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2020 MLB Draft Prep: UCSB

Why pitching coaches from college programs are all the rage these days.

Photo by Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Today’s Draft Prep is a bit of a variation on a theme. Normally, I highlight a player on the Top whatever lists of the upcoming draft. From there, I’ll try to convince you that following him (and his team) will get you more in-tune with the world of college baseball. My look at the UCSB Gauchos is a bit different than that. It looks as much at coaches and why coaches are a reasonable reason to decide which college team to follow.

My brother is a Cleveland Indians fan, which made the 2016 post-season rather curious. He’s listened to me rant about the draft, and he made a curious notice during the 2019 season. Not only is Shane Bieber doing far better than expected for a $455,000 signing bonus, my brother noticed the Indians have another former Gaucho in the pipeline in reliever Kyle Nelson. Putting two and two together, my brother decided that UCSB might be a curious follow. He’s my Gauchos guy, now.

UCSB went 45-11 in 2019. Ten from the squad were drafted, with half being in the top ten rounds. It’s reasonable to assume that they will be a good squad in 2020. They usually are, and a season with a bundle of departures shouldn’t prevent them having something useful. That’s how good baseball programs work. They recruit, and they develop.

The variation on the theme is as to why pro organizations are so intrigued by college coaches these days. Three options appear as the logical ones in hiring a “pitching development operations” guy, by whatever title. You can go with a veteran of the pro baseball pipelines. You can poach someone from an institution like Driveline. Or, you can go with a college pitching coach.

While college hitting direction can almost be backward in its usefulness, a college pitching coach is often the best decision these days. If a coach is used to “the pro way,” his default might be to “claim a guy on waivers” or “summon someone from Triple-A” as a Plan B. For the college pitching coach, he’s entirely used to seeing his entire pitching troupe over the course of an afternoon. If UCSB’s current pitching coach (head coach Andrew Checketts has a background in pitching development) has a staff injury in mid-March, he has to learn to work around it. He can’t summon a reliever from San Jacinto Junior College to churn through some mid-leverage innings.

The Cubs turned to Vanderbilt pitching guru Derek Johnson when Theo Epstein arrived. As much as people want to gripe about the Cubs pitching development, it’s far better than it used to be. After helping to bootstrap the Cubs pitching pipeline, he’s helped upgrade both the Brewers and Reds as a MLB pitching coach. It comes down to the best available, but dismissing a pitching guru over a lack of pro experience would be foolish.

Am I strongly recommending the ‘Chos? Not necessarily. My brother will fill me in on who their weekend rotation will be, and if any pitchers are shredding the California landscape. Lefty Rodney Boone went 8-0 as a freshman with a 2.78 ERA in 2019. Infielder McClain O’Connor had an OPS of .896. Come the end of the regular season, UCSB will have some really solid looking pitching candidates for pro ball, because that’s what UCSB does. A few guys will hit, as well.

The entire premise of these, by whichever method, is to open your mind to considering college baseball as a valid form of baseball. For those of you for whom that will never happen, such is life. As much as I’ve heard grumblings recently about “player development” and “developing talent (especially pitching) internally”, at some point, the next step becomes “Who do you recommend they select?”. That’s not the question now. Or next week. But, if Epstein’s legacy is to be evaluated, and his replacement located, assessing where it went right or wrong seems a viable starting point. It won’t happen on talk radio.