Angels' Tillman Getting Chance To Shine
SOUTH BEND, IND.—Daniel Tillman never imagined he would have a shot at being drafted while playing Division II baseball. He really had no reason to think it was possible.
College scouts didn't pay much attention to him in high school and he wasn't drafted coming out of Suwannee High in Live Oaks, Fla., in 2007. Once he graduated, Tillman had two choices. He could go the small college route or give up his dream of baseball entirely.
So he chose to head to Florida Southern, and as time passed, his potential to shine as a pitcher became decidedly more evident. He became a solid closer for the Moccasins and started to believe he would have a chance to get drafted.
"At first, I never thought it would be possible, especially because I was playing at a smaller school," Tillman said. "I went there because I wanted a chance to play and during my sophomore year, I started to think that maybe I would get drafted."
As it turned out, Tillman was right. The Angels took him with the 81st pick (second round) in the 2010 draft. Sure, he could have returned to school for his senior season, but in the end, the chance to begin the next stage of his career was too difficult to pass up.
"I've always wanted to play professional baseball," Tillman said. "Going pro definitely outweighed the advantages of staying in school for one more season. I was excited about how high I was picked and knew I couldn't pass up the opportunity in front of me."
Tillman is now with Cedar Rapids and has spent time as a starter and closer for the Kernels. It's his first full season in pro ball, and while every game hasn't always been smooth sailing for the 6-foot-1, 205-pound righthander, he is enjoying the journey.
"Things have been good," Tillman said. "I've had chances to start but I am definitely more comfortable in my role as a closer. I enjoy it a lot more."
It's really no surprise that Tillman has found a niche as a closer. While at Florida Southern, the 22-year-old rising star racked up 13 saves as a junior. He allowed 18 runs (3.18 ERA) and 43 hits in 40 innings, while recording 56 strikeouts and 21 walks.
Tillman notched a 147-to-53 strikeout-to-walk ratio and allowed just two home runs in three seasons, spanning 73 appearances, with the Moccasins. He collected 30 saves to go with his 2.87 ERA over 119 innings.
"I had a good experience at (Florida Southern)," Tillman said. "I had a chance to play against great competition and I learned a lot from my coaches."
Tillman, though, didn't immediately jump straight to the Midwest League. He made his pro debut last summer with Rookie-level Orem, going 2-2, 1.95 with 50 strikeouts in 32 innings. He notched 10 saves and yielded just 23 hits over 22 appearances.
He ranked as the Pioneer League's No. 3 prospect.
"It was a great experience for me," Tillman said. "The season was long and the bus trips were tough to deal with it at times. It was definitely a grind, but I felt like I did pretty well and I had a good season."
Tillman's numbers aren't bad for the Kernels, despite the team being just 27-31 through the first week of June. To that point in the season, Tillman was 3-1, 2.68. He made five starts and threw 40 innings. He allowed 16 runs on 35 hits while ringing up 42 strikeouts and walking 21 batters. He also had one save.
"The biggest adjustment for me has been getting used to the hitters," Tillman said. "Everyone is strong and you have to be able to make good pitches every time you throw because they will take advantage of your mistakes.
"I've gotten more used it, but the competition I've faced in the league is pretty much what I expected it to be."
Like all young players, Tillman has not hesitated to seek out advice from veterans. It has worked to his advantage.
"When you can talk to players who have played in the Midwest League, it really makes a difference. I've talked with catchers about how to make better pitches and how to deal with the ups and downs that come with playing baseball at this level. I've learned a lot and it's definitely helped make me a better player."
Tillman isn't where he wants to be just yet, though, and even he will admit to that. His main goal as this season continues is to be a pitcher who can be counted on to get the job done night in and night out.
"I want to be more consistent," Tillman said. "I've been inconsistent at times, and I want to be dependable every time I step on the mound. I've definitely become more confident as a pitcher, and being confident is going to help with my consistency."
The journey is only beginning for Tillman. He has made strides throughout his young career and is hoping to eventually make it big in baseball. Only time will tell if he is able to realize that dream, but at the very least, his career has started out on the right track.
"The ultimate goal is to play for the Angels," Tillman said. "But right now I have to take care of business here in Cedar Rapids. I have to be able to do my job and continue to improve as a player.
"If I do that, I am going to give myself a chance to get to California."
Brian Lester is a freelance writer based in Findlay, Ohio