Western Nevada coming to JUCO with top pitching prospect
Not only is Western Nevada College touting right-handed pitcher Dillon Baker, who some consider the top junior college prospect in the country, the Wildcats enter the JUCO World Series with emotional bliss.
A two-out, two-strike, bottom-of-the-ninth situation wasn’t enough to stop Western Nevada in the Western District championship against Salt Lake Community College.
Down one run, Alex Schmidt hit a two-run single to win.
“It’s been a really great and emotional three weeks for us,” Wildcats coach DJ Whittemore said.
The Wildcats are 47-15, having finished second in the Scenic West Athletic Conference, which was won by Salt Lake.
Baker is 12-0 with 116 strikeouts in 77 innings. He has allowed 39 hits and an opponent’s batting average of .146.
“There’s been a lot of talk; I don’t know whether he’ll be a first-rounder or a second-rounder, but he’ll be one of the first junior college players drafted,” Whittemore said. “I’m not the one drafting, but that seems to be the consensus.”
Baker is simply continuing a Wildcats’ pitching tradition that was an immediate part of their success. The baseball program began in 2006. The team, Whittemore said, didn’t know it was supposed to be mediocre. And they were champions in the competitive SWAC.
The next season, Western Nevada made its first JUCO World Series appearance.
In 2009, the Wildcats made it to the series again, losing to one of the great historical JUCO teams, Howard University, which was 60-1 at the time.
The Wildcats lost in 11 innings, 4-3.
The boys from Carson City didn’t take long to show the junior college baseball nation it would be one of the teams to count as a contender.
“I think it was just the quality of teams in our conference,” Whittemore said. “We just got started trying to compete for the conference championship, and lo and behold we were able to do that as good as anybody in the country.”
And there was the pitching. “I guess we got lucky with the first group of pitchers we got in,” Whittemore said.
Of the first 10 men to toe the rubber for the Wildcats, five eventually signed professional contracts.
“That was the nucleus of the team that took us to the World Series our second year,” Whittemore said.
That group included Cole Rohrbough, who after the 2007 JUCO World Series signed with the Atlanta Braves.
“For $700,000-plus dollars,” Whittemore said.
Mason Tobin, another pitcher from the initial group, played five games with the Texas Rangers last season.
Baker simply continues the pitching tradition, as do others.
Brandon Jackson is 10-1 with a 1.62 ERA.
Andrew Woeck is 8-2 with a 1.68 ERA and three saves.
The Wildcats’ top hitter is Zach Hendrix, who is batting .352 with 42 RBI in a wood-bat conference.
And while some coaches swallow names of their top athletes in an attempt to weaken their opponents’ scouting reports, Whittemore is not afraid to give the details about his top players.
“We’re trying to promote our players to four-year colleges and professional baseball,” Whittemore said. “It’s a pain in the butt trying to find info on teams.”