"He showed a comfort level from the moment he got here," Lehigh Valley manager Ryne Sandberg says.
The Phillies' best pitching prospects are in their lower levels, but they must pay close attention to Cloyd, who was not ranked by the Daily News and the Inquirer among the organization's Top 25 prospects and was not protected in the Rule 5 draft last offseason.
Yet in nine starts in Triple A and Double A this season, Cloyd is a combined 7-1 with a 1.89 ERA in 57 innings. He has 46 strikeouts to 10 walks, and has allowed more than one run in just one of his outings with Lehigh Valley. He has the distinction of being the pitcher of the week at two levels in the same month: the International League (April 5-8) and the Eastern League (April 23-29).
"The success I have had all year, I definitely did not expect it," says Cloyd, who went 3-0 in four April starts at Reading before rejoining the IronPigs. "But now that I've seen it, I want to keep going with it."
The front office has taken notice. Joe Jordan became the director of player development last October, so he arrived with a clear mind with many of the Phillies' prospects. What he has witnessed in Cloyd is a confident, consistent, versatile pitcher from the Arizona Fall League to spring training to the first month in the minor leagues.
"He's got everyone's attention with what he's doing," Jordan says. "I went out there last week when he threw a bullpen [session], and he looked ready [for the major leagues] that day. He's going really, really well right now, and the ball is going where he's throwing a lot. That's a recipe for success, wherever you're pitching."
It's an impressive rise for a 2008 18th-round pick out of Nebraska-Omaha who did not play after his sophomore season because of academic suspension. Cloyd sat a full school year, attending classes at a community college and playing slow-pitch softball with his brother. He planned to play summer ball in Arizona, but before he left, his college coach called and said scouts wanted to watch him throw a bullpen session.
"It was miserable," Cloyd says. "Wind was blowing, our field was on top of a hill, and I hadn't thrown a ball in over a year."
He departed to Arizona with plans to improve his arm and return to Nebraska-Omaha for his senior season and get drafted. But the bullpen session intrigued the Phillies enough for them to take a chance on Cloyd, who learned he was drafted on the day the summer league was set to begin.
Cloyd signed with the Phillies, but experienced only moderate success in his first three seasons. His future - and spot within the organization - changed during a 2009 bullpen session in Class A Clearwater. His fastball cut with natural movement, so the pitching coach recommended he try to throw a cutter. There weren't early results, but Cloyd saw the way the ball moved and refined the pitch to the point that he can now throw it consistently.
He practiced the pitch during the offseason between 2009 and '10, when Cloyd started throwing it to righthanded hitters. The pitch goes in to righties and out to lefties. As he saw success with it, he developed confidence to throw it in all counts to all hitters.
"That pitch, alone, has taken me to a new level," says Cloyd, who was a combined 9-4, 2.77 at Clearwater and Reading last year.
Catcher Tuffy Gosewisch said hitters often remark that they think the pitch is a fastball before they swing. When there's enough movement on the cutter, the pitch misses the barrel of the bat and Cloyd induces groundball outs.
This is especially important because Cloyd is not a high-velocity pitcher who can rely on overpowering hitters. His value is in his finesse, using different pitches in different locations at different speeds. When Cloyd grew up near Omaha, he looked up to Atlanta Braves pitcher Greg Maddux. Cloyd tried to emulate how Maddux could dominate games without dominating the radar gun. Starting in Cloyd's senior year in high school, his focus has been on winning with location.
"There's a lesson for a lot of our young pitchers to gain from what he's doing," Jordan said. "We have a lot of guys through our system with much better arms, much better breaking balls, much better changeups, whatever you want to say. But he's a guy who has shown if you go out there and trust your stuff, pitch with confidence, let the guys hit the ball and put it in play, you can get outs and move up."
When Cloyd returns home to Nebraska during the offseason, people in his hometown ask him when he'll stop playing professional baseball. They see that he's in his mid-20s and he hasn't yet received the call to the big-league club. He said the organization will dictate when he receives his chance, and he wouldn't even project whether he thinks he's ready. The results, though, indicate that opposing hitters are showing that for him.
"My mindset is, I know I can pitch. I know I can throw strikes. I know I can get hitters out," Cloyd said. "Hitters are probably going to be better in the major leagues, as they have been in every step I've gone up. So the biggest thing for me is, as I keep going, to figure out the hitters."
Contact Zach Berman at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @ZBerm.