Cal Poly's Drew Thorpe Steps Into The College Pitcher Void
RIVERSIDE, Calif.—Brooks Lee is the undisputed top college hitter in the country. The question is not whether the Cal Poly shortstop will be drafted in the first round, but if he’ll go first overall.
About 20 scouts and front office officials made the trip to see Cal Poly face UC Riverside on Friday night, mostly from teams that pick too low to have any realistic shot at drafting Lee.
They didn’t go to see him. They went to see Drew Thorpe.
Thorpe, the 6-foot-4 Cal Poly righthander, came within one out of a shutout to continue his banner season and lead the Mustangs to a 9-3 victory. The redshirt sophomore was one out away from tossing his second shutout of the season before he surrendered a two-run double on his 109th pitch of the game. He finished with 8.2 innings pitched, six hits and three runs allowed, no walks and 10 strikeouts, putting him three strikeouts off the national lead.
“It’s just kind of who he is,” Cal Poly coach Larry Lee said. “He’s a three-pitch mix guy. He makes it difficult on hitters because they can’t just sit on one pitch. They can’t just sit on one location … He’s a great competitor and he gives us a chance to beat anybody on Friday night.”
In a year where the top college pitchers have been dropping left and right with injuries, Thorpe has provided a welcome blend of health, consistency and performance. He ranks second in the nation with 99 strikeouts and has the lowest ERA (2.41) and WHIP (0.83) in the nation among pitchers who have thrown at least 70 innings. He has completed at least seven innings in eight of his 10 starts and has struck out at least 10 batters six times, including a 15-strikeout game on March 25.
Thorpe’s performance didn’t come out of nowhere. He is a three-year rotation member who posted a 0.90 ERA in the Cape Cod League last summer and was selected for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. He entered the spring considered one of the best college pitchers on the West Coast, with most evaluators projecting him to settle into the third or fourth round of the draft.
He's exceeded those expectations by leaps and bounds, combining a three-pitch mix, plus control and exceptional durability to push himself into consideration among the top 50 picks. The Mets and A’s, who hold the 52nd and 56th overall picks, respectively, were among the teams who sent multiple evaluators—including high-ranking executives—to watch Thorpe’s latest start.
“I don’t pay attention,” Thorpe said. “If they’re here, they’re here. If not, whatever. Just kind of focusing on my game and trying to go out and win for these guys every Friday night.”
Thorpe’s fastball sat 90-93 mph in his latest outing and maintained its velocity into the ninth. He racked up swings and misses by the bunch with both his 82-83 mph slider and 81-84 mph changeup and held his velocity and command of both throughout the evening. He threw all three pitches for strikes, locating his fastball to both sides of the plate and getting whiffs on his secondaries both in and out of the strike zone.
Thorpe’s changeup was already considered one of the best in the country entering the season and his velocity is largely the same from a year ago. What changed is his slider. Previously a fringe-average offering he rarely used, he altered his grip and throwing mechanics and now boasts an above-average slider, giving him the needed third pitch to succeed as a starter at higher levels.
“I think it all started with a slight change in mechanics, trying to keep his front side closed as long as possible and not scap(ula) pinch as much,” Lee said. “That just led to a better fastball and a byproduct of that was it allowed him to get on top of his slider and have more of a vertical break to it.”
Thorpe used his slider liberally on Friday, combining it with his changeup to keep UC Riverside’s hitters off balance. After using a balanced pitch mix in the early innings, he threw his slider and changeup almost exclusively in the middle innings to great success. He retired 15 straight batters in a stretch that lasted from the third to the eighth inning.
“I think it just played out that way seeing their swings,” Thorpe said. “I mean if it’s not broke don’t fix it, so I kept going to that. And then later in the game I started mixing some more fastballs in and kind of snuck a couple by guys, and I think that’s just how I’ll be all year.”
How Thorpe has pitched all year has worked brilliantly, both from a performance and draft perspective. While Cal Poly has produced a long list of major leaguers, including Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith, longtime starters Mike Krukow, Kevin Correia and Bud Norris and Mariners all-star outfielder Mitch Haniger, the program has never had two players selected in the top two rounds of the same draft.
With the way Thorpe is pitching, he’ll team with Lee to end that dubious distinction this year. While Lee remains the primary attraction at Cal Poly, Thorpe has become a premium draft prospect in his own right.
“He’s come a long way,” Larry Lee said. “He’s just gonna continue to get better as he gets older and pitches more innings.”