Marshall baseball: Blair says MU reason for development, rise
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The joy that Marshall pitcher Aaron Blair will feel as early as tonight won't solely be for his own future. Blair, a Thundering Herd junior considered among the top 50 prospects in the 2013 Major League Baseball draft, could hear his name called when the event begins at 7 p.m. (MLB Network and MLB.com).
Blair also will feel joy in what an early selection would mean for the program he called home for the last three years, the one he said helped develop him into the blue-chip prospect that has gained the interest of many MLB teams. He appreciates that Marshall Coach Jeff Waggoner can likely use him as an example of what the Herd coaching staff can mold a young player into becoming.
"It's awesome to even talk about something like that," he said, "not only me, but Dan Straily as well, pitching for the A's. He can say we have someone in the big leagues and we brought a kid in and developed him possibly into a first-round pick. It's a pretty awesome feeling."
And there's a pretty good chance of that coming true. MLB will hold two regular rounds and two competitive balance rounds of the draft tonight, with 73 picks in all. MLB.com rates Blair the No. 38 prospect in this draft, while Baseball America rates him No. 41. If he's taken anywhere in those rounds as expected, he'll be by far the highest draft pick in Marshall baseball history. Catcher Joe Goddard, an eighth-round pick in the 1971 draft, currently holds that honor.
And it'll be a big step up for Blair, who the Houston Astros picked in the 21st round of the 2010 draft out of Spring Valley High School in Nevada. He credits his three years at Marshall for his vault up the draft boards. He arrived in Huntington as a tall right hander who hadn't grown into his body and said he's added 15 to 20 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-5 frame.
With that added strength came added power. His fastball went from 87 to 90 miles an hour to 92 to 96 miles an hour. He also lauds pitching coach Joe Renner for teaching him to throw a change-up, a pitch Blair said he didn't have entering college, but one he now considers possibly his most effective.
Blair said his consistency has been one of the most important ingredients to his development.
"I can repeat my mechanics almost every time I deliver the ball, which is key to having good control and keeping the same arm slot," he said. "If you can repeat your mechanics, it's really easy to teach someone something new."
Waggoner said Blair's physical abilities were just some of his contributions to the Marshall program. He was instrumental in the dugout and behind the scenes as well.
"He's a leader," Waggoner said. "He really wanted to win. He was always into games and always helping the younger guys. He's a competitor."
Blair showed that competitiveness and his talents in the 2012 Cape Cod League. A summer wood-bat league for college players, it boasts an alumni list that includes National League MVP and San Fransicso Giants catcher Buster Posey, Boston Red Sox All-Star outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and New York Mets young star pitcher Matt Harvey.
Blair led the 2012 Cape Cod League with a 1.17 ERA, going 6-0 and striking out 44 over 38.1 innings.
"Not very many people get to do that, and I'm grateful for the opportunity I had," he said. "It helped me a lot. My confidence after the summer ... I've always been a confident person, but after that summer and coming into this spring, my confidence level was really high. People were looking at me like I had a chance to do something special."
That confidence carried over into Marshall's 2013 season. Blair was named to the all-Conference USA first team after finishing with a 5-5 record and a 2.85 ERA, striking out 84 in 82 innings. He was twice named C-USA pitcher of the week and named national pitcher of the week by both the National College Baseball Writers Association and Louisville Slugger.
The only hiccup for Blair through the draft process was a report that he tested positive for Adderall in a pre-draft screening. The stimulant is banned by Major League Baseball, though players can get a medical exemption for it. Baseball America, who originally reported the news, also said it shouldn't hurt his draft stock at all.
That report came out after the Daily Mail's interview with Blair on Monday. Blair did not respond to a request for comment on the report, and declined comment through spokespeople to Baseball America.
Blair said Monday he's "95 percent sure" that he'll sign if drafted, barring any unpleasant surprises in where he's picked. Waggoner will miss him if he leaves, calling him a player that meant so much more to Marshall baseball than stats on paper.
"You just don't look at a guy like that and say, 'Oh, he just had a great arm,'" Waggoner said. "You get a lot of those guys in the draft and they're just great arms. Well, there's a lot more intangibles with that. His baseball IQ, the teammate he was, just being able to talk baseball with him and be around him. He's a great kid to be around. That's the thing you'll miss more than anything else."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.