Walker Lockett has been on the TinCaps’ season-opening roster three years in a row.
What’s different this spring as opposed to the past two is Lockett, 21, was selected to lead the Fort Wayne rotation.
"It’s huge, man," he said. "It’s an honor, you know?"
Plagued by injuries, the right-hander pitched in just five minor league games in 2014 and only three in 2013.
Last year, Lockett’s stay at low-A Fort Wayne was cut short for reasons related to performance, not injury. After opening 0-3 with a 7.98 ERA in four starts, Lockett was demoted to the San Diego Padres’ short-season affiliate.
But that is where he turned his career around. He went 3-0 with a 2.83 ERA for Tri-City, excelling instead of moping or giving up on a career that began when the Padres chose him in the fourth round of the 2012 first-year player draft.
Back on track, Lockett was just the type of guy TinCaps manager Anthony Contreras had in mind when he sought a veteran presence to hold down the No. 1 slot in the rotation.
"He’s been around awhile," Contreras said. "He pitched for me last year in Tri-City and had a tremendous year. He’s been here (a TinCap) before."
As the TinCaps open a four-game series against South Bend today at Parkview Field, one could argue Lockett has been their top pitcher thus far.
In the opener, he dealt five shutout innings and gave up only two hits while striking out seven. Of Lockett’s 59 pitches, 43 were strikes, and he ended up with a no-decision.
On Tuesday night, he again got no run support and took a tough-luck loss. Lockett went six innings and gave up two runs on seven hits with six more strikeouts.
Lockett is well aware that, after being named a Northwest League All-Star in 2015, this is an even bigger season for him.
"Just being consistent, staying healthy," he said. "I’m always trying to stay positive. As you mature, being in the organization a bit, the pressure gets taken off you a little bit."
Lockett cites how he is "pretty comfortable" being a third-time TinCap and that he is "100 percent" health-wise.
When that’s the case, his manager knows what he can do.
"First half of Tri-City’s season, he was my best pitcher," Contreras said. "He has a good sinkerball that induces a lot of ground balls."
At 6-foot-5, Lockett is able to drive the ball through the hitting area at a downward angle, meaning the ball drops through the zone quickly and is hard for hitters to square up.
Lockett also has a slider, a cutter and a changeup in his arsenal to go with the fastballs.
But more than just success on the mound, the TinCaps have Lockett atop the rotation because they would like him to be a staff leader. It’s a young group with teens Austin Smith, Logan Allen and Jean Cosme.
"I’ve been in that position, 18, 19, fresh out of high school," Lockett said. "I can definitely provide leadership, some pointers here and there."