This off season, the Cardinals signed Pat Neshek to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Pat is a unique pitcher, both in his mechanics and in his off-field hobbies.
If you’ve seen Neshek pitch, you’ll instantly notice that his pitching motion is very unorthodox (watch the attached video). He started pitching side armed after being hit in the forearm with a ball in his final high school game; until that point, he pitched over the top, but after this he could only throw side armed without pain. At Butler, he began to work on transitioning to a full-time side armed pitcher. His mechanics have worked for him; right handed batters have a hard time picking the ball up out of his delivery. His mechanics, mixed with his velocity, have led to great strikeout numbers over his career. This is something that could also benefit the Cardinals; his low-90s fastball coming at a different angle will keep hitters off balance after seeing a 99 MPH fastball coming over the shoulder.
Neshek was originally drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 45th round (1337 overall) out of Park Center High School, but elected to pass professional baseball to attend Butler University. Over his 3 years at Butler, he set school records for strikeouts in a game (18 against Detroit, 04/15/2001), strikeouts in a season (118, 2001), and career strikeouts (280). In 2002, the Twins again selected Pat, this time in the XX round (182nd overall); he signed with the organization this time and instantly found success.
In 2003, Pat moved from Lo A Quad Cities to Hi A Fort Myers to Double A New Britain, all while posting a 1.77 ERA and 17 saves over 71 1/3 innings; he posted a 11.0 K/9 and a 4.35 K/BB ratio. He was also selected to pitch in the Arizona Fall League after that season. 2004 was a little rougher for the pitcher, as he saw his ERA jump to 3.52 for the season; it was a season that started at Double A and ended with a demotion to Hi A. Pat rebounded in 2005 with a full season at Double A, where he led the organization in saves (24) and lowered his ERA to 2.19.
2006 was Pat’s year. Starting the year at Triple A Rochester, Pat racked up 14 saves in 33 appearances, sporting a 1.95 ERA and a 13.0 K/9. He finished the season pitching for the Twins, posting a 2.19 ERA over 32 appearances. 2007 was even better for Pat; the reliever was an out machine out of the Twins bullpen. MLB noticed and had Pat as part of a fan vote off for the final roster spot for the American League All Star team; he ended up being third in the voting. He finished the season 7-2 with a 2.94 ERA over 74 appearances.
Pat’s hardships really started in 2008, when the pitcher was shut down at the beginning of the season after allowing 7 runs over 13 1/3 innings; after a medical exam, it was revealed that he had a torn UCL and he ultimately required Tommy John Surgery towards the end of 2008. He missed all of 2009 recovering from the surgery. Pat struggled upon his return to the Majors in 2010 and was soon back on the DL; the initial prognosis was a sprained middle finger. After a few weeks, he was re-evaluated and it was discovered that he actually injured his right palm. After he was able to pitch, he went back to Triple A to get straightened back out.
Towards the end of spring training in 2011, Pat was out-righted off the Twins’ 40-man roster and claimed by the San Diego Padres. There were plenty of ups and downs with San Diego, but Pat ultimately was designated for assignment in August and finished the season in the Minors. He became a free agent after the season.
Pat started out 2012 by signing with the Baltimore Orioles, but didn’t make the team out of spring training; he spent his time in the Orioles organization with Triple A Norfolk. In August, he was traded to the Oakland Athletics for cash and was immediately promoted to the Major League roster and was a large part of the team’s pennant run. While things were going well with the Athletics, Pat and his wife faced personal tragedy when they lost their new-born son within a day of his birth; Pat battled through was pitched in the ALDS against the Tigers a few days later.
Pat spent most of 2013 with the Athletics, posting a 3.35 ERA over 40 innings. He was designated for assignment in late August and was non-tendered by the Athletics after the season.
He signed with the Cardinals for the 2014 as a minor league free agent with an invite to spring training. He said he was willing to go to Memphis and pitch if needed, because he felt the Cardinals offered him the best opportunity to win a championship.
Pat is a fan favorite because one of his hobbies is collecting autographs and interacting with fans. Pat started his website in the spring of 2004, where he updates his fans on his baseball, life in general, and his collecting. The site has gotten him in trouble in the past; his 2010 DL stint led to a rant on the site where he complained that he was mid-diagnosed and critical of the Twins organization. Manager Ron Gardenhire didn’t take to the comments lightly and blasted Pat in the media; Pat retracted the message and worked things out with his manager and the organization. More recently, Pat has been using the site to build his card collection.
Pat collects both graded and autographed sets of baseball and hockey cards. He’s also known for being one of the better autograph signers in the game; in fact, he lists his current address/P.O. Box on his website so fans can send cards, baseballs and photos for him to sign (as long as you include a self-addressed stamped envelope). He uses his web site for trading with fans; if you send him any signed baseball or hockey card, he’ll send back a signed card of himself. He will go beyond that and trades his games used equipment, such as his 2012 Athletics hat which is sitting in my basement.
As a long-standing member of his website, I’ve learned that Pat is one of the good guys in the game. I was excited to see on his site that he signed with the Cardinals and think he’ll be a great addition to the bullpen, if he makes the team.