Orioles' top pitching prospect Klein a fast riser

Righty, 22, already at Double-A, but whether he's reliever or starter hasn't been decided

(Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
May 24, 2011|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

When Dan Klein was a star quarterback and pitcher at Servite High, he also volunteered as a student mentor for the all-boys Catholic school in Anaheim, Calif.

As part of the program, prospective students in seventh and eighth grade would shadow upperclassmen for a day to get a feel for the place.

Most upperclassmen were assigned three, maybe four middle-schoolers. Klein, however, had 23 -- and all ended up going to Servite. By the final semester of his senior year, the administration and his parents jointly pulled the plug on Klein's volunteerism so he could concentrate on his studies.

"Kids would start requesting him. A lot of them knew who he was because he was established in both sports, but he didn't big-time them even though he was four or five years older," said Klein's father, Chris. "To me, it's the little things that let you know you raised your kids right. He treated those guys well. He didn't act like he was somebody."

Klein, now 22, is quickly becoming somebody in the Orioles' organization. Selected in the third round of June's amateur draft after serving as UCLA's closer, Klein has already made it to Double-A Bowie. With Zach Britton in the big leagues, Klein is the organization's top pitching prospect despite having thrown only 33 1/3 innings as a pro.

Ask anyone who knows the 6-foot-3, 190-pound right-hander and they'll say his quick progression is no surprise.

"I have seen him dominate the best hitters in college," said Matt Grace, one of Klein's UCLA roommates, who pitches in the Washington Nationals' organization. "I know that is different from pro ball, but with his stuff and his demeanor, I expected that to happen and for him to keep moving quickly."

After allowing two base runners and striking out 10 batters in 6 1/3 scoreless innings last year at short-season Single-A Aberdeen, Klein began this season at High-A Frederick, where he had a 1.15 ERA and struck out 21 batters in 15 2/3 innings. Through Monday, he had given up just one earned run in six outings at Bowie and had been charged with three earned runs allowed as a pro -- two of them on solo homers while he was with the Keys.

"I'm trying to limit my mistakes, and the two balls that got hit out [at Frederick] were mistakes over the plate and they should get hit in pro ball," Klein said recently. "But I am real happy with how I am doing for the first month, at least. I know it is a long season and I've got to keep improving."

In high school, Klein had multiple football scholarship offers, including one from California and quarterback guru Jeff Tedford. During Klein's senior year, then-Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis, who was at Servite recruiting another player, took Klein aside and said, "Son, when Jeff Tedford offers you a scholarship to play quarterback, you take it."

Klein just laughed; his dream was to play baseball at childhood favorite UCLA.

"The decision was easier than you might think," Chris Klein said. "The way Dan put it later is that he was a baseball player that played football."

Something special

Chris, a firefighter, and his wife, Teri, a teacher, stressed that all three of their children get an education. Early on, though, Chris Klein knew his oldest child had a gift.

When Dan Klein was about 6, he and his father were playing catch before a T-ball game when other dads began staring. While the other boys were throwing two-hop dribblers, Klein was making his dad's glove pop loudly with every toss.

"I just thought that's what kids at 5 did, but once we got there and I saw the others, I thought, 'Maybe we have something going on here,'" Chris Klein said.

By high school, the Orioles had noticed Klein. Understanding he likely was going to UCLA, they selected him in the 24th round of the 2007 draft, figuring that if they couldn't sign top picks such as catcher Matt Wieters and pitcher Jake Arrieta, they'd make a run at Klein.

They never made an intriguing offer, but scout Mark Ralston kept tabs on the kid. Klein had a strong freshman year that was cut short by shoulder discomfort, which reappeared the next season. He had shoulder surgery as a sophomore, wiping out that season. Scar tissue was removed, but no damage to the rotator cuff or labrum was discovered.

He was ready for his junior year, but when he looked at the Bruins' packed roster -- which included two starters who are consensus top-10 draft picks next month -- Klein realized the club needed bullpen help.

"He came to me and said, 'Hey, I am your closer,'" UCLA coach John Savage said. "I believe that was in December, and I gave him the ball the rest of the way and didn't blink an eye. He just naturally wanted to finish games."

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