March 22, 2012

Dylan Baker Rockets Up the Draft Board

WNC Pitcher Getting Notice by MLB Scouts

In the short history of its highly successful baseball program, Western Nevada College has seen many student athletes drafted into the Major League Baseball system. But the Wildcats have yet to see one of its ballplayers drafted in the first round of the MLB draft. That could very well change this June.

WNC pitcher Dylan Baker, a sophomore from Juneau, Alaska, has been attracting MLB scouts each time he toes the rubber for the Wildcats, and his draft stock rises with each one of his impressive starts.

“He’s been heavily scouted since his first game,” said WNC Coach D.J. Whittemore.

Baker (6-0) has been silencing hitters with a blend of power and off-speed pitches. His fastball reportedly tops out at 96 mph, and he keeps hitters off balance with curveballs and sliders clocked in the 80s.

“I didn’t have any clues that I’d have this good a year. This is crazy what is happening,” Baker said.

In 28 1/3 dominant innings, Baker has a 0.32 earned run average, allowing just one earned run on 11 hits. He has 39 strikeouts against 19 walks.

“His half of year is the best anybody has had for us, but there are seven weeks left in the regular season,” Whittemore said.

Whittemore estimated that 60 pro scouts turned out for Baker’s WNC debut and 100 percent of the scouts in attendance to this point have MLB connections. Baker is even being touted by some sources as the No. 1 junior college draft prospect in the country.

“Being the No. 1 junior college prospect in the country halfway through the season is quite an honor. Just like the polls, you want to be No. 1 when the season is over,” Whittemore said. “Dylan will continue to work hard, and I’m happy he’s getting the recognition he’s getting.”

WNC fans will get their second look at Baker in his home park when the Wildcats entertain College of Southern Idaho during a four-game series March 23-24. Baker is expected to pitch on the second day of the series at John L. Harvey Field.

Whittemore believes that Baker received immediate attention from scouts because of his pitching in the Wildcats’ intra-squad games in January.
Baker won his sixth straight decision by tossing a one-hitter over six innings in a 10-0 blanking of College of Southern Nevada on March 17.

In his previous outing on March 10, Baker allowed just two hits in an 11-0 victory over Eastern Utah, a game attended by four pro scouts and a performance that Baker said is his best so far.

“When I found out that scouts were going to be at our first game, I was nervous all week,” Baker said. “Now, I don’t think about it. I just do what I can on the mound for the team and myself.”

Whittemore said in a “Perfect Game” article on March 13 that the scouts in attendance told him that Baker might not make it out of the draft’s first round after his performance against Eastern Utah.

Although he is committed and focused on WNC’s current season, Baker can’t help but think about the June 4-6 draft.

“Obviously, I’ve thought about the draft, but my focus is on this season, and I want to win a national championship with this team,” said Baker, who has helped the Wildcats to a 21-7 overall record, a first-place standing in the Scenic West Athletic Conference and a No. 10 ranking in two national polls.

Baker isn’t the only ace on the WNC pitching staff. The team has a 1.86 earned run average and 219 strikeouts in 208 1/3 innings.

“I’ve never been on a team like this,” Baker said. “You can always just go out there and know the team is going to have good games. We’re always going to keep ourselves in games, and that’s the coolest thing in the world.”

The Wildcats’ highest draft picks to date have been eighth-rounders Lance Ray (Twins) and Logan Odom (Angels) in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Stephen Sauer (White Sox) and Kyle Farrell (Braves) were taken in the ninth round in 2008. In addition, Wildcats pitcher Cole Rohrbaugh signed with the Atlanta Braves organization in 2007 for the equivalent of a first round selection.

Baker said a draft selection in the top five rounds would be hard to turn down.

“I’ve never been drafted, so I don’t want to mess it up,” Baker said. “I’m more ready for it now than at any time.”

Baker pitched at Tacoma Community College in Washington last year, compiling a 3-3 record and 347 ERA before transferring to WNC. He also pitched for the Glens Falls Golden Eagles Baseball Club in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League last summer, finishing with a 0-2 record and 5.46 ERA. Baker said he made the transfer to Western Nevada so he could improve and progress in his pitching career.

“I didn’t do that good last year and wasn’t learning that much; I wanted to learn more and get better,” Baker said.

Baker learned about the WNC program while wrapping up his high school career in Juneau, but summer coach Don Moe wasn’t able to convince him to attend WNC until after his freshman year of college.

“I was somewhat nervous to go far away,” Baker said. “My coach said, ‘You’re going, and you don’t have a option.’”

Both Baker and WNC have benefitted from his transfer to the Carson City college. Whittemore said Baker came to the program with a fastball clocked in the high 80s, so his improvement on the mound has been through hard work and the reworking of his mechanics.

“There’s not a single reason for that kind of improvement,” Whittemore said. “I think Dylan will tell you that (pitching coach) Jeremy Beard deserves some of the credit, and the rest of it is Dylan’s hard work and preparation.”

In the preseason, the 6-foot-3 Baker put on 15 to 20 pounds and became more flexible through WNC’s stretching program. Baker said his work with Beard corrected the flaws in his delivery.

“I was pretty out of sync. I never had the best mechanics,” Baker said. “Now, I’m fully in sync. Now that I’m throwing harder, it’s a lot easier to rely on the fastball and drop in my curveball or slider.”

Another sophomore arm on Whittemore’s starting staff also is generating interest from scouts. Tyler Spencer, a sophomore from Grants Pass, Ore., has a 5-1 record and 1.91 ERA. He has surrendered 17 hits and six earned runs in 28 1/3 innings while striking out 25 and walking 10.
Perfect Game projects Spencer as a possible draft selection by the 10th round.

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