After a slow start to the season where they were 17-21 as of May 19th, the Akron Aeros have been on a roll lately. Winners of 16 of their 17 games and 26-6 since then, Akron has charged full bore into first place of the Eastern League's Southern Division. At 43-27 overall, Akron now owns a three game lead in the division.While several good offensive performances and some good starting pitching has been the key to the team's success, the guy usually pitching the ninth inning to lock down those wins may arguably be the team MVP so far this season. Right-hander Randy Newsom has been about as good as you can get this season, and has served as the final nail in the coffin to every team he has pitched against all season. He has been nails each time out, as through Saturday he is 4-0 with a 0.87 ERA in 31 appearances, and is 20-for-22 in save opportunities. Even in the two games he has blown, Akron has won.Newsom is a submariner who is a command-control pitcher. He does not throw very hard as his fastball sits in the 81-83 MPH range, but being a submariner this is more a requirement so the ball does not flatten out and it lets him get more sink on his pitches. If you love pitchers who work quick, pitch to contact and get a lot of groundball outs, then you'll love Newsom. This year his groundball to fly ball ratio is 4.14, while last year it was 2.89. He is also very intelligent, a hard-worker, and has a lot of confidence in both of his secondary pitches, his slider and changeup.Newsom has really adapted well to the closer role. While it may not be a role that suits him best when he gets to the big leagues, he has really taken to it well since he was thrown into the role last year. Combined with his 18 saves in Akron last season, Newsom now has 38 career saves at Akron which has already shattered the team record that was held by Mike Soper (24 saves) up until this May when Newsom passed him on the all-time list. Newsom achieved the mark in just 67 appearances at Akron, which is just under a season."Yeah, I think [the Indians] feel comfortable with me in the role," said Newsom in a recent interview at Canal Park. "Just like everyone else I think I battled through some stuff early on. But, I think our bullpen has found a sense of order because of it. Usually, as you have seen with the big league club, you gotta work from the back forward and know who is pitching the ninth and then the seventh and eighth. I think we have fallen into our roles here pretty well."There is very little Newsom, 26, has to do to improve so that he can get a big league opportunity and achieve his dream of making it to the major leagues. He is about as ready as he can be."I have mostly worked on throwing more sliders this year and working on getting right-handers out in different ways than just groundballs," said Newsom. "Mostly I have just been trying to close games out and help this team win. When you pitch in the ninth inning you can't really work on things when you have a one or two run lead. A three run lead maybe sometimes we will work on something, but I have had very few non-save outings. Really I have been focused on getting the job done and doing what it takes to get out of here."Newsom has done everything they have asked and is certainly a relief option the team may turn to in the next month or two at the big league level. If they do pull the plug on the season as many are predicting they very soon will, then Newsom could make his major league debut sometime later in the year. At the same time, Newsom will likely be auditioning for a job with Cleveland or somewhere else in 2009.The Indians do not communicate very much with their players during the season with how they are doing or where they may be going, which is more by design so players are not constantly asking them where they stand. The players talk to Farm Director Ross Atkins when spring training opens, and for the most part that is the last time they have any contact with any front office personnel until the end of the season when they have their exit interviews. The organization has been slow to move Newsom up to Triple-A Buffalo, which may be frustrating for him in that he is still at Akron even with his extraordinary numbers and performance there the last year-plus. Even still, he may be closer to getting that big league shot sooner than he thinks.While Newsom has not been directly told how he is doing or where he is going, there are some subtleties in his appearances that show he is being groomed for a major league role. The most obvious one is how many times the Indians have used him on back-to-back nights, and sometimes even three nights in a row. Using a relief pitcher on back-to-back nights is almost unheard of in the minors, yet Newsom does it quite regularly. Pitching three nights in a row never happens, at least in the Indians organization.Still, Newsom is quick to downplay the way he has been used."I think it is because I am a side-armer," said Newsom. "It is not like I have had a lot of high stress innings. If I threw 25 pitches in an inning two days in a row I don't think they would throw me in there for a third day. With twelve pitch and nine pitch outings, I can go out there again."In addition to performing on the mound and awaiting his call to the big leagues, Newsom is also awaiting word on his company Real Sports Investments (RSI) that he started back in January. In a nutshell, the idea behind RSI is that the company would give players cash up front in exchange for their promise to pay a small agreed upon percentage of their future major league earnings to RSI. Then, RSI sells those future earnings to investors, sort of like stocks.The idea behind it all is to lessen the financial burden minor leaguers face as most players make less then $10,000 a year and don't really start to make any significant money until they get to Triple-A. For many players, they live off the signing bonus they received when they originally signed with their team, and then spend the next several years eating bad food and living with three to four other guys in an apartment to share rent. Most players do not even own a car, and a lot of them are trying to support a family.Only a couple weeks into the venture, Newsom had to table the idea for the short term while he worked with Major League Baseball, The Player's Union, and the Securities and Exchange Commission on something they could all approve and support. When RSI was shutdown, Newsom had already sold 1800 shares of his future earnings (one share was .002% of his future earnings) at $20 apiece. He had to return all the money totaling $36,000 to his investors.Four months later, it appears a resolution is close to being reached and RSI may be open for business again very soon."We had a good meeting with Major League Baseball," said Newsom. "The Major League Baseball meeting was awesome and they were much more receptive with the setup. I can't really get into too much yet as we have to run it all by them again. We kind of outlined the basis of what we are going to do and they were very enthusiastic about it and it sounds like we are going to get the go ahead. I think we are about a month away from re-launching."Newsom and his partner Brian Pritz will be the only two players offered initially when RSI is re-launched. Pritz is an outfielder in the Boston Red Sox system at Triple-A Pawtucket. Once things get going, Newsom and Pritz expect to have several more players added to the list. With the re-launch, there will be some changes to the original idea, but it will still be what it was designed to be at its core, which is a venture to help minor leaguers financially and also gets fans actively involved with them."We have a good concept," said Newsom. "It is not going to be nearly as sexy I think in terms of mass media appeal, but for the true baseball fans and for the people trying to get involved in the players I think it is going to be very fulfilling. The interesting thing is the fan response. How much they are paying to the minor league now is overwhelming."For a pitcher who can ill afford to lose any focus, it will be interesting to see how Newsom handles the RSI venture. So far, with all the legal issues and roadblocks he has encountered with it, his on-field performance has not suffered one bit. Right now, Newsom stands second in line to right-hander Jeff Stevens as bullpen options in the minors the Indians will turn to as the season progresses. His unique submarine arm slot could give the Indians bullpen a much different look compared to some of the other arms they already have in the pen.The Indians have shown in the past that they use Akron as more of a finishing school, whereas Triple-A is used more as a holding ground so more of their best prospects can get a shot at Akron to play. Getting to Buffalo is not that important for Newsom, as there is a strong possibility he can make the jump right from Akron to Cleveland. At worst he could go to Buffalo and make a handful of appearances before getting a callup.In any case, Newsom is focused on his job in Akron and doing what he needs to move up in the system."If you would have told me four years ago I would be in Double-A and have the chance to close games out and would have made an All-Star team I'd be absolutely thrilled," said Newsom.With the way he is pitching along with his company just starting to get off the ground, the thrills have just started.
Photo courtesy of Ken Carr