Article by: Justin Imler
What’s every young athletes dream? To make it all the way to the professional level. When you're playing T-Ball or Little League it’s so easy to imagine yourself in your favorite teams uniform, hearing your name called as you walk up to bat, but for most ballplayers, that’s all it ends up being, just a dream. The odds of playing a professional sport is as small as they come. The amount of time, effort, and sacrifice a young man or woman has to make to continue to chase that childhood dream is an amount that needs to be recognized. And for these four ball players, that work paid off this week.
The 2019 MLB draft recently took place, beginning on Monday (June 3rd) and concluding on Wednesday (June 5th). If you aren’t already aware, the MLB draft is a long one, due to it’s very extensive minor league system, so that gives a large number of high school and college baseball players a chance to take their passion for the sport to the next level. It’s always amazing to see these players’ dreams come true when their name gets called, getting to celebrate with friends and family, but it’s even more amazing when it’s players that you knew and grew up with, and for myself, got to go to school with.
I’m going to highlight four individual players who saw their Little League dreams become a reality this week. All of whom are out of the local Central PA area. One being Nathan Ocker, a starting pitcher turned closer who I had the privilege of growing up with in Middletown, Pennsylvania. The other three studs are also pitchers, and they all were on this years staff at Millersville University which (news flash) is where most of the Heated Sports team, including myself, attend college.
Nathan Ocker (RHP) - Cleveland Indians
"It was a rush of memories that flooded back from LSTAA, to high school and travel ball, and then college. All of the countless hours spent on a baseball field and the thousands of throws I made to try and be the best at what I do finally came full circle."
As I've already mentioned, Ocker and I both grew up in the small town of Middletown, Pennsylvania, and both attended Middletown Area High School. From being a starting varsity pitcher all four years, and being QB of the varsity football team, it's pretty safe to say that Ocker has aways had a knack for this whole "sports" thing.
It didn't take long into Ocker's high school career at Middletown to know he was going to be moving on to bigger and better things once he graduated. He committed to the College of Charleston in South Carolina before his senior season, and it's pretty safe to say that it was a solid decision. A premier division 1 program with a good baseball history, Ocker was ready to make a name for himself at the next level... and that's exactly what he did.
Ocker wasn't just putting up program high numbers for Middletown, he took that dynamic with him to Charleston, ending his career 2nd in program history in saves (26), WHIP (.97), and total appearances (92). The starting pitcher turned reliever (eventually becoming the Cougars' closer) was also third all time in strikeouts per 9 innings (10.24).
Hearing his named called during the draft was really the perfect way to cap off a successful senior season for Ocker. He collected 12 saves, 54 strikeouts in 47.2 innings, and finished with a 2.45 ERA. It's clear that the right hander really made a name for himself during his time with the Cougars, both through his performance on the field, but also through his emotional leadership that really set him apart and helped the team during his upperclassmen years with the program.
I also wanted to know how his time with Charleston had prepared him to take this next step in his baseball career, and responded with consistent praise for his team and coaching staff. "During my time in Charleston I went through two coaching staffs so to have different pitching coaches really helped me get a wide range of knowledge."
He continued; "My growth as a pitcher really started my junior season with our new pitching coach and the coaching staff as a whole, they helped mold me into the pitcher that I have become. They do a great job at not only preparing you to compete for a chance at a championship every year, but they prepare you for the next step in life whether that's baseball or life in general."
Ocker has proven that he deserves this shot at the next level, so the last thing I wanted to ask him was what he felt he improved on the the most during his years in college, and that he'll be able to take with him into the Cleveland Indians organization. "Confidence in my pitches, not just my fastball but also my slider, where I can throw any pitch in any count and wherever I want. Commanding the baseball is where you can succeed as a pitcher, and the sooner you master that, the sooner you will find success."
I for one can't wait to see what Ocker does during his time with the Indians organization, and I know for a fact that he'll have his friends, family, and the entire town of Middletown PA behind him.
Tyler Yankosky (RHP) - Washington Nationals
Yankosky was the first Marauder off the board in this year's draft. and only the 5th junior in program history to get the call. Yankosky's college experience has been an interesting one. Going from having a starting role his first two seasons, to a prominent role out of the bullpen his junior year can be a tough transition for most, but not for this right hander. Yankosky had a very successful junior year tallying 5 saves, a 2.67 ERA, and a solid .179 opponent BA. The reliever also totaled 43 Ks in 33 2/3 innings pitched. With that being said, Yankosky still has a decision in front of him. With another year of college eligibility left, he could decline the contract the Nationals offer, and return for his senior season with the Marauders. We'll just have to wait and see what Yankosky's decision will be.
Eli Nabholz (RHP) - Milwaukee Brewers
Nabholz was the 2nd Marauder taken off the board in this year's MLB draft. This guy has been the true definition of a workhorse for Millersville throughout his college career. He's been the go to guy for this pithing staff ever since he transferred over after his freshman season at Penn State, and his numbers will help explain why. Throughout his Millersville career Nabholz went 24-8 (leading the team in wins all three seasons) in 43 starts with a 2.74 ERA. During these 43 starts, the right hander also set a school record with 265 career strikeouts. These numbers also led to some pretty historic accomplishments for the right hander, including winning PSAC East Pitcher of the Year TWICE, and being selected to the All-Atlantic Region 1st Team THREE TIMES, which is something only one other Millersville pitcher has accomplished. I was very excited to see Nabholz cap off a historic Millersville career by getting his named called, and getting a shot at the next level.
Daniel Ross (RHP) - Pittsburgh Pirates
Only 20 picks in the draft separated Nabholz from the third and final Marauder taken off the board and that was fellow RHP Daniel Ross. Ross had a very unconventional journey that lead him to Millersville. Ross actually spent most of his childhood in Yokosuka, Japan where his father was stationed while serving in the Navy. Similar to Nabholz, Ross was also a transfer student, transferring to Millersville from Fresno City Community College in California after two years. Throughout his Millersville career Ross made 22 appearances for a total of 47 2/3 innings. Going deeper into the numbers, the right hander ended his career a 3.66 ERA with a .235 opponent BA, while also tallying 43 strikeouts.
All in all, it was really great to see all four of these guys get their names called, and have a chance to play professional baseball. This is just a great example of how every single college athlete's journey is different from the next. These guys all had to grind big time to get their shots, and I know for a fact that they're all going to take advantage of this opportunity, and give it their all each and every day.
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