ERA.
"That was a good one," he said. "I loved it."
What a team, too. The Scorpions featured Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Jean Segura, Will Middlebrooks and others. Diekman got to know each of those guys a little bit. He stood in line at midnight once with Trout to get a copy of the latest "Call of Duty."
Afterward, they played online.
"We were in line with like 500 other people," Diekman said. "It was fun."
Diekman looks back at those years fondly, maybe 2011 more than '10. He said he learned a lot.
"It was a really good experience," he said. "It's kind of like Spring Training. You wake up early, go to the field and play at 1. The competition is better, just because you're facing like five or six teams on each team. They are guys they think very highly of."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.