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Joe Palumbo Is Cool. And coming to Arlington on Saturday

The New Lefty, who is coming up Saturday to make his major league debut

MLB: Texas Rangers-Media Day Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

SUBJECT: PALUMBO, JOE: AGE 24

Who he is:

Joe Palumbo is the oldest of 4 kids who grew up on Long Island in a town called Holbrook. He’s got a younger sister and twin sisters that are even younger. His father is retired after a long career at UPS, and now owns a small irrigation company. His mom is incredible and keeps the house operations running like a top. He’s close with both of them, but describes his father as the disciplinarian. “My dad is super old-school. Italian. Old school. My dad is the type of guy who likes to tell it like it is. If you mess up or say something stupid, he’ll let you know.” Joe speaks with a deeper voice than you might expect. His words come easily and he’s clearly bright, but not particularly eager to show you how bright. He’s articulate and his cadence and tone remind me of Sly Stallone’s. He’s mellow and cool. Extremely even-tempered in conversation. On his way from the mound, his speed to the dugout could be described as “no speed”. But if you watch carefully, you’ll see some displeasure in himself if he feels he missed his spot, or threw a barker.

He wears a data-producing Motus sleeve on his left arm — “everytime I throw a ball, I wear it” — and describes himself as a guy who “takes in the data and will watch film if I have to.” He has a full sleeve of tattoos on his right arm, all done by the same artist, a friend of his back home. “The roses are my twin sisters. The diamond is my other sister. Her birthstone is a diamond. I kinda like how the tiger wraps around them. [writer’s note: I think he’s the tiger]. Obviously, this is for my mom. This is my mom’s favorite flower, a calla lily. The flames and the dagger are just kinda like a filler. Mary up top (on his upper arm/shoulder) just kind of looking down on everything. (Joe’s Catholic). On my leg, I just got this this past offseason. One of my boys passed away last May. So this is a memorial to him. DTS are his initials. He was a big fisherman, had his own boat, so I got the boat on this side, lighthouse.” Joe is always trying to bulk up. “I’m constantly working on gaining a little more weight. That’s always been a struggle for me.” He grew up a Mets fan, but his favorite player was Derek Jeter. He wasn’t baseball-obsessive growing up, “I just loved to play.” He kept his mustache in his Spokane Indians promo picture as a joke. “Guys were like, ‘you won’t take your picture with that’, and I was, like, alright man, you watch.” It doesn’t look like him. He’s considerably more handsome than this:

How he got here:

Weird story, but a very good one. Joe finished his sophomore year at his local public high. The private school in town had a better baseball program, so Joe transferred. He was young for his grade, and the private school said “I was actually too young to be a junior at their school”, so they classified him as a sophomore. He’d already played a season of baseball at the public school, and then played his first year at the private school. He played ball again his junior year. Then it got weird. “In New York state, they give you 4 years of eligibility, no matter what, if you play or don’t play.” Joe didn’t play his sophomore year at the public school, but the transfer had cost him, according to state rule, because he’d been eligible for 4 years and technically, his senior year would’ve been his 5th year of eligibility, which isn’t allowed. Got it? “We tried to fight it. If me and my parents would’ve known that I would lose a year, I would’ve never transferred.”

So his senior year of high school, he ended up in a local men’s league. “I just needed a place to pitch. Guys on the other teams were lots of college guys. D1 guys. I just needed a place to play and my dad found a team.” He was signed by the Rangers’ NE scouting eyes and ears, Takeshi Sakurayama: AKA “T-Money”. I spoke to a person involved in his scouting process and he described it as thus: “There was a huge hole in the mound in front of the rubber, and massive holes in the batters box where the hitter’s dug in. The field wasn’t great, but I saw a skinny left-hander with easy mechanics throwing 88-90 with a legit curveball.” The Rangers drafted him in the 30th round. “I didn’t care about how much money or what round it was. I just wanted the opportunity to play professional baseball. I didn’t want to go to school. Not a big school guy. Boring.”

He spent 2 years in the AZ Rookie League, then bounced between Spokane and Hickory in 2015. He was, for lack of a better term: unremarkable. He was a thin lefty who got by on pitchability and good CB. Then in the offseason of 2015, it clicked, “I realized that you’re gonna get out of it what you put into it. I have a great facility back home that I’ve been going to. (Anthony Kay (NYM) and Marcus Stroman (TOR) and Ben Brown (PHI) work out there too). I finally focused on eating right, hydration...going to bed on time.” And the velocity leapt. A FB that had been 90-92 became 92-95 T 96. He was shoving, and growing, and became a dude.

And then...

“I was in High-A, we were in Potomac. (4-18-17) I’ll never forget it. It was a right-handed batter and I threw a CB and I struck him out. That’s when I first felt it, right where this incision was made [pointing to a scar on his left elbow]. At that point, it was more of a pull. It didn’t hurt when I threw the CB. I was contemplating ‘what the hell did I just feel?’ New batter comes up. I threw a FB, I was sitting 95 the whole game, down the middle for a strike and it was 92 and it killed. Unbelievable pain. It hurt so bad. Threw another one and it was 90 and it hurt even more and I was like ‘that was it. No chance’ .” Tommy John surgery happened. Cool scar. Not tattooed.

What he’s bringing:

Joe is listed at 6’1”, 168lbs. He’s heavier than that, but as he mentioned above, he’d like to bulk up some. He throws a 92-95 mph 4-seamer with elite-level spin. He generates swings and misses with his FB because it plays up. He usually lives in the 2500 rpm range, which is similar to Mike Minor and would place Joe’s FB spin rate in the Top-10 of all MLB starters.

The CB is his best offspeed pitch. It’s a legit yakker and a plus offering. He’ll throw it in any count, at any time in the game, to any hitter. “My whole life, I’ve had that curveball. I’ve always had a good curveball.” He does not use a spike grip. Traditional grip and yank Uncle Charlie.

He switched to a 4-seam grip on his CH this season. “It mirrors my FB and I feel better about it. I feel like it can be more consistent, and I love it. The first 3 starts of this year I was still going with a 2-seam. I feel way better about it now. . .I don’t throw a cutter or anything else. FB/CB/CH”.

He’s working on getting deeper to the game. “Being a strikeout pitcher, you tend to throw more pitches, but I’m trying to make it a point now to go 6 innings.” He’s getting up over 90 pitches in starts these days and he’s not on an innings count they’ve shared with him. He’d like to get past 100 IP this season. He’s quick to the plate with runners on (1.10 at times) and has a good pick-off move that will become a more lethal weapon with more experience.

“FB command is what I’m working on, pitching wise. FB command could always be better. Working on the 4-seam CH and pounding FB command right now. I’m trying to bury my CB at the right times.”

Joe strikes guys out and misses bats with all 3 pitches. Like most swing-n-miss pitchers, he’s most effective after a first pitch strike. Like most young swing-n-miss pitchers, he’s learning how to do that consistently. Joe is cool on the mound. Joe is cool off the mound. “Cool Joe” and “Joe Cool” seemed to be pretty taken as nicknames, so we began calling him, “CuJo” for short. I told Joe this and he laughed. Which is good.

Joe doesn’t currently have a mustache, but can grow a solid beard. Joe is a very good young pitcher and a long-time personal fave.

Let ‘em know, Joe.

As Always, Enjoy Baseball!

Love Ya!

-Tepid