Ole Miss left-hander among prospects Pirates eye for No. 2 pick
June 3, 2010 8:00 AM
Mississippi pitcher Drew Pomeranz.
By Chuck Finder Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
HOOVER, Ala. -- Conspiracy theorists might suggest that the Pirates have been preparing for Monday's second-overall pick since the draft a year ago.
That's when they selected and signed both of Drew Pomeranz's University of Mississippi roommates.
Just trying to make the big left-hander happy, right?
"He's a bulldog," said Phillip Irwin, the Pirates' 21st-round choice in the 2009 draft. He was preceded in the fifth round by Rebels roommate Nathan Baker, who pitches with him on the Class A West Virginia Power. "He's a huge competitor. He wants to beat everybody in everything, no matter what the cost. He's never-say-die. It's kind of funny ..."
No, all those plaudits weren't what struck Irwin as kind of humorous. Rather, it was the memory of the NCAA regional in Oxford, Miss., last spring, when Pomeranz -- a 6-foot-5, 231-pound left-hander now considered Top-5 draft material -- pitched twice in three days. Pitched amazingly, too.
"Last year in the regional, when he had his start against Western Kentucky" on two days' rest after a one-run, eight-inning, 10-strikeout defeat of Monmouth, began Irwin, "I talked to him before the game ...
" 'Hey, man, I know it's short rest. Do what you can, give us four innings.'
"I'm like, 'You got to be kidding me.' He went out and threw a complete game [and struck out a school-record 16 in another victory allowing just one run]. We ended up winning the regional.
"He backs up what he says, which is the most frustrating part. All the smack talk we do, with nothing to show for it ..."
Pomeranz's baseball journey started in the Memphis suburb of Collierville, Tenn., about 55 miles north of Oxford's famed Grove. It all started with roommates of a different stripe:
• Older brother Stuart, a 2003 second-round selection trying to restart his career this year in Class AA Tulsa;
• Father Mike, a two-time all-Southeastern Conference third baseman and four-year Mississippi letterman;
• And an occasional guest, his uncle Pat, a former four-year letterman and strong-armed Rebels outfielder.
See, baseball is a Pomeranz birthright. It didn't hurt, either, that Mike taught his sons a special pitch: a knucklecurve, one that puts less torque on the arm and wrist. That curve got Drew a spot as a 12th-round pick in 2007 with Texas. At the advice of his big brother -- Stuart is 6-7 -- and dad, he opted for Mississippi.
He was a freshman All-American in 2008, was 8-4 with a 3.40 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 951/3 innings as a sophomore and was the best pitcher in college baseball most of this season. Take Baseball America's word for it: They named him their midseason player of the year. Take the SEC's word for it: They named him their conference pitcher of the year -- ahead of another expected Top-20 selection, LSU's Anthony Ranaudo.
Take the words of a conference competitor.
"After he pitched against us [April 16], I got a call from a major league scouting director, and he asked me what I thought," said South Carolina coach Ray Tanner, against whose team Pomeranz struck out 17 in 14 combined scoreless innings this season. "I told him, 'If you can get him in your organization, you better get him.' He's got the skill set and the composure to have a very good pro career."
"We're probably fortunate we didn't have to face him this year, to be honest with you," said Vanderbilt's Tim Corbin, who coached Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates' top pick in 2008.
Pomeranz went 8-2 for the Rebels this season and topped the prospect-rich SEC in batting average against (.190), ERA (2.21) and strikeouts (134). The Rebels open NCAA regional at Georgia Tech this weekend.
Pomeranz's pitches also include a fastball that sat at 91 mph "comfortably," as scouts like to say, in striking out seven South Carolina Gamecocks last week in the SEC tournament in suburban Birmingham. He can hit 93, especially now that he's hale after straining a pectoral muscle in early May coming back from a rain delay to pitch against archrival Mississippi State. That may sound a tad slow for a fastball from such a big fellow, but that 12-to-6 o'clock curveball makes it all work.
"His fastball ... it just jumps out of his hand; he can throw it at the belt all day, and they'll swing through it," said Irwin, the Pirates minor leaguer. "The curveball, he twists it with one finger. It's not normal. It's pretty crazy. He throws it hard. It's an unbelievable pitch. It's the exact same delivery as the fastball. You don't see anything different."
Could Pomeranz see himself with Irwin and Baker again?
"Hey, I'm happy to play anywhere. But the Pirates are a great organization. Plus, my roommates from last year are with the organization. It would be fun for me to be playing with them again."
Not so fun to Irwin, who joked about the guy who writes, golfs and shoots a basketball right-handed, but could make millions left-handed: "The last thing I need is to have another great arm in the organization."