Baseball teams are always willing to take a flier on a pitcher who is left-handed. A southpaw creates a difficult match-up for right-handed batters, which is the side of the plate most hitters in professional baseball hit from.
But the St. Louis Cardinals liked a lot more than that about Land O' Lakes High grad Jonathan Cornelius when they selected him in the 24th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball amateur draft in June. And after what he showed with the low Class-A Batavia Muckdogs of the New York-Penn League, they have high hopes for him.
"We like that Jonathan pitches inside, and he's got the makings of three average Major League-level pitches with a fastball, curveball and a change-up," Batavia pitching coach Ace Adams said about Cornelius. "He's the one pitcher we have who will throw inside without being intimidated at all. He's our best at that, and it's effective."
Cornelius recently finished his first season of pro baseball with a 1-4 record and a 4.01 ERA for the Muckdogs. But a look inside those numbers suggests the lefty was much more effective than those statistics indicate. He struck out 50 batters in 47 innings while making 10 starts in 14 total appearances after joining the team on June 15. He allowed just 36 hits while posting a 1.17 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched). He was one of six Batavia players selected for the league's All-Star Game.
Before being drafted, the Land O' Lakes native was a standout starting pitcher at Florida Tech in Melbourne. Cornelius' school-record 129 strikeouts in 2011 tied him for the most in the NCAA Division II, and he is also the Panthers’ career strikeouts leader with 356.
In all, Cornelius threw 145 innings in 2011 and was given a lot of time off as Batavia's season was coming to a close.
"Just the amount of innings I've thrown the last two years, they decided enough for enough," Cornelius said in a recent interview. "Especially since I was going through some mechanical adjustments and I got a little out of whack."
He says the biggest difference between college and pro baseball is the amount of rest between outings. At the college level, the schedule usually allows for at least six days rest between starts. But minor league teams play every day, and a starter is called upon on just four days' rest.
"His speed was going down a little bit," Adams said. "It's a really hard transition for young pitchers."
Cornelius also suggests the quality of competition in pro ball is quite different.
"They are better hitters, but I think it might be more that the hitters are much more disciplined," Cornelius said. "They don't get themselves out by swinging at bad pitches. You have to work hard to get them out."
The biggest test for him will be in the offseason, as he will try to add to his three-pitch repertoire. The team wants him to add a two-seam fastball that can create more ground ball outs.
"They want me to get back to doing what a pitcher with my makeup needs to do," Cornelius said. "I need to keep the ball low, throw strikes and specifically develop a true groundball pitch."
It's unlikely he will return to Batavia, according to Adams, with a likely destination being a spot in the rotation for Class-A Quad Cities (Iowa) of the Midwest League. High Class-A Palm Beach of the Florida State League is also a possibility, but Cornelius says he'd be happy with either, because each is a full season league and a step up in the organization.
For now, Cornelius is just excited for a little time at home.
"I'm real excited about getting to see everyone," Cornelius said. "I miss my family and my girlfriend, and it will be nice for a little bit of down time, but I'm still going to have to work hard every day. Next year will really make or break my career, so I'm not going to let a day go by without working hard."