Pitching-Rich Foresters Seek NBC Three-peat

COMPTON, Calif.—Patrick Weigel grew up in Camarillo, Calif., about 45 minutes from Santa Barbara. He attended his share of Santa Barbara Foresters games as a kid, watching talented college players pass through on their way to the major leagues. The summer program’s proud history means something to him, especially now that the rising sophomore righthander at Pacific is a Forester himself.

Over the last two decades, the Foresters have helped produce 30 major leaguers, including A.J. Griffin, Matt Garza and James Shields. They have won four National Baseball Congress World Series titles, and they’ll head back to Wichita on Friday to try to become the first team to win three straight NBC championships since the Fairbanks Goldpanners from 1972-74.

“We have a huge winning tradition here on the Foresters, and we’re really proud of that,” Weigel said. “When you come by our games, we have the (NBC) trophy up in the stands. You can see the pictures of the big leaguers on the wall. It’s something you’re reminded of every day. I knew the Foresters growing up, went to games every now and then. Coach (Bill) Pintard is just an awesome coach, an awesome guy to play for. Just an all-around great person.”

Pintard’s ability to land power arms like Weigel year after year is a big reason for the Foresters’ success. The 2013 draft featured three former Forester pitchers drafted in the top four rounds: Jason Hursh (first round), Austin Kubitza (fourth) and Cody Dickson (fourth).

“I think the college coaches trust us,” said Pintard, also a scout for the Yankees. “We’re not going to blow out their arms. It’s not win at all costs. We’ve got a great working relationship with all these coaches. They tell us what these guys need to work on, and we try to work on them. We try to send them back a little better than we got them.”

Three Santa Barbara arms stood out at the California Collegiate League all-star game, led by Weigel, who showed the best velocity of any pitcher in the game. Weigel and Drew Van Orden (Duke) fit the mold of power arms who struggled with their mechanics and command in the spring but have made strides forward this summer in Santa Barbara.

Weigel, a 6-foot-6, 205-pound righty, went 0-2, 8.02 in 34 innings over 20 appearances (four starts) as a freshman this spring. After posting an 18-27 strikeout-walk mark in the spring, he has done a much better job throwing strikes this summer, fanning 34 while walking just 11. He is 3-1, 3.18 in 28 innings over 19 appearances.

“He struggled with command at Pacific; we slowed him down a little bit, tried to get him to relax, and also made some adjustments to his delivery,” Pintard said. “He’s a big guy, strong arm, and he can spin it. You can see him throwing a breaking ball and a slider, and he’s real tough to hit with all three of those pitches.”

Weigel sat at 92-93 and touched 96 multiple times in the all-star game, mixing in a 77-81 slider and a mid-70s curve. Pintard said he has run his slider into the mid-80s when he was at his best, but even with less power it showed good bite.

“The slider is my best secondary pitch, I’d say,” Weigel said. “It’s really come a long way. I’m starting to throw each pitch harder, getting a better feel for it. I’m really learning a lot how to throw it off my fastball, set up hitters with it. It’s helped out tremendously.”

Drew Van Orden

Drew Van Orden (Photo by Eric Isaacs)

Van Orden has struggled to harness his potential in his first three seasons at Duke, posting a 7.22 ERA as a freshman in 2011 and a 5.82 ERA last year. He moved into a starting role as a junior this spring and went 3-5, 5.94 with 56 strikeouts and 32 walks in 64 innings, and he went undrafted in June.

But he has turned a corner with Santa Barbara, ranking second in the CCL with 55 strikeouts (against just 11 walks in 43 regular-season innings) and ranking second with a 1.04 ERA. Van Orden, a 6-foot-4 righty, looked great in his 1-2-3 inning in the all-star game, sitting at 91-92 with an effective 81-82 slider and an 83 mph changeup.

“I’ve been focusing on keeping my arm healthy, and mechanically just trying to make everything more consistent, lower the walk numbers and try to get soft contact,” Van Orden said. “I was watching video in the spring, and it seemed like in my later innings I wasn’t getting out toward the plate, I ended up leaving the ball up and getting hurt by that.”

Pintard called Van Orden “a student of the game” who has worked hard to improve this summer.

“He studies his outings. Before he pitches against another club, he goes over the charts, goes over the scouting reports, sits behind the plate,” Pintard said. “He’s very serious about his trade, about becoming a better pitcher, plus he’s a hard worker. All those things combine with his body and his arm strength, and end up to be a good product. His fastball’s got late life on it, and he’s been able to throw that with command. That sets him up for the slider.”

A third Santa Barbara arm also showed good stuff in the all-star game, even though he gave up two runs and took the loss. Parker French, a rising junior righthander at Texas, worked at 91-93 mph with his heavy fastball and showed a solid 80-82 slider. French has had more success so far in his college career than the other two, posting a 2.68 ERA in 13 starts as a sophomore this spring.

Tejay Antone (Texas Christian), who has a 1.80 ERA in 35 innings this summer for the Foresters, struck out two in his scoreless inning, flashing feel for four pitches, though his fastball was just 86-88. Pintard said three other Santa Barbara pitchers—Andrew Godail (Sam Houston State), Keaton Siomkin (California) and Hunter Lemke (Texas State)—were also worthy of all-star honors.

It’s a loaded staff, as usual, and it makes Santa Barbara the team to beat in Wichita once again. The opening round of the NBC World Series began this past Friday, but the Foresters (33-16 overall) have a bye to the final round of 16, which starts this Friday. They finished as runners-up in the best-of-three Cal Collegiate League championship series, losing to the Los Angeles Brewers, but taking home another NBC World Series title would make the summer a success.

“The last two years in Wichita, we’ve been fortunate enough to win,” Pintard said. “It’s a tough tournament to win, especially coming so far from California. We’re on the road, staying in a hotel for 10 days.

“But our pitching is working for us, and our defense has been playing well. I’m really convinced in a wood-bat league, pitching and defense is going to win more than it’s going to lose.”