Kevin Shackelford is the closer for the Louisville Bats. In his first 11 relief appearances this season, he pitched scoreless baseball in ten of them. His stats, despite this small sample, are pretty good– 14 innings pitched, 7 hits and earned run average of just 2.08. His only flaw has been control; in those 14 innings, he’s fanned 16 but walked 10.
But then consider his 2016 season, which started in Class AA Pensacola and finished in Louisville: 44 innings pitched with a 2.03 ERA, allowing 36 hits and striking out 31 while walking 17.
Still, you won’t see Kevin Shackelford’s name among the Top 30 prospects for the Cincinnati Reds. There are two reasons for that: age (28) and injuries.
“He didn’t have his best stuff at spring training this year and unfortunately for a lot of these young guys, that’s their only opportunity to show what they have,” Louisville Manager Delino DeShields told Redleg Nation. “I gave him the ball every time we were ahead late in the games last year and he produced. He’s picked up where he left off last year.”
DeShields has a lot of confidence in Shackelford. “I certainly do. He’s done nothing but pitched well for me. I know he was disappointed in the spring but you can’t ignore a kid’s body of work. He’s shown he can pitch.”
Kevin Shackelford is a 6’5”, 210 pounder from Charlotte, North Carolina. He was drafted in the 21st round of the 2010 draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. He’s been used solely as a reliever since 2013.
Asked to describe what kind of pitcher he is (in an interview with Redleg Nation), Shackelford replied, “I guess I would say I’m primarily a contact guy. But when I got into the closer role, I changed a little bit and became more aggressive. I come right at ya. I can tell you what is coming and you still won’t be able to hit it. That’s my mindset.
“I get into a rhythm and throw everything for strikes. Even if I’m behind in the count, I’m not afraid to throw a slider.”
Shackelford embraced the closer role when he got it. What’s more, he isn’t “locked” into pitching just one inning or the 9th inning. “It’s awesome,” the righthander said of his role, “I have 8 innings to get my mind right, I like that part (laughs.) Some say it’s more pressure but an inning is an inning, regardless of it’s the fourth or the ninth. I just want to help my team win. I’ll pitch any inning or innings [Louisville pitching coach Jeff] Fassero wants me to pitch.”
Though he was drafted by the Brewers, Shackelford relished the opportunity to pitch for the Reds after Cincinnati swapped Jonathan Broxton to Milwaukee for him (along with Barrett Astin) on August 31, 2014. “I was super excited. I had been designated for assignment by the Brewers so I was ready for a change. Actually, some of us were sitting on a couch when the trade was being announced and I said to one of the guys sitting with me, ‘It’s gonna be you, you throw over 90 miles an hour” and instead it was me.”
Shack was slowed by injuries in 2015: “I had a freak nerve injury, I had a nerve roll over my elbow that gave me fits. I’d be out there pitching and couldn’t feel the ball in my hand. I was out for six weeks. Last year, I had a Grade Two strain of a groin that happened in March when I made my first pitching appearance. It was just a freak accident. You just can’t prevent some injuries.
“Right now, my health is awesome. I feel better at 28 than I did at 22 or 23. I’ve learned to prepare my body better. I feel great.”
He looked great in an appearance against Toledo on May 6. He pitched two innings and struck out the side in the 10th to secure a Bats victory. Asked about that game, Shackelford laughed. “I just wanted a beer” he said, but then added, “Enough was enough. I wanted to end the game and we needed the win. I wanted to finish it right then and there.”
A few hours after we spoke, DeShields and the Bats had a 3-2 8th inning lead against Norfolk. Shack warmed up to prepare for the 9th. Louisville loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the 8th but a strikeout and a double play later, the inning was over and Shackelford took the mound with just that one run lead.
He gave up a lone single and got ahead in the count on every hitter in the 9th inning. He picked another save.
Kyle Shackelford believes that eventually, he’ll got that call and make it to the big leagues. “I have to believe that. It’s gonna happen. Honestly, just the amount of time and dedication I put in and the same for my family, my parents, I know I can pitch up there. It’s just a matter of time. It will be very rewarding when that happens. Very satisfying.”
DeShields believes The Call will eventually come for Kevin Shackelford. “I played with a guy named Mark Gardner,” said the Louisville skipper after the game. “He was 28 or 29 when he got called up and ended up pitching 10 years in the big leagues”.
“His time will come. Like I said, you can’t ignore his body of work.”
Like a lot of young guys– at age 28, Kevin’s young to me– Shackelford has a twitter account; @Shackeldaddy. Before the interview, I took a peek and among his tweets were several honoring Veterans. “There was a guy who was practically my grandfather,” said Shackelford. “He was my high school coach’s Dad. I had tremendous respect for both my Coach and him and he’s a Vietnam veteran. So that’s where I get the respect I have for Veterans. I really do appreciate what they do.”
So there you have it: a reliever with an aggressive attitude on the mound, a great sense of humor, the unfettered confidence of his manager and pretty good stats over the last two seasons. That’s a pretty solid combination.
That’s Kevin Shackelford, your Triple-A Reds closer.
John lives in Galesburg, Illinois and has been a Reds fan all of his life. He is a retired firefighter and a Veteran who served for 32 years but stays active at the local Humane Society. His favorite Reds players include Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Tony Perez, Eric Davis, and Bronson Arroyo. While writing, he frequently listens to the music of Led Zeppelin and Steely Dan. He is flanked in the photo by ever-loyal “Reptar.”