by Steve McCarthy
June 7, 2010
Last July 4, Arizona State University pitcher Seth Blair went the distance in an evening game for the Cape Cod Baseball League’s Cotuit Kettleers, needing just 102 pitches to retire the 27 Falmouth Commodores. While his teammates quickly boarded the team bus in hopes of catching a fireworks display, Blair patiently went through his routine of arm exercises beside the visitor’s dugout.
Blair enrolled at a perennial college baseball powerhouse and spent the past two summers in the Cape League with a distinct goal: to pitch professionally. On Monday, the junior right-hander from Rock Falls, Illinois, was the 46th name called in the Major League Baseball draft by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Blair passed on a 47th round (1,388th overall) offer from the Oakland Athletics out of high school, finished with an earned run average just south of seven in 19 appearances as a Sun Devils freshman, and was well aware of his command issues. He has since developed into ASU’s Friday starter and is unbeaten thus far in the Sun Devils’ quest to return to the College World Series.
More than most, Cotuit pitching coach Scott Gurss witnessed Blair’s evolving potential. Blair was a Cape League All-Star in 2008 and helped the Kettleers reach the league championship series in consecutive seasons.
“He came in, honestly, like he needed to prove something,” Gurss said Tuesday before a Cotuit preseason practice. “No matter what his last outing was, if he went nine innings and just shut down everybody, he still felt like once he crossed that line to go to the pitcher’s mound, he had something to prove.”
Blair arrived for a second summer in Cotuit last June with a new alternate three-quarter arm angle delivery and has since added a cutter to his repertoire of at least three potential plus pitches which frustrated his 98 strikeout victims this spring. He has issued just 22 walks and maintains a 3.06 ERA. He amped up his fastball velocity from the low 90’s to occasionally touch 97 miles per hour on the radar gun early in the year and keeps hitters off balance with an effective change-up and a pair of knee-buckling breaking pitches.
“He was always looking to improve,” Gurss said.
Gurss said he gets chills every time an athlete he and Cotuit manager Mike Roberts’ staff spend a summer working with is called early in the draft. In 2009, former Cotuit and Stanford University closer Drew Storen was selected 10th overall by the Washington Nationals.
“The two years that I got to know Seth, you find out very quick how big of a competitor he is, and how much he loves the game of baseball, and how much he wants to win,” Gurss said. “It’s amazing that he did jump that high (in the draft), but I’m not surprised.”
Florida Southern College catcher Zach Maggard was on the receiving end of Blair offerings last summer and said Tuesday he was not surprised by the news of Blair’s selection.
“I saw that coming,” Maggard said. “He’s a very good pitcher. He worked hard. He knew what he had to do and he stuck to the game plan most of the time.”
The Cardinals have the second lowest team ERA in all of Major League Baseball. Gurss and Maggard agreed that Blair has a legitimate chance to reach the pinnacle of that or any other big league organization.
“He’s mature enough for the big leagues, and he’s going to compete day in and day out,” Gurss said.
Maggard had yet to hear his own name called in the draft after catching an early afternoon bullpen session in Cotuit, but was told Florida Southern teammate and 2009 Kettleers closer Daniel Tillman went in the second round to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
“It’s an exciting week,” Maggard said. “It’s a lot of fun seeing guys that you’ve played with go real high.”