In the spring of 2011, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Kluber as the 26th-best prospect in the Indians' organization.
Corey Kluber did what any good baseball dad does during the offseason. In November 2012, he picked up his eight-month old daughter, found a spot on the floor, and went to work on changing a diaper. Sitting with his legs crossed, Kluber finished, grabbed Kendall and pushed himself up. That is when the Indians pitcher blew out his right knee. Talk about an embarrassing phone call to the Indians' medical staff.
"It was," Kluber said. "My knee was stuck back, because the meniscus flipped under and got pinched between the bones. I couldn't straighten my leg out. I was basically lying down on the couch trying to straighten it, telling them, 'Hey, I don't really know what happened.'"
It is a funny story to tell now because of what has happened in the months since the injury. The knee, which was surgically repaired on Nov. 30, 2012, has not been an issue for Kluber.
"I'm so proud of him," Terry Francona said in July 2013. "You've heard me refer to the glass being half-full a lot of times, and it's because of guys like him. He's getting better, it seems like, almost every start, whether he's learning something or gaining experience. And, in the meantime, he's winning games."
A large part of the pitcher's success in 2013 has been an aggressiveness with his two-seam fastball that was not there in his dozen starts as a rookie in 2012.
"He knows that when he pitches aggressively with his fastball, he's a much better pitcher," Francona said. "And there's innings where he's gotten away from it, and he knows it, but that's part of maturing as a pitcher. When the damage is starting, handling it, regrouping, trusting your stuff, that's part of it."
Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said the roots of Kluber's transformation were planted during the 2012 season. As the Minor League pitching coordinator at the time, Callaway noticed that Kluber was too reliant on his four-seam fastball and offspeed pitches in the first half with Triple-A Columbus. Callaway discussed things with Ruben Niebla, Columbus' pitching coach at the time, and the consensus was that the pitcher could benefit from focusing more on his two-seamer.
If Kluber could establish that pitch aggressively and efficiently, it would open the door for his slider, cutter, and changeup to be more effective.
"It was a good learning experience for me," Kluber said. "I did go through some troubles at the beginning, but toward the end of the year I had some good outings to build off. I think I was getting caught up a little too much in the different scouting resources (in 2012): 'This against this guy,' or 'This against that guy,' instead of falling back on what works for me. Stick with what you do well." (Jordan Bastian - MLB.com - 7/25/13)
Former Padres scouting director Joe Gayton and Joe Bochy, the San Diego scout who signed Kluber, saw the potential in Kluber's delivery, demeanor and drive. These days, it has become a running joke in Cleveland that Kluber rarely smiles and operates like a machine. Gayton laughed when told that the pitcher has been called "Klubot" for his personality behind the scenes and poise on the field.
"He's very serious. I remember that. Very serious," Gayton said. "For me, as the scouting director, I wasn't going to get to know him like some other kids over a short period of time. He was just a quiet kid. [Stetson head coach] Pete Dunn told me, 'He's a great kid. He's fun to be around.' I said, 'Really, he opens up?'"
One attribute that really stood out to Gayton early on was Kluber's willingness to take advice.
"He was just a great kid, very open to suggestions," said Gayton, who currently works as a professional scout with the D-backs. "He was just outstanding to work with."
Asked about Kluber's rapid ascension to becoming a Major League ace, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti cracks a smile. "It's been really fun to watch," Antonetti said. "More than anything, it's been great to watch the way Klubes has gone about it. His success is not accidental. He didn't just turn into a Cy Young Award winner. He puts in the work every single day—whether it's during the offseason or during the regular season—to be the best he can be. He's constantly looking to improve."
The pitcher downplays capturing the AL Cy Young Award. "I'm sure you can imagine that all that attention isn't really my thing," Kluber said. Naturally, Kluber downplays the heightened expectations for his encore. "I don't think that adds any pressure for me, what other people are expecting," Kluber said. "I think I probably hold myself to a higher standard than the outsiders do anyways."
Such responses, and Kluber's seemingly unflappable demeanor, are what have earned him the nickname "Klubot" over the past few years. He is the same on the mound, almost expressionless in both good and bad moments.
Francona said Kluber's personality is another advantage on the mound. "It's a very good trait," Francona said. "When other guys in the other dugout don't know if you're happy, sad, feeling good, feeling bad, that's really good. Because a lot of times, by your body language, you give the other team a little bit more motivation or more confidence by how you're carrying yourself." (Bastian - mlb.com - 4/3/15)
"He had raw stuff [in the Minor Leagues]," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "The erratic fastball command was concerning for me. But I knew, if he can get his fastball over and make that a priority, he was going to have some really good success. When Kluber kind of made that adjustment, he took off."
And Kluber didn't look back. "It makes me look realy good, doesn't it?" catcher Yan Gomes said with a laugh. "Things aren't just happening because he's getting lucky. He's really put in work. I think guys are really starting to pay attention to that. Everybody knows the young pitching staff that we have. That's the kind of guy that we want up there leading us."
"It's exciting for me personally that next time out there will be when it counts," Kluber said. "I'm happy with where I'm at both physically and mentally. I'm ready to go. I'm looking forward to it." (Bastian - mlb.com - 4/3/15)
"Kluber pays attention to detail so well," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "You kind of wind him up and let him go. There's a reason when we talk to our young pitchers, we say, 'Watch what he does.' He does everything with precision."
"Corey's approach shows with the rest of our staff every day," catcher Yan Gomes said. "They follow the way he goes about it. He wasn't the guy who was brought in to be the ace. He earned it and people saw that. It motivates everyone else. They know what can happen with dedication."
"Sometimes it's human nature if you're warming up and playing catch that you kind of just go through the motions, but he has an intent with every pitch, every throw," Francona said. "And that's the way he makes his living. So it does carry over, and whether it's PFP [pitchers' fielding practice] or whatever he does, he does it the way you're supposed to. Its part of the reason he's so good. He does it to a really extremely high level. You couple his talent with that ability to consistently do things, it does make you pretty special." (Ringolsby - MLB.com - 3/14/16)
Corey does not have to say much. As far as the Indians are concerned, the way their stoic starter goes about his daily work behind the scenes, and then how he attacks hitters on the mound, is leadership enough for the rest of the pitchers.
Kluber does not need to give a of speech to rally his team for the long season 2016 ahead. His preparation and performance will set the tone. There is no one that Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations, would rather see take the ball to start the season.
"It's a great thing organizationally," Antonetti said, "when you can point to your best pitcher and say, 'If you want to be like him, go do things the same way he does. You want to win a Cy Young? Go follow what Klubes does. Watch his routines. Watch the way he prepares for a start. Watch how diligent he is in the training room and in the weight room.' It's a pretty powerful message."
When Cleveland acquired him from the Padres in a three-team deal at the 2010 Trade Deadline, there was a collective yawn. A year later, Kluber began overhauling his pitching style, focusing more on a two-seam fastball and adding a cutter to go with his other offerings.
"The way you saw Corey kind of evolve into the guy he is now is not by coincidence," said fellow Tribe starter Josh Tomlin. "That guy puts his head down and goes to work every day. That's somebody we all need to look at, no matter if you're a position player, pitcher or bullpen guy. Whoever you are."
Hints of Kluber's potential were there down the stretch in '13, but everyone took notice in the following season. The right-hander developed one of baseball's best curveballs and, combined with his sinker and cutter, featured a combination of pitchers that baffled batters. The strikeouts came in bunches and the wins followed in '14, culminating in one of the more surprising Cy Young victories in recent memory.
"That's the biggest key to our success," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said of Kluber's emergence. "If you go back and look, once Kluber became the main leader, everything changed. He's one of the biggest reasons why you start thinking of the Cleveland Indians, you think about pitching. That probably has more to do with Corey Kluber than anything." (Bastian - MLB.com - 4/4/16)
June 19, 2016: Each offseason as the holidays approach, Corey Kluber starts his throwing program in preparation for the season ahead. As he has done since Corey was a kid, Kluber's father, Jim, grabs his glove and offers to play catch with his son to help. Those rounds of catch have become a little more painful over the years.
"The ball just smacks into the glove so hard," Jim said. "And he's not even trying to throw hard. It just has so much behind it, effortlessly. You look at your hand afterwards, and it's red."
Jim speaks with pride when discussing what Corey has become for the Indians. And he gets a kick out of the fact his son's success has come with Cleveland, the team Jim pulled for during his childhood on the east side of the city. The elder Kluber began following the Tribe in 1959—you can still hear the pain in his voice when he mentions how the White Sox edged the Indians for a spot in the World Series that fall. Jim brings up Rocky Colavito, Sonny Siebert, Fred Whitfield and Max Alvis. He speaks of how Bob Feller was a local celebrity in Gates Mills, Ohio, two towns over from where Jim grew up in Highland Heights.
All of that made the phone call from Corey in 2010 so special. Both of Corey's parents answered, but Jim told his son he would catch up with him after he spoke with his mom. Corey insisted his dad stay on the line. Corey had been traded to the Indians by the Padres.
"It had a lot more significance to him that it was the Indians," Corey said. "To me, at the time, it was just another one of 30 teams. I didn't have any connection to the Indians, but for him, it was the team that he always grew up watching and rooted for." Jim, who now lives in Cape Cod, was stunned with joy. "I literally could not believe it," he said. "I probably screamed or something like that, because I've always been an Indians fan. Our family, my family, we've always been baseball people. Especially for me, for him to go to Cleveland was like a dream come true."
In the years since, Corey has won the American League Cy Young Award in 2014, and tied the Tribe's nine-inning franchise record with 18 strikeouts in a game in 2015. Corey shares that record with Feller, and his name is alongside other franchise greats—names like Sam McDowell, Herb Score and Luis Tiant—for numerous achievements.It is all a bit surreal for his father.
"Corey has said it, that it's an honor to be just mentioned along with them," Jim said. "I feel the same way."
Jim is just as proud of what his son has become away from the field.Indians fans are used to seeing the stoic pitcher—one who shows no emotions on the days he starts. Jim said that not only comes from his own personality, but from a youth coach who emphasized being emotionless on the field. In fact, Jim said Corey is a "jokester" with a great sense of humor. (J Bastian - June 19, 2016)
Corey and his wife, Amanda, have 4-year-old Kendall, 2-year-old Kennedy, and another child due in early December. "I'm definitely outnumbered," Corey said with a smile, a smile his fans don't typically see inside the ballpark. "If I have to do stupid things to make them laugh out in public, so be it. I didn't know how to put hair in a ponytail before I had daughters. Now, I can do it halfway decent."
Good dads will do anything for their kids—that includes playing catch, even when it's painful. "It's probably not his favorite thing to do anymore," Corey quipped.
"He has great accomplishments as a baseball player," his dad, Jim, said, "But an even greater accomplishment is what he's done as a husband and father. He's got a great family. Two little girls that he's totally devoted to. That's really what, at the end of the day, means the most to him."
Feb 3, 2017: There is a quote painted on the wall at Cressey Sports Performance in big, bold red letters that no one can miss. It reads: "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard."
Underneath it, on this overcast and frozen first day of February, Corey Kluber is putting in his work. There is no disputing the talent. The lanky Cleveland Indians right-hander -- who features a breaking ball so tricky no one knows if it's a curve or a slider, plus a two-seamer to make Greg Maddux drool -- won the 2014 American League Cy Young Award and won two games against the Cubs in the 2016 World Series.
But there are no accolades without the everydays, and today, Kluber will put in a three-and-a-half-hour training session, which I had the opportunity to participate in. "Corey understands that what we do in the weight room is a means to an end," says Eric Cressey of Cressey Performance, who has been training Kluber in the offseason since 2010. "It's not just about lifting heavy weight or trying to impress people on social media or randomly putting a number out there that you want to hit."
"Training with the weighted balls helps me build a solid base for my arm and shoulder strength, and it helps me to be ready and where I need to be when Spring Training comes around, so I'm not caught playing catchup," Kluber says. "The day after throwing for the first month of the offseason was always pretty tough, and I feel like my recovery from throwing is easier when I'm using the weighted balls as opposed to when I wasn't. They also keep me from getting too long with my arm action and help me to find my natural arm slot. The weighted balls just really help me to get ready for the year."
Kluber warms up his shoulder with a 32-ounce ball. Then, he does walking windup drills with an 8-ounce ball before doing most of his throwing work -- 75 or so tosses -- with a standard 5-ounce ball. His throwing partner is Royals pitching prospect Luke Farrell, son of Red Sox manager John Farrell. Following that throwing session, Kluber goes back to the weighted balls for some more aggressive work with balls from 6 to 9 ounces, as well as an underweight 4-ounce ball.
"Just because we're making some throws with an 8- or 9-ounce ball, you can't lose sight of the fact that Corey will be making the bulk of his throws with a standard 5-ounce ball," Cressey says. "The weighted balls get all the love because they're controversial, but in reality, we still throw the 5-ounce ball more than anything else."
Afterwards, Kluber continues his training session with a workout designed by Cressey to build general athleticism; the goal is to teach the body to move efficiently, build strength, then layer power on top of that before focusing on specific, baseball-related skills.
"Every offseason, the No. 1 goal is to get things moving the way you want them to," Kluber says. "The wear and tear of the season takes its toll on your body and things get out of whack, so it's always the first goal to try to realign my body the way it's supposed to be. And once you have that, you can start working on strength and power."
Once the season starts, Kluber's training volume will again drop. He typically lifts the day after a start and the day after his bullpen session, within the five-day rotation. That translates to two or three lifts per week, focusing on what Kluber calls the "money-maker" exercises: compound multijoint movements like trap-bar deadlifts and single-leg exercises such as weighted reverse lunges. The goal is to maintain the strength and power developed in the offseason, with an eye on the bigger goal: to win the World Series.
"Last year was a great year," Kluber says. "We were a game away from doing that, and now we're hoping to finish it off. Last year gave us more confidence, but now we have a target on our backs, and I don't think that's something to run away from. I think it's something to embrace. We need to go out there and work just as hard as we did to get to that point last year." And for Kluber, that hard work started in November, here in the gym. (L Berra - MLB.com - Feb 3, 2017)