(Photo via DBU Athletics’ Twitter page, seen here)
The state of Texas has long been known as a college baseball hotbed. The Texas Longhorns and Rice Owls have a combined thirteen CWS appearances since this millennium. More recently, TCU is on a streak of four straight CWS berths, while Texas Tech and Texas A&M have put together impressive postseason runs of their own.
But another school nestled in the Metroplex suburb of Grand Prairie has quietly played itself into the conversation with other elite baseball programs in the Lone Star state. The Dallas Baptist Patriots have won 40 games in six seasons since 2011 at this private school of 5,000 students located equidistant between Dallas and Arlington. The Patriot program has built their success on an impressive display of power on both sides of the game, leading to an impressive cycle of recruiting, player development and sending polished pitchers and hitters to the MLB draft. This first piece in a two-part series will analyze Dallas Baptist’s approach to pitching through a conversation with third-year pitching coach Rick McCarty. Next week’s piece will detail the Patriots’ offensive approach and recruiting.
Dallas Baptist’s pitching staff is known in some scouting circles to have a large proportion of pitchers who can throw fastballs in the mid-90s, an idea confirmed by DBU pitching coach Rick McCarty in a recent interview.
“On a staff of seventeen pitchers, we have ten guys that threw 92 miles per hour or better this fall. We have a handful of guys that will get the fastball to 95 or better at times,” McCarty said. High team velocity has led to impressive results for the DBU staff. Patriot pitchers have posted a team ERA under 4.0 in three of the last four seasons and nine have been drafted since 2015. Most notable among those is righty Chance Adams, who’s consistently listed among the top prospects in the New York Yankees farm system and could be on track to make his MLB debut in New York this season.
In terms of developing and finding this type of powerful velocity on the mound, McCarty discusses this high-octane velocity so many of his pitchers show as a part of the staff’s identity. “So many variables go in to developing high-end velocity,” he says. “I feel like we do a good job of building a big engine within our training for each guy to use. When you add that engine to an athlete and teach them how to use it, velocity will come. Then it becomes a mindset & that drives our development culture.”
DBU’s pitching philosophy doesn’t stop at fastballs – locating those four-seamers up in the zone has become another tenant of the program’s pitching philosophy, though McCarty mentioned he likes to think of his staff as well-rounded. “One of our championship pillars is commanding and attacking with the fastball,” McCarty said. “Some guys gravitate to the elevated fastball more than others…an elevated fastball works better for some guys and is naturally a strength, but I also want guys to develop a good breaker to finish a hitter off.”
Listening to McCarty discuss DBU’s pitching philosophy suggests a full buy-in to these key philosophies that have helped DBU achieve unprecedented success in the Missouri Valley Conference, just 12 years removed from competing at the NAIA level. This focus on velocity has led to regular season success, high draft selections for pitchers and naturally, success recruiting prep pitchers with expectations of playing early and showcasing talent in a successful program.
“We are at a place as a program where we are trying to bring in guys that can & will contribute immediately,” McCarty said about recruiting high school arms. “Having velocity will give a younger guy more margin early in their career while they are learning the finer points of pitching. We’ve been blessed to have a lot of guys that have been drafted out of here and having fastball command has allowed them to compete right away in pro ball.”
Although the Patriots won 42 games last season, their team ERA jumped from 3.73 in 2016 to 4.76 last season. The staff will return three pitchers who made weekend starts last season as well as three newcomers to the staff from the junior college ranks. McCarty expects improvement from past experiences, as many returning pitchers have thrown innings in postseason regional games, as well as three pitchers who pitched in the Cape Cod League this past summer against quality college hitters.
First among those returning starters is Ray Gaither, who McCarty mentioned as a breakout candidate. Gaither started eight Friday night games as well as DBU’s 11-8 win over Virginia in the Fort Worth regional last season. According to McCarty, Gaither sits between 92-96 with his fastball and demonstrates a good feel for three additional offerings. “He’s a bulldog competitor and really enjoys the spotlight,” McCarty said. “I’m hoping that experience, along with getting into better counts, helps him get off to a great start this spring.”
Rounding out the returning staff are incoming juniors M.D. Johnson, whom McCarty calls “electric” and Jordan Martinson, a lefty who sits in the low-90s with his fastball and added a slider after the 2017 season that the coaches are excited to see against live hitters. Johnson, Martinson, and Gaither all pitched in the Cape Cod League this summer and seem to be the leading candidates to round off DBU’s weekend staff. “All three of the guys [Gaither, Martinson, and Johnson] are very different,” McCarty said. “They have different body types, so they make a good rotation for a weekend.”
The Patriot staff lost three relief arms who contributed more than ninety innings in 2017 to last year’s draft. Seth Elledge, Dalton Higgins, and Gavin Fritz were all drafted in the top ten rounds of last year’s draft and were all multi-year contributors to the Patriot bullpen who could throw similarly high-velocity fastballs.
As for 2018 priorities, McCarty mentioned filling those gaps in the bullpen and improving his staff’s control as high-level objectives for getting the Patriots back to a 40-win season and a deeper run into the NCAA tournament. “Taking care of the baseball is a priority for our staff/team,” McCarty said. “Hopefully guys will settle into roles early in the year. I really like the competitiveness within the group and I believe that and our depth will be strengths to put us in a good position late in the year.”