After setting a Point-Loma Nazarene record with 12 victories, the San Diego Padres picked Mike Ekstrom in the 12th round of the 2004 draft. Ekstrom, who turned 21 on August 30, was dispatched to Eugene when the Emeralds opened their season.
Playing for a club that struggled to find victories, Michael Ekstrom went 3-1 with a 3.69 ERA. Through the first two months of the season, split between starting and relief, Ekstrom held the opposition to a .200 batting average. August wasn’t as kind as he allowed a .317 average.
Armed with a low-90’s heater, he ended up striking out 22 over the final month of the season in 14.2 innings but he was tagged for seven runs, six earned in an August 13 outing. It was one of the few bad outings of the year for the right-hander. He had gone 12.1 innings without allowing a run to open the year and allowed more than three runs in just one other start.
As was the case with many of the Ems players, Ekstrom was near-perfect at home. His 0.79 ERA reflected the success and the opposition hit just .103 off him. Unfortunately he also had to make starts on the road and he faltered with a 4.88 ERA.
It could have had something to do with his local ties to Eugene. His home is just a short trip from where the Emeralds play and his support system was big with his parents coming out to watch him play.
“You don’t always get to see these guys as they don’t pitch when you are in town,” Padres’ Director of Player Development Tye Waller admitted. “He is a strike thrower. He changes speeds and he hits his spots. If you can do that in the lower levels, you are going to have success.
“The big question as you climb the ladder is can you do that against better hitters? That is what is key. As you go up can you still pound the strike zone with your stuff and get by without having to get outs outside the strike zone where guys end up taking the pitches. So far what I have heard and experienced with the game reports, Mike is a guy who can do that.”
The reports from “Target” Roy Howell, the manager of the Emeralds, must have been glowing because Ekstrom was promoted to Fort Wayne in the middle of August. His tour of duty was not as successful with the Wizards. In three starts, Ekstrom gave up 15 runs, 13 earned, in 14.1 innings. A .344 average against and .429 with runners in scoring position put him behind the eight ball.
The move up, according to Waller, was still a benefit:
“We got a look-see at the next level that makes us better for next year.”
Ekstrom has solid command of a changeup and slider to keep batters off-balance and must continue to hit his spots to see success. He misses up high on occasion and that will get him hit hard as he goes up the ladder.
There was some initial concerns, by scouts, that the Oregon native was detached from the game of baseball but he has dedicated himself to the game. This offseason will be one of change as Ekstrom must come to grips with the fact that his support system will be gone. In Fort Wayne, he will have to bond with his fellow teammates and that could help his mental approach to the game.
Ekstrom has three above average pitches and that should be enough to move him up the chain. Now he must put that together with consistency on his mechanics and gaining a little more attitude on the mound.
Denis Savage can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org