Corey Kluber is the fifth inductee in a series of features highlighting the inaugural A-Sun Hall of Fame Class of 2015. Kluber, the 2007 A-Sun Pitcher of the Year, has become an ace for the Cleveland Indians and finished in the Top 5 of MLB in strikeouts this season with 245.
For former Atlantic Sun Pitcher of the Year Corey Kluber and the Stetson baseball program, they both happened to be in the right place at the right time.
On one particularly fortunate occasion, Kluber, undrafted by the major leagues out of high school, was participating with his team from Texas in a tournament in Florida. Ironically, Hatters Head Coach Pete Dunn had dispatched an assistant coach to the same location to watch another pitcher. Kluber happened to be on the mound as the opposing starter, and the report that Dunn received was that Kluber was in fact the one that should be taking the mound for the Hatters.
While Texas was a bit out of Dunn's usual recruiting area, he had a couple of things going for him in building a relationship with Kluber. Corey's parents owned a condo in Southwest Florida, but even more important was the fact that Dunn felt that Kluber could contribute sooner than later, and Corey liked the sound of that.
Primarily used as a reliever in 2005, Kluber moved into the Hatters' rotation in 2006 and posted a 6-5 record with a 3.61 ERA in 14 starts. He became a star in 2007, earning A-Sun Pitcher of the Year honors with a 12-2 record and a sparkling 2.05 ERA in 17 starts. Three times that year he was named A-Sun Pitcher of the Week and, at the end of the year, he was a first team All-Conference selection in addition to earning second team All-Region from the ABCA and second team All-America from Collegiate Baseball. His 117 strikeouts in 2007 still stand as the fifth most in a season in Stetson history.
While at Stetson, Kluber embraced and appreciated the opportunity to be a student-athlete in a conference recognized for its baseball success. Certainly differences between the college game and playing in the major leagues present unique challenges, but Kluber realizes that being a student-athlete in the A-Sun and at Stetson helped prepare him for succeeding in both.
"Having been a student-athlete and a professional, they both have their challenges," said Kluber. "I think the biggest challenge of being a professional athlete is playing every day. As a student-athlete you have the challenge of balancing athletics with the schoolwork. I am glad that I had the opportunity to be a student-athlete because I think that it helped me grow as a person and as a player."
Now with five years complete in his major league career, Kluber's story is one of making the most of his opportunities. Since 2013 he has entrenched himself as an ace in the Cleveland Indians' starting rotation, and Tuesday he will be recognized for many achievements dating back to when his star began to shine at Stetson.
"It is truly an honor to be inducted into the A-Sun Hall of Fame, first because I was a part of the Atlantic Sun Conference in college, but also to be inducted with several other A-Sun greats."
After the San Diego Padres used a fourth-round draft pick on Kluber in 2007, he perfected his craft in the minor leagues for three years until a trade to the Indians in 2010 led to his MLB debut on Sept. 1, 2011. Once he arrived in the big leagues for good in 2013, Kluber has continued to capitalize on his opportunities.
In 2013 he posted an 11-5 record with a 3.85 ERA in 24 starts, then followed up in 2014 with an 18-9 record, three complete game performances, a 2.44 ERA, 269 strikeouts, the most wins in the American League and the American League Cy Young Award.
Kluber is quick to credit Dunn for many lessons learned during his career at Stetson.
"There were a lot of people who were influential to me while I was at Stetson, obviously Coach Dunn first and foremost," said Kluber. "You are with your coach all during the season and some in the offseason as well, and he did a lot to help me grow, probably more as a person than as a player. I think he is more influential than he realizes. Being at Stetson was a great experience."
Kluber's success is not a surprise given his talent. Dunn recognized that as well when he brought Corey to Deland, but not many, even Kluber and Dunn, could have predicted that Kluber would have risen to his current position among major league pitchers.
"Corey was a great pitcher for us when he was here, and he certainly set the bar very high, especially after the 2007 season when he was the A-Sun Pitcher of the Year," said Dunn.
"I thought he positioned himself well to move up when he was selected in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball Draft, and when you look and see what he has done, he did just that. I was extremely proud of him when he was at Stetson, and I am more proud of him now as he continues to get better and make great strides.
"While no one could have expected that he would win a Cy Young Award, his success is not a tremendous surprise. But the greatest thing about Corey is that he hasn't changed. He is not caught up in himself, and he continues to carry himself well and represent the Indians just as he did the Hatters, with class and character. The success that he has achieved couldn't have happened to a nicer young man, and I certainly hope that he continues to do so."
Kluber has certainly settled into his role and is enjoying success as a major league pitcher, and now he adds the A-Sun honor to a list of other milestones that have occurred in the last 12 months. Last November, he was inducted into Stetson's Hall of Fame with another former major league star, Chris Johnson.
And while this season the stoic "KluBot" has struggled with a bit of injury, he still posted 245 strikeouts, good for fifth in all of Major League Baseball and placing him in the Top 5 with fellow A-Sun Hall of Fame inductee, Chris Sale. His strikeout total this season also included a career-high of 18 in his first win of 2015, an eight-inning shutout effort that tied Bob Feller's 77-year-old franchise mark for strikeouts in one game set in 1938.
Success, particularly shared with teammates, is always memorable to a student-athlete. Looking back on his career as an A-Sun student-athlete, Kluber is appreciative of the recognition he received not only in the conference but among his peers nationally. He was part of a pair of A-Sun Tournament Championships and a regular season title, experiences which he fondly recalls.
"My three years in the Atlantic Sun Conference were some of the most memorable of my life," said Kluber. "I think my most meaningful moments as a student-athlete were winning conference championships. Winning championships and getting rings are those things that you play for, and to have the opportunity to do that more than once was something very special."