JOHN L. PITTS: Former rising stars take second shot at pro baseball

By John L. Pitts/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Stephen Head and Joe Savery first crossed paths during a baseball game in early 2005 as they faced off as starting pitchers.
Now, the former college standouts are both trying to extend their professional careers by reinventing themselves.
Head, a second-round draft pick out of Ole Miss by Cleveland in the 2005 draft, reached the Triple-A level as a hitter. After getting released by the Indians, he’s trying to work his way back up as a pitcher.
Savery, a first-round pick out of Rice by Philadelphia in 2007, reached Triple-A as a starting pitcher before flaming out. He’s now looking for success as a hitter and part-time reliever. (He has family in Northeast Mississippi and spent his summers in Tupelo as a youngster.)
Head and Savery were each outstanding two-way players in college, so it’s no surprise that they might try a little changeup before abandoning their pro baseball dreams.
When I first noticed recent stories about both these guys trying to switch positions, it rang a distant bell with me. Sure enough, they played against each other in a game on Feb. 18, 2005 in Houston.
Tenth-ranked Rice beat No. 15 Ole Miss 5-4 that day but neither starting pitcher figured in the decision. Head gave up three runs in six innings and Savery gave up four runs in five innings.
Head went 0 for 4 in the cleanup spot, while Savery didn’t hit that day.
Rice won, by the way, despite four errors.
That game came early in Head’s third and final season with the Rebels, while Savery was just starting his fine three-year career with the Owls.

A bumpy road
No surprise, then, that the road led both to pro baseball. That was a road that would eventually turn bumpy, though.
Head was an outstanding college pitcher – he left Oxford with a school-record 26 saves in three seasons – but was drafted by Cleveland as a first baseman.
He hit .263 in almost 500 minor-league games but was released by the Indians at the end of the 2009 season, his first stint at Triple-A Columbus.
“Once you get to Triple-A, it’s one of two things: You’re either a prospect or a guy that’s got some big league time,” Head told MLB.com. “I was neither one of those guys. That’s just the way it is.”
Last year, Head played in the Independent League and hit .265. That could have been the end of the line.
But give an assist to former Rebels teammate Seth Smith, an outfield regular for the Colorado Rockies, for getting Head a shot with a Rockies scout when he decided to give pitching a shot.
“I had 15 pitches to prove my worth,” Head said.
He started this season at Tri-City of the Northwest League, picking up his first win and making three appearances before a move up to the Asheville Tourists in the Single-A South Atlantic League.
Savery’s situation seems a little more complex. As a first-round pick, 19th overall, the Phillies have more invested in him and might still prefer to see him as a pitcher.
But after a 1-12 campaign at Triple-A last season, something needed to change.
“There’s a small window to do this, and when it’s over, it’s over,” Savery told the Allentown, Pa., newspaper last week. “Who knows where it will end? But either way, I’m still playing.”
Savery started this season at Single-A, where he hit .307, before a promotion to Double-A Reading – where he had a good (12-4) season as a pitcher in 2009.
In both stops, he’s pitched a couple of innings of “emergency” relief, while mainly focusing on his role as a designated hitter.
At Reading, he was hitting just .200 (7 for 35) through Thursday.
And the buzz still seems to be that Savery’s real future might be as a left-handed short reliever – one who certainly has extra value if he can pick up a bat and contribute.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Savery said.