Aggies Righties Go Back To Cali
Mengden, Stubblefield go to Fanning's finishing school
COMPTON, Calif.—It took Gandy Stubblefield and Daniel Mengden a little time to get acclimated to the cool San Luis Obispo evenings. The two rising sophomore righthanders were born and raised in Texas, and they play their college ball at Texas A&M—a long way from the central California coast.
"In Texas, we're used to that humidity—105 (degrees) every day," Stubblefield said. "Then you come out here at night and I'm freezing—I haven't really gotten used to it yet, being 55 at night. But I love it. As a pitcher you can't ask for better weather to throw in."
A&M coach Rob Childress also believes pitchers can't ask for a much better place to develop than under coach Chal Fanning's tutelage with the SLO Blues of the California Collegiate League. Childress and Fanning go back more than a decade, to the days Childress was the pitching coach at Nebraska and Fanning was at Missouri. So Childress has plenty of regard for Fanning's pitching acumen, and he has made a point of sending some of his top young arms to San Luis Obispo every summer.
"Ross Stripling was one of the first guys we sent out there to him," Childress said. "Ross pitched 20 innings for us (as a freshman), he went out there and Chal helped him develop a changeup. The rest is history—he had an amazing career at A&M, and Chal deserves a lot of credit for that."
Mengden and Stubblefield, two of A&M's prized recruits a year ago, headed into this summer with a list of things to work on, and both have made progress, according to Fanning. Mengden has posted a 1.46 ERA with 18 strikeouts and seven walks through 12 innings as the Blues' closer, recording nine saves in 13 appearances. His strong first half of the summer earned him the starting nod in the CCL all-star game at the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton.
In two scoreless innings, Mengden showed off the live stuff that has the Aggies so excited for his future. His fastball sat in the 91-94 mph range, and he showed a quality power slider in the 80-83 range. He also mixed in a sharp 76 mph curveball that he could throw for a strike and an improving 82-84 changeup.
"I've been trying to work on developing more of an offspeed pitch, a changeup and a curveball," Mengden said. "I throw a fastball, slider and a split. I needed to develop a changeup—Coach (Childress) told me to work on that and a curveball as well. I've really had to trust the changeup. I've wanted to throw it a lot, and I have thrown it a lot. I threw it pretty well (in the all-star game)."
Childress said he also wanted Mengden to get plenty of at-bats and work on his hitting this summer, but he has been limited to 28 at-bats after getting hit by a pitch on his wrist.
Mengden arrived at A&M as a catcher with raw power as well to go along with his power arm, and the Aggies anticipated him playing two ways as a freshman. Because of team needs, they wound up having him focus on pitching, throwing him into the fire as the closer and then moving him to middle relief when he encountered some adversity at the back of the bullpen. By the end of the season, he had reinvented himself as a starting pitcher, thriving in four starts, and finished 3-4, 3.83 with three saves in 47 innings overall. But Childress said it isn't settled yet what Mengden's role will be next year. He has the ability to make an impact in a wide variety of ways.
"He's just a special athlete," Fanning said. "We put him behind the plate for a game and let him hit. He's so athletic, he can go out and play right field, especially if he hits. He can close. And at the end of the year you saw him as a starter. It's a good problem to have (for A&M). really fun, a really fun human being and a great baseball player. I think it's been a treat for the fans at San Luis Obispo to get to watch him."
Stubblefield's future role is a little easier to figure out: The Aggies would love him to seize a weekend rotation job next spring. Drafted in the 14th round out of high school, Stubblefield certainly has the premium arm strength to succeed in the SEC—he sat in the 91-93 mph range in the CCL all-star game, which is his typical velocity range. It's just a matter of refining his control and developing his secondary stuff.
Stubblefield made four midweek starts but pitched just 21 innings in 10 appearances overall as a freshman. He is building up his endurance this summer, going 3-1, 4.55 with 36 strikeouts and nine walks through 28 innings as a starter.
"I definitely feel like I'm getting the command down," Stubblefield said. "Coming out of A&M this summer, I started working on the slider about the last week (of the season), and that's really come along in summer ball a whole lot. The slider has progressed way more than I thought; I've only been throwing it a month, and it's started to be my out pitch."
He threw primarily fastballs during his inning in the all-star game, but he also mixed in three sharp sliders in the 80-82 range. Stubblefield said he also throws a curveball and started throwing a changeup midway through the spring that is progressing, too. He isn't a finished product, but all the ingredients are there for him to be an All-American.
"With Gandy, it's a matter of taking his God-given ability and getting him to pitch with it," Fanning said. "He still wants to rear back and throw 91-93, so it's learning to pitch with that. He's done a nice job with that evolution."