The Erik Stiller File
Born: July 10, 1984 in Bryan, TX
Acquired: Signed as a non-drafted free agent, June 10, 2006, from Princeton.
Strengths: Is quietly climbing the ladder and making people take notice. Fastball has increased to 94 mph after topping out at 87 his first year in pro ball. Pounds the strike zone with quality pitches. "He's progressed well and was in the mix when we discussed possible additions to the 40-man (roster) this winter," said Ross Atkins, the Indians' director of player development.
Weaknesses: Still needs to mix his pitches better and is learning the intricacies of the game. Needed nearly the entire '08 season to catch up with the level of competition at Class AA.
2009 Projection: Will likely start season at Akron.
2008 & MINOR-LEAGUE CAREER
BONUS COVERAGE: The following feature is reprinted from the July 2007 issue of Indians Ink Magazine.
The Pitcher From Princeton
Right-hander Stiller Hopes To Continue 'Tigers Connection'
By CHUCK MURR
Not the William Shakespeare character, but the big-league pitcher.
Never heard of him? Join the crowd.
Charles Bernard (King) Lear, was one of only 24 players from Princeton University to play in the big leagues. Among them are fellows named Woody Wagenhorst, Waddy Macphee, Leonidas Lee and Homer Hillenbrand, who never hit even one homer in a 47-game career with the Pirates from 1905 through 1908.
"I've dreamed of pitching in the big leagues," said Stiller, who hopes to join the two most famous Princeton products in the majors -- current San Diego Padres pitcher Chris Young and former Indians catcher Moe Berg.
Berg was one of the most interesting players in baseball history, not for his six career homers spread over 15 seasons or .077 batting average for Cleveland in 1931. He also was a great American spy. Fluent in English, Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Hebrew, Sanskrit and Japanese, the U.S. government first employed him in 1934 when Berg was a catcher on a big-league all-star team that included Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig on a goodwill tour in Japan. After retiring from baseball at age 37 in 1939, he completed dozens of harrowing spy missions throughout Europe during World War II.
Stiller simply is too busy working on baseball to dabble as James Bond. Besides, places like Winter Haven, Fla., Burlington, N.C., or the Mahoning Valley are rather unlikely spots for international intrigue.
That's where Stiller has spent most of his time since signing with the Indians as a non-drafted free agent in June 2006. And he's likely to be travelling the minor-league trail for awhile since there is a huge difference between pitching in the Ivy League and the American League. But he has two very influential men in the Indians organization firmly on his side -- Princeton graduates Mark Shapiro and Mike Chernoff.
Shapiro, the Indians' executive vice president and general manager, graduated from Princeton in 1989 with a degree in history after playing football for the Tigers. Chernoff, the club's first-year director of baseball operations, was the baseball team's captain as a senior middle infielder for the Tigers when Stiller was a freshman.
"It's kind of a Tigers connection, I guess," said Stiller, who along with Chernoff was an economics major.
"I've always had aspirations of playing baseball, but the important thing was to have a solid career behind me for whenever I am done with baseball," Stiller said. "Hopefully that won't be for a long time. But I went to Princeton for an education first and baseball second.
"Baseball doesn't usually come in second with me very much, though. It was great to go to a school where they emphasized both. Coach (Scott) Bradley was great about letting us work hard on baseball but focus on school when we needed."
Princeton graduates, especially those with economics degrees, usually follow Chernoff's lead and get a high-level job with an established business rather than take late-night bus rides to and from such places as Bluefield, W.Va., Kingsport, Tenn, Batavia, N.Y., Aberdeen, Md., or Williamsport, Pa.
Those are some of the stops Stiller made a year ago when he split his first professional season between Burlington and the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
"I had a great time, it was more fun than I anticipated and you get used to the buses," Stiller said.
The 6-foot-5, 200-pound right-hander went 15-14 over four seasons at Princeton. His best year was 2005, when he was 6-2 with a 2.98 ERA. As a senior, he was 4-4 with a 3.45 ERA. What caught the Indians' collective scouting eye was his strikeout-to-walk ratio last spring of 70 to 17. He fanned 10 in his final game, an impressive NCAA Regional start against perennial power Oklahoma State, to complete his college career by pitching five consecutive complete games.
Sent to Burlington, he went 2-2 with a 6.45 ERA in four starts. Moved to Mahoning Valley, he compiled a 3-3 record and 3.23 ERA in nine games, including eight starts. Overall in 69 2/3 innings, he allowed 67 hits and 13 walks while striking out 37 with a 4.26 ERA.
Stiller doesn't throw particularly hard, but tries to rely on a sinking fastball to get outs.
"I focus on trying to throw the right pitches at the right time," he said. "I am not going to overpower people with my pitches, but I try to get outs with ground balls. If I can put my fastball where I want it, they'll beat it into the ground."
Stiller also recognizes the need to become a better athlete. He's already sharpened his mental skills and is now trying to bulk up his slender frame.
"I worked a lot in the offseason to try and gain some weight, maybe add to my velocity," he said. "I throw in the upper 80s or low 90s and would like to reach the upper levels a little more consistently. A little more speed can only help."
Stiller's baseball idol, however, has won more than 300 games without an overpowering fastball.
"I've always liked watching Greg Maddux pitch," he said. "The way he went about the game, he's one of the smartest pitchers to ever play the game. To be able to do what he has done is rather incredible. He was my baseball idol."
Another pitcher who has found success in that manner in recent years is Young, who preceeded Stiller at Princeton and is now Maddux's teammate in San Diego. He's even taller than Stiller at 6-10, but relies on good command of his secondary pitches. It helped him to a 26-14 record over his first three years in the majors with Texas and the Padres.
Stiller's other hero is his father, Dr. Peter Stiller, a math professor at Texas A&M who got his Ph.D. at Princeton.
"My dad actually never played baseball, but he's been very influential in my career," Erik said. "When I began playing the game, he got very interested in baseball. As I developed my game, he began reading about the sport. Now, a whole section of his library is filled with baseball books and he's become very knowledgeable about the game.
"We talk a lot about baseball and he's such a smart guy that he's developed some analytical theories on pitching. He's so into baseball now that I've tried to talk to him about coming up with a player evaluation system where he plugs in stats. That would be some great analysis."
Dad's work already has been used in areas outside the university and chances are that if you watch enough television, you may have seen it.
"He actually did some research work for the TV show NUMB3RS," Stiller said. "They sent him the script and had him read it over to see how accurate they were. He researched it and made sure the formulas they were using were correct."
Conversely, Erik Stiller's academic background gives him the opportunity to expand into other fields.
"There's so much more mathematical analysis in baseball these days and it is something I am interested in," he said. "I love economics and maybe someday I can combine both my loves. I don't really want to teach in that area, but a lot of guys go on to law school or go to Wall Street. I figure why not become involved with the economics of the game?"
Stiller has a lot of options. So would he rather follow in the footsteps of long-time Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan or Roger Clemens?
"Probably Roger Clemens," Stiller said. "I have a hunch he's had a lot more fun and earned a lot more money."
Since this story ran, both Clemens and Greenspan have seen their reputations head south while Stiller's career is on the rise. The right-hander is an example of the Indians' philosophy of finding a player with an athletic frame, a willingness to work, and the ability to learn -- then hoping that by following instructions that player can grow.