Paul Voelker has never been one to overcomplicate things. It's a mentality he credits to his father Mark from the early days of tossing a ball in the backyard of his home in Plymouth, Minn. The very same mentality has been the foundation to a season that neither Voelker nor the experts could have ever predicted.
Following his assignment to Single-A West Michigan, the 2014 10th round selection hardly came screaming off the presses. In the mix of towering starters out of various SEC powerhouse schools, the 5'10 closer with a reported two-pitch arsenal hadn't reached the forefront of the organization's focus. To some it derails enthusiasm, but to Voelker, his plan hadn't changed.
"I wanted to break camp in either Low-A or High-A," Voelker recalled. "If I was in Low-A, I really wanted to do everything I could to get to Lakeland by the All-Star break."
Labeled as "undersized" by MLB analysts, Voelker isn't overwhelming on the hill, as is the case with many of the Tigers top picks, but an aggressive strategy quickly changed his label from "undersized" to "a force to be reckoned with."
It only took 10 games in West Michigan for Voelker's approach of "perform, win, advance, and repeat" to take effect. A pair of saves and 20 strikeouts in 16 innings of work punched a ticket to a roster slot with the Lakeland Flying Tigers.
"The opportunity to pitch in Lakeland was big for me because it allowed me to prove myself early in the season that I could throw there and have success," Voelker said. "Ever since it has just been about throwing strikes and doing everything I can to get wins for the team and try to move onto the next level."
Arriving in Lakeland, wins came easy once again. Though baseball has proven time and again to be no respecter of persons, a bulldog approach of attacking the strike zone -- coupled with a fastball that has been known to tip the radar gun at 97 mph -- have created a mutual respect between Voelker and the game he lives daily.
Voelker went without a loss for the Flying Tigers, posting a trio of wins and notching seven of his eight save opportunities, all while striking out 26 in his 22 innings for Lakeland.
Perform, win, advance, and repeat.
Fourteen games deep with the Flying Tigers placed Voelker in a position to expect the unexpected, so when Lakeland manager Dave Huppert approached him with the news of another step up the ladder, all Voelker could do was smile.
"You never really know what's going to happen in this game, so I was a little surprised, I guess you could say," Voelker said.
Tenacity and a signature simplistic approach to each campaign earned Voelker quick respect as a part of the Double-A Erie SeaWolves staff. In 16 games with the SeaWolves, Voelker bagged nine of his 10 save opportunities, moving him to 18 saves in 20 chances on the year.
Suddenly, the labels applied earlier on were no longer applicable and the only thing left standing was a ferocity that had found a way to dazzle onlookers as each game passed. The work ethic that was propelling the 23-year-old through the organization was already common knowledge to another youngster preparing to make a professional entrance on the mound of his own.
Back in Voelker's earlier days with the baseball program at Dallas Baptist University, a young right-handed freshman pitcher by the name of Drew Smith couldn't help but admire what he saw in Voelker.
"I can say with 100 percent honesty and certainty that he was the hardest working player in his time at DBU," Smith said. "Never took a single day off, always did everything he could to maximize his potential."
In the midst of an organization that is screaming for relief out of the bullpen, however, you won't find Voelker stressing about the future. His approach is the same -- an approach that is demanding attention in its own unique way.
Labels, predictions and assumptions aside, a game that refuses to be scripted is tipping its hat to Voelker for simply doing what he knows. Perform, win, advance, and repeat.
To Voelker, it's simple and he wouldn't have it any other way.