The San Francisco Giants have invited Steven Okert to spring training, and the lefty would like nothing better than to display his talents in front of his possible future skipper, Bruce Bochy. Altogether, twenty-two non-roster invitees will be in camp, due to open February 18th, twelve of them pitchers.
With the Giants bullpen already featuring a pair of key southpaws in Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez, Okert may find himself biding his time for quite a while. On the other hand, were Okert to continue doing what he has been doing, while creating a fair amount of interest on the part of Giants brass-serving as closer-he might just find a way onto the team at some point in the future with that role in mind.
In 2012 Okert played in both the Arizona League for the Scorpions and for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, at the lower Single A level, compiling a 2-0 win/loss record, with a 2.20 ERA in seventeen appearances, none of them starts.
Total number of home runs given up in 2012? Zero.
In 28.2 innings he gave up 28 hits and seven earned runs, none via the big fly. He struck out 28 and issued twelve walks. He posted a WHIP of 1.395, had a SO/9 of 8.8 and a BB/9 of 3.8.
He spent 2013 with the Augusta GreenJackets, recording a 2-2 record with a 2.97 ERA in 44 games. He racked up 60.2 innings, gave up 55 hits, allowed 20 earned runs, and surrendered three home runs. He struck out 59 in his 60.2 innings and walked 24, for another 8.8 SO/9 and a 3.6 BB/9. He posted a WHIP of 1.302 and was credited with two saves.
Mar 4, 2013; Glendale, AZ, USA; San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy (15) looks on during the seventh inning against the Chicago White Sox at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
2014 saw him split time with Class A Advanced San Jose and Double-A Richmond, going 2-2 with a 2.2 ERA, in 57 games. He hurled 68.1 innings, giving up 57 hits and 16 ERs, to go with his five home runs given up. He whiffed 92, walked just 22, posting a 12.1 SO/9 and a 2.9 BB/9. His ever-decreasing WHIP was 1.156 and he had 24 saves.
Note that in each of his three seasons, Okert’s number of innings pitched, exceeds his number of appearances, indicating that he has the capability of going more than just the ninth inning. Four and five-out saves are somewhat rare on the major league level, and so therefore all the more valuable.
The Rowlett, Texas product has a 2.45 ERA in his three minor league seasons, and has made stellar progress at each step of the way. He gave up three home runs in a fourteen-inning stretch, when he first arrived at Double-A Richmond, but beyond that hiccough as he adjusted to a new level, he has been consistently excellent.
Okert also benefited from teammate Josh Osich, who had urged him to include a change-up in his arsenal. Having subsisted mostly on a fastball/slider combination, adding the change-up made good sense. He said recently that it is still a work in progress, but it helped him achieve a .225 average against right-handed hitters in 2014, another element that has Giants brass salivating.
Finally, topping off his breakout 2014 season, Okert went to the hitting-potent Arizona Fall League, where in twelve innings, he was dominant, posting a 0.75 ERA and a 0.50 WHIP, for the icing on his season. He gave up a total of five hits, while striking out seventeen and walking one. Now, resting up prior to his appearance in the Giants’ spring training complex, Okert is seeking to continue his ascension in the eyes of the Giants.
MLB columnist Bernie Pleskoff categorized his fastball as being in the mid-nineties, and that the “crisp fastball/slider combination provided the foundation for his repertoire.” Adding an 85 mph change-up keeps things sufficiently mixed, and he limited left-handed batters to a .165 average in 103 appearances against him last season.
At six-three, 210 pounds, Okert is an imposing figure on the mound, another in an amazingly long list of Southern ballplayers, who will be present in the Giants’ dugout this spring. And as far as being a left-handed closer is concerned? Well, the Giants have a pitching coach, Dave Righetti, who has some experience in that area himself.
Now there’s a pleasant thought to cogitate going into spring training.
Jun 29, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti (33) visits the mound with relief pitcher Jeremy Affeldt (41) and catcher Buster Posey (28) during the ninth inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports