ORLEANS, Mass.—When Orleans coach Kelly Nicholson got the call this past year saying that Stetson had three players in need of a summer home, he didn't hesitate to invite them.
And why should he? After all, the Hatters have been kind to him and his Cape Cod League team in the past, starting in 2015 when righthander Mitchell Jordan posted a 0.21 ERA in 43 innings, en route to being named the B.F.C Whitehouse Pitcher of the Year, given to the Cape’s top hurler.
With that in mind, Logan Gilbert, Brooks Wilson, Austin Hale and Jack Perkins—who's playing for Chatham—have been quick to recognize what Jordan did for Stetson.
"I think Mitchell started a good thing for us as a program," Wilson said. "I know our coaches already had a good connection with Kelly. Mitchell definitely laid a good foundation for us to funnel players here."
The Hatters have seized the opportunity handed to them from the success of previous players. Wilson has spent the past two summers in Orleans, and recorded a 1.50 ERA in 2016, and a 1.89 ERA this summer. Gilbert has been one of the most electric pitchers on the Cape this summer; his 1.22 ERA and 29 strikeouts have cemented him as one of the most elite starters in the league. Hale has helped anchor the league's top pitching staff behind the plate with strong defense and elite pitch calling, while Perkins has posted a 4.97 ERA with 22 strikeouts for the Anglers.
The strong summers each player has had should come as no surprise, however. Stetson featured the only pitching staff in the nation this spring where each member of the rotation had more than 105 strikeouts, and each of the three starters had a 3.01 ERA or lower.
And the school's strong pitching didn't start with Gilbert, Perkins and Wilson—or Jordan, for that matter. The Hatters have a history of producing pitching talent, especially Corey Kluber (fourth-round pick in 20017) and Jacob deGrom (ninth-round pick in 2010 as a two-way player).
There might be no exact science to how the small private school in DeLand, Fla., has turned out some of the better pros in the game, although Hale proposed a theory: Stetson allows pitchers and catchers to call their own pitches.
"I think that allows the pitchers, and me especially, to kind of figure it out ourselves during the game. I think it helps raise our IQ on the baseball field, and that's a huge part of it," Hale said. "A lot of big schools, their pitching coaches are calling pitches. It's cookie-cutter. They want their guys to be on the same plan, this and that. At Stetson, we have a really good pitching staff that lets us call our own pitches and own ourselves on the field. In pro ball, that's what it is. You get thrown in the fire and you figure out yourself, and that's a huge part of it, and we're already building on that."
Gilbert added that he was surprised upon joining Orleans to discover that many of his teammates had never worked with their catcher in that area before, and he realized that previous experience gave him a leg up.
Stetson head coach Steve Trimper got the job with the Hatters this past November, after 11 seasons with Maine. The first thing he asked pitching coach Dave Therneau when he arrived to campus was who called the pitches.
Thermeau explained that the catchers call the pitches, and the pitchers have the liberty to wave off the catcher if they're not comfortable throwing that certain pitch. Trimper felt a wave of relief rush over him.
"We were on the same page from day one," Trimper said. He added that it was his former catcher at Maine, Mike Connolly, who convinced Trimper to let him call the pitches to help speed the game up. "The best way of putting it . . . we can have all these scouting reports and advanced stuff that we get nowadays, but if the pitcher doesn't want to throw it with conviction, what's the point of throwing it?"
In part because of that philosophy, Gilbert might be next to join the likes of deGrom and Kluber. As an all-star this summer in Orleans, and with a 2.02 ERA this spring, Gilbert has turned heads with an electric fastball that sits 93-95 mph and can get as high as 97, and a curveball that elicits plenty of swings and misses.
Each time he toes the rubber for Orleans, rows of scouts lineup behind home plate. Gilbert, however, just tries to focus on his own game.
"You hear about it a little bit. I try not to focus too much on it," he said. "There's going to be guys back there no matter what. I'm not trying to worry about next year, or a few months from now. It's about one pitch at a time. You've just got to focus on the next game. Whatever happens in June is out of my control. I've just got to go out and show that I can compete."
Stetson is in the Atlantic Sun conference—in the heart of SEC and ACC territory. But lately, the conference has shown its worth. Jordan came to the Cape in 2015 and thrived. In 2016, a trio of Lipscomb players—Michael Gigliotti (Prospect of the Year), Brady Puckett (All-Star) and Jeff Passantino (Pitcher of the Year)—helped lead Falmouth to the finals.
This year, the quartet of Stetson players have helped carry that trend. They also might have helped change the way Nicholson builds his rosters.
"It says we need to start recruiting out of the Atlantic Sun a little bit more," he said with a laugh.
He added that it wouldn't surprise him to see the Hatters in Omaha next spring, and likened them to the 2012 Stony Brook team that made it to the College World Series.
With a full season at the helm under his belt, Trimper isn't ready to rule anything out heading into this spring.
"I always say, 'Small minds can't understand those big dreams,'" Trimper said. "I really believe in thinking big like that. I don't think that there's any college coach that should be coaching if they don't show up every day to prepare their team to get to the highest level."