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40 in 40: Zac Curtis

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On applying for jobs

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Arizona Diamondbacks v San Francisco Giants
Zac will at least experience an immediate uniform upgrade
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Is there any human activity more awful than the job application process? It combines face-melting tedium with economic anxiety and a good-old-fashioned attack on your self-worth. If you asked me to choose between helping you move and writing a brief cover letter for a job I’m mostly qualified for, I’d ferry a piano on my back like one of Hannibal’s elephants crossing the Alps.

But for how terrible job applications are, at least they can be done by ourselves, at home, wearing our—downward glance—athleisure items, and we will never have to see the result. Will sections from our doomed personal essay be read aloud at staff parties? Will the spelling error in our thank-you letter be mocked roundly at lunchtime? Will the fact that we even sent a thank-you letter?

Probably, yes and yes and more yes. We all know that work is terrible — no matter what Zach may say — and our coworkers are shuffling zombie extras from the Walking Dead; and yet it is a community that we belong to and have some role in shaping, even if most of our time is spent eating lunch in the book stacks doing “research” so to avoid Carleen talking about the baby food maker she got for Christmas with that mad QVC gleam in her eye. You worked hard to get the job you have, and it has landed you among these idiots. But hey. You’ve made it. You’re sitting in the break room with this fool, listening to her do a bite-by-bite analysis of the green gruel she made little Atticus, because more or less, you are her equal. You have been judged, and found acceptable.

If you desire to be a professional baseball player, you will have interviews, but they will be one-sided. Your body will do the talking, and the scout will do all the listening and observing and assessing. It’s definitely not a conversation. It’s more like volunteering yourself as tribute and waiting for someone to take you up on that. You submit an application every time you step on a field, and if you’re an American ballplayer you have very little control over what company decides to hire you, if any. Once you’re in, for the first half decade or so, you have no control over your advancement outside of just trying to do the very best you can and hoping someone notices. But you can’t apply internally for open positions, or ask for a raise, or to be relocated. So you eat your peanut butter sandwiches and do what you can and hope for some encouraging signs.

Luckily, the Mariners have someone whose job it is to give encouraging signs in Andy McKay. The Diamondbacks have their own version of Andy McKay and it is Jeff Bajenaru, pitching coach, enthusiastic tweeter, and master of the blog jeffbaj.com, in which he recently shared his recollection of new Mariner Zac Curtis’s call-up day:

“It was a first for all of us as coaches to share news like this with a player. I have to admit, I was fighting back tears of joy for this young man.”

Bajenaru was also the one who tweeted out this picture of Curtis getting the news, which got picked up by Cut 4 and other media outlets:

Curtis was getting bumped up from A ball straight to the bigs, so the coaches decided to have a little fun with him, telling him to come right down to the facility because Visalia manager J.R. House was upset with him. He hurried down, only to be told he had earned a promotion:

I’m thinking, ‘Cool, I get to go to Double-A,’ ” Curtis said. “He said, ‘That’s why (Saturday) morning you’re going to fly to Phoenix to meet the team.’ I sat there for a second and he said, ‘You’re going to the major leagues.’ I kept telling him, ‘Stop. No. Quit playing with me.' ”

Curtis was right to be surprised—this was the first time in franchise history the DBacks promoted someone to the majors who wasn’t a Rule 5 pick from below AA. But the lefty reliever was badly needed in the Diamondbacks pen, which posted a 4.94 ERA last season. Curtis had put up eye-popping double-digit K/9 numbers throughout his four years with the organization while controlling his walk rate. As a former starter, he has a more developed arsenal of pitches—he throws a fastball that sits 90, a plus slider, and a decent enough curveball and change-up. He also doesn’t have a terrible platoon split for a left-hander, although Arizona used him mostly as a LOOGY.

With the Diamondbacks, Curtis threw 13 innings, which were largely unimpressive. As might be expected for someone who had never seen competition above the A level, his K rate tanked, his BB rate climbed, and he allowed the 67 batters who faced him to collect 13 hits and two home runs. He didn’t show the same ability he had in the minors to keep the ball on the ground, with just a 39% GB rate, although in his debut, he did induce a double play ball to get the Diamondbacks out of a ninth-inning jam:

Curtis was optioned back to AA in July where his K/9 jumped right back up to 13.73, and it’s not hard to see why: his pitches show some nasty movement, both horizontally and vertically, and typically hang out low in the zone, inducing whiffs and groundballs. Here he is collecting his first MLB strikeout against Cole Gillespie:

Curtis’s time in the major leagues may not have impressed the DBacks, but his track record in the minors suggests that there’s a real skill set here that just needs more time to develop. A lefty reliever with Curtis’s pitch mix is something you don’t find every day, and at 24, there’s some time yet for him to develop into something special. The Diamondbacks opted not to send him to the AFL, where Curtis could have gotten the kind of exposure to high-level minors competition his career has lacked up to this point, so it seems like asking him to begin the year in Seattle might be counterproductive to his development. Paul Fry, coming off a successful season in AAA with a similarly impressive K rate, might be a better option to begin the year in Seattle’s bullpen. With Curtis’s pitch mix, using him only as a LOOGY seems like squandering his abilities, and he might benefit from being stretched out in the high minors to take over a Vidal Nuño-esque role (he even has a very similar stature to Nuño, standing at just 5’9”).

Zac Curtis’s time in his dream job was limited, but he’s been there now, and he knows he can get there again. He has a new team now, and new bosses to impress, but in baseball, as in business, it’s all about getting that first foot in the door.