After the baseball team’s championship win last season, pitchers Jacob Blank and Tyler Mitzel were able to leave their college baseball careers with one of the highest achievements that can be earned. But they didn’t have to leave their baseball careers altogether.
Blank and Mitzel were able to move up to playing baseball professionally, something that, according to the NCAA, happens to only 9.5 percent of college baseball players. Blank is currently in the Minnesota Twins system, while Mitzel is with the Miami Marlins organization.
Blank was drafted as a pitcher in round 22 of the 2018 draft by the Minnesota Twins.
“The feeling of watching your name pop up on the screen during the draft is one of pure elation,” Blank said. “It represents the payoff for years of hard work and validates your place as one of the most talented players in America.”
Though it is the goal of many baseball players to reach the higher level, Tim Huber, the head coach of the baseball team, said that Jacob’s original path was different than that of most players.
“I mean everybody as a young guy thinks if he had the chance to be a pro-baseball player, that would be their dream, but I don’t think he thought it was really in the cards for him,” Huber said. “A few years later, after his junior year, he had a great year and got bigger and stronger and continues to do so in the summer and so Jacob, just the improvement that he made from day one on campus to really his junior and senior year was pretty remarkable.”
Mitzel, on the other hand, was not drafted but was picked up by the Miami Marlins on the day after the draft. He had been contacted by a scout for the Marlins before the draft and told to be ready for a phone call on day three.
“It came to day three, I never got the call,” Mitzel said. “But it was a couple of minutes after the draft and that guy called me and he goes, ‘Hey, do you want a job?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’”
Coming out of Roosevelt High School, Mitzel decided to first go to Neosho County Community College and then to Arkansas State University his junior year. He then decided to travel back to his hometown of Sioux Falls for his senior year and play for Augustana.
“Ever since you start playing baseball as a little guy, I guess, you always have the dream of playing professional baseball,” Mitzel said. “The guys at Augie just kind of made it a reality.”
Both Blank and Mitzel left their impact on Augustana with Blank having a 23-1 career record and the school record for strikeouts with 220 in over 200 innings pitched.
Though he was only at Augustana for one season, Mitzel went 12-0 as a starter and had 76 strikeouts. He also earned the MVP award at the Collegiate World Series.
“They were big pieces in the puzzle, no doubt about it,” Huber said. “They were kind of our go-to guys and pitched a lot of innings and were two of the big pieces to help us get the job done and win the championship.”
Last summer, Blank played for the Elizabethton Twins, a rookie-league affiliate for the Minnesota Twins, while Mitzel played for the Batavia Muckdogs, a class-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins that plays a short season.
Currently, both Blank and Mitzel are going through spring training, where their performance will be tested to determine what team they will land on for the upcoming season. If they are consistently performing well, they could be sent to higher-level teams. If they perform exceedingly well, they have the possibility of making it up into the major league system.
There also could be cuts. If a player at spring training is not performing well enough, they could get released. That way, players work to keep themselves in the organization.
“Moving up in the organization is based off a number of factors, some of which are out of my control,” Blank said. “For me, it’s all about staying focused on becoming the best baseball player I can be and letting the chips fall as they may.”
For Mitzel, the biggest difference from playing at the collegiate level is the amount of time that is spent on the field. Last year he had a short season and half the amount of games as other teams, but the games were daily and involved a lot of preparation time. For a 7 p.m. game, he would have to be at the field by noon to practice and prepare.
Many of these games also involved a large amount of traveling time, sometimes as far as eight hours away.
“Just leaving early morning, the long days and then playing every day has just kind of been the biggest difference from college to this,” he said.
Blank said that the biggest difference from college that he observed was the diversity on the field.
“Many players and coaches at this level come from other countries: Puerto Rico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Germany, the Netherlands,” he said. “These players all bring their unique life experiences, personalities and approaches to the game of baseball to the field, offering opportunities to learn from a wide variety of perspectives on any given day.”
Both Blank and Mitzel try to keep up with the progress of Augustana’s current baseball team by watching livestreams and looking at stats online. Both of them have also come back to practice with the team during the offseason.
Mitzel said that the most important lesson that he learned at Augustana was learning to move past any mistakes and keep playing.
“It’s definitely kind of that flushing and letting it just go through one ear and out the other,” Mitzel said. “Work on the stuff that you need to work on and just control what you need to control, because everything outside of that is just kind of pointless—more stuff that you don’t need to be thinking about.”
Blank said that Augustana taught him how to commit and work hard.
“The biggest lesson I learned from my time at Augie is the value of committing to a process,” Blank said. “I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t buy into the process of maximizing my baseball talent for the first two years I was on campus, and it showed on the field. When I finally bought in to all the components of the training regimen, lifting, eating, sleep, managing throwing workloads. I became a much better baseball player and teammate.”
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