(Photo from Pitt Athletics, seen here)

The Pittsburgh Panthers went 29-26 overall in 2018, and had a rough go of it in ACC play, finishing at an 11-19 clip. It was an uninspiring regular season by most accounts, which is why it made it seem likely that pitcher Derek West would elect to go pro, leaving behind the University of Pittsburgh and his Panthers’ teammates to try to forge a life on the busses of minor league teams, with the hope of reaching The Show.

West appeared in 13 games (starting nine of them), and recorded an ERA of 3.24, allowing opposing batters to only hit .200 against him. The right hander suffered injuries in his first two seasons, which didn’t impact his eligibility, meaning he’s only played one full season at the collegiate level. Should he opt to push forward with the Panthers, he could remain on the roster for a few more years.

At the collegiate level, pitchers are on somewhat of a regular rotation, like at the professional level. The only difference is that college teams save their top of the line arms for weekend series. In his first non-injury plagued season, West was a middle-of-the-week starter, meaning he was expected to be serviceable, but perhaps not great, especially at a school like Pittsburgh, where in the past basketball and football have easily superseded hardball.

Despite the Panthers’ lackluster 2018 regular season, they made up for it with a run in the ACC postseason tournament. Pitt went into the tournament as the 12th seed, the lowest in this particular event. They drew the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who finished 8th in conference. Holding off the Yellow Jackets by plating a pair in the seventh, Pitt won its first matchup 2-1, advancing them to play the 1st overall seed North Carolina Tar Heels.

In a tightly contested match, Derek West had perhaps one of his more memorable performances of the season. So often are collegiate players forced to show what kind of fortitude they have in the postseason, West did just that. He pitched five innings, allowing no runs and no hits, while striking out three and walking one. That gritty performance was enough to help the Panthers hold on to a 5-4 victory over the blue-blooded Tar Heels.

Pittsburgh reached the semifinals of the ACC tournament, a spot that nobody predicted them to reach. The team ultimately fell short, losing to the 5th seeded Louisville Cardinals 5-2 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, NC.

Although Pittsburgh fell short of their ultimate goal – attempting to win the ACC – Derek West performed well enough on the season to garner the attention of MLB scouts. West was selected in the 28th round of Major League Baseball’s June Amateur (Rule 4) Draft by the Atlanta Braves. It was uncertain whether or not West would elect to sign, or opt to return to Pittsburgh for at least another year.

Initially, at least by reading West’s quote, and the Pitt Baseball Twitter page, the 6’5 Redshirt Sophomore had decided to make his professional aspirations a reality by signing with the Braves:

Then on June 11, news broke that West had officially made the decision to stay at Pittsburgh.

For players with options that go in the later rounds (like the 28th), it can often be a wise to decision to further their careers at the amateur level, thereby attempting to increase their value, thus moving up the proverbial ladder, and actual draft board, becoming a higher slotted value pick. Of course, it can be risky, too, as the chance of injury remains, especially for a seemingly injury prone player.

Regardless, Derek West will look to build on his strong 2018 campaign, and will assuredly improve Pitt’s chances at being competitive in the ACC in 2019. Coming off of his first full season, and having the ability to train during a fully healthy offseason, look for West to improve his stuff even more. It will be interesting to see whether or not he can help rile the Panthers and make some more noise in the ACC next year.


Brett Barnett

Staff Writer for CBBSN.

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