Some day soon, another Clemens might be in the starting rotation for the Houston Astros. Top Astros' prospect Paul Clemens is not related to Roger, but it's a question he is often asked.
“I have heard it pretty much since the day I was drafted,” said the 24-year-old RedHawks hurler. “No relation, but I used to try to convince myself that we were related so that I could make myself feel I could make it to the major leagues.”
Clemens is just one step away from the majors now, starting the season for the first time at the Triple-A level. The 6-foot-4 right-hander throws a fastball in mid-90s and was one of the top 30 prospects for the Atlanta Braves before being traded to Houston last season.
Clemens was one of four players the Braves gave up at the trade deadline in exchange for Houston outfielder Michael Bourn. Clemens said the Braves woke him up that morning to give him news.
“I was dead asleep, it was probably 6:30 or 7 in the morning when I got a knock on the door, maybe earlier,” Clemens said. “It caught me more off-guard more or less. I knew that maybe somebody would be traded. We had a really good staff there in Double A. Going into last season, we were ranked the best pitching staff in all of the minor leagues. We had such a good staff in Double A, we knew somebody could be gone.”
Clemens was the opening night starter Thursday for the RedHawks and will take the mound Tuesday night against Nashville for his second start of the season. He is rated by Baseball America as the Astros' No. 5 prospect.
“I take all that will a grain of salt,” Clemens said. “I have never really bought into the whole prospect thing. You still got to perform. You still got to execute your pitches. It's good for eye candy for people.”
Clemens, who grew up in Virginia where his father worked for the FBI, made 20 starts last season for the Braves' Double-A affiliate Mississippi where he was a Southern League All-Star.
Clemens has always thrown with velocity but in recent years has improved his command of the curve ball and off-speed pitches.
“My curve ball command has gotten head and shoulders better than past years,” Clemens said. “Now that I can command my off speed stuff, that makes my fastball look that much harder to (hitters) because they have to respect the fact that I can throw a first pitch change.”
Clemens had an impressive spring for the Astros in his first major league spring training camp. He drew rave reviews after pitching four innings of scoreless relief and allowing only two hits in game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
The next morning, however, Clemens found out he was starting the season in Triple A.
“There was a feeling of emptiness that day,” he said. “I had never been cut in my life. I remember guys telling me on the very first day that this is an open competition and no one has got a job. I felt like I was holding my own and right there with everybody else. To get cut right after something like that, it really left a pit in my stomach that I will never forget. It stung for a few days. It just hurt.”
After being traded to the Astros last season, Clemens got five starts for Houston's Double-A affiliate Corpus Christi. He started the final game of the 2011 season for the RedHawks against New Orleans, but he had the flu and gave up eight earned runs in 4 2/3rd innings.
On opening night Thursday against the Memphis Redbirds, Clemens allowed a pair of solo homers in six effective innings and got the loss.
Clemens said the biggest thing he has learned in two Triple-A starts is that he can't get away with mistakes.
“I felt like I only made about three or four mistakes (Thursday night), and they didn't miss any of them,” he said. “I could get away with a lot of things in Double A. I got to be more aware of every single pitch.”