The YSU standout is in the Indians' farm system.
By JOHN BASSETTI
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Kevin Libeg wishes he would have paid more attention during his three years of Spanish classes in high school.
That's because he was on a Cleveland Indians rookie team this summer with players from seven different countries, mostly Central American.
Libeg, a former Youngstown State University pitcher from Masury, spent 21/2 months in Florida in the Gulf Coast League where he was a middle reliever for the Tribe's affiliate based in Winter Haven.
After signing as a free agent in June, Libeg, a 2002 Hubbard High graduate, made 12 appearances. In 21 innings, he threw 23 strikeouts and issued 11 walks with an ERA of 3.86.
"Every time, I tried to throw a zero," Libeg said of trying not to give up any runs in his appearances. "I tried to make the most of every opportunity."
Working on degree
Libeg is back at YSU for nine more credit hours toward his bachelor's degree in finance. For the fall semester, Libeg is rooming with another former YSU teammate who is also in the minors, Brandon Caipen.
Capien, in the Houston Astros organization, has also returned to finish his undergraduate education.
While in the Gulf Coast League, Libeg was instructed to work on his changeup.
"Before I got there, that was my worst pitch," he said.
But hot weather, palm trees and plenty of practice resulted in a change for the better.
Libeg was one of pitching coach Juan Jimenez' projects.
"When I wasn't throwing, they'd have me hold a baseball and work on my grip everyday," Libeg said of the four-seam changeup. "When they want you to learn something, they're very serious about it."
Before leaving Florida, all 13 of the GCL Indians' pitchers sat with Jimenez individually to review video of their work.
"He told me that I need to work on arm action and leg kick," Libeg said of his mechanics and delivery.
"Sometimes I short-arm the ball," Libeg said of not fully extending his arm in front upon release. "They want more extension. It's a bad habit I had since high school."
Proper extension would increase velocity, Libeg was told by Jimenez. His leg kick needs to be a little smoother, too.
"I was happy with the way I performed, especially my last few appearances," Libeg said of a self-assessment. "Coach [Chris Tremie] was very happy with me, too. It was a great experience, but I need to train really hard in the off-season and be ready for spring training in late February."
The GCL has been in existence since 1964, although this was the Indians' first season.
The 6-4 Libeg believes the Florida heat was a factor in his weight drop from 228 to 211.
"I lost a lot of weight," he said. "I ate healthier, but now I'm trying to get to 230 by the time I leave for spring training in Winter Haven."
The offseason conveniently fits into the plans of players such as Libeg, who wish to earn their degree before concentrating on their pro baseball careers.
"It's really nice that I'm allowed to finish school because I only need two business classes and an elective, then I'll graduate in December. I'll be training all fall and then the two months right before spring training to focus on just baseball."
He plans to lift about five or six days a week and to establish a throwing program.
"[YSU] Coach Florak said we can always work out with his team if we needed a place to throw. He's very supportive of us getting our work in."
Once spring training rolls around, the next phase of Libeg's pro future will take shape.
"I'll get an assignment after spring training. I'll work as hard as I can and, hopefully, move up," he said.