UC Irvine righthander Andrew Thurman is what college coaches dream about: a player undrafted out of high school who improves every year and now has a chance to be the program's highest-drafted player ever.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior has progressed nicely during his time with the Anteaters.
"I think it's fair to say he's made progression all along the way," UC Irvine head coach Mike Gillespie said. "We got involved with him after his 10th grade year in high school—that was a JV year for him. So, watching him progress through his last two years of high school and up to now, I think it's been steady. I suppose the thing people notice most is that the velocity has jumped up over time, but he's an adult. He's a very mature, classy kid, so he's never been a guy that's been rattled. He's always been cool on the mound, so I don't notice a dramatic change there.
“He's always been a guy that has (had) a three-pitch mix and he continues to do that, and he benefits from that, even though the velocity is quite good. You've got to do those things to win, that's for sure. But the one thing that jumps out, particularly to the pro guys that are following him, is the velocity."
Scouts are noticing, and Thurman is generating some second-round buzz—maybe better. The last second-round pick to come out of UC Irvine was first baseman Jeff Malinoff in 1974. Malinoff is now a national crosschecker for the Angels.
"He's progressed steadily every year," a National League area scout said. "He's added 1-2 miles an hour every year, gotten a little more consistent with his strike zone, and added more power to his breaking ball. Ever year he's just a little bit better . . . He's always had quality, never had power. Now he has quality and power."
Don't knock Thurman for pitching on the junior varsity squad as a sophomore—the varsity rotation included three draft picks: righthanders Gerrit Cole and Brandon Maurer and lefthander Aaron Gates.
Thurman was solid for the Anteaters as a freshman, going 4-3, 3.82 over 23 games (eight starts) with 64 strikeouts and 21 walks over 75 innings. As a sophomore, he pitched strictly out of the rotation and improved to 8-3, 2.66 with 69 strikeouts and 23 walks over 98 innings.
Now, Thurman's fastball is sitting in the 91-93 mph range, topping out at 95, as part of his four-pitch mix. Through nine starts this season, Thurman is 4-3, 2.53 with 50 hits, 58 strikeouts and 13 walks over 64 innings.
"When he was in the Cape last summer, he added the new pitch—the cutter," Gillespie said. "It's more of a slider than it is what you would think of as a cutter, but he does throw two breaking balls. When he's good, he owns the changeup. He was good with his changeup as a freshman, and we'll call it a lot. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him throw 25 of them in any one game."
While the team that drafts Thurman may have him focus on just one of his breaking balls, using all of his pitches will be a key at the next level.
"He's been good in every start, and really good in two starts," Gillespie said. "And I think he could be really good in every start. That really is being able to pitch with all of his pitches . . . His success in pro baseball will depend just on what it does here—it's going to be command of all his pitches. It's great that a guy can throw 93, but I think we know at the pro level, 93 doesn't win without those other pitches, and I think he'll be that."
On top of all his success on the mound, Thurman also shines off the field.
"He's a class act," Gillespie said. "He's very good in the classroom. If there's something weird about that guy, I don't know what it is. If he's offbeat, if he's strange, if he's got some sort of a secret vice, well it's still a secret to me. He's unusually mature and well-spoken. He's comfortable with adults. He's ahead of the curve in terms of his demeanor and his maturity."