Tuesday, June 21, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Eller glad to be in Bluefield

Leader sports editor

Sylvan Hills High School and Ouachita Baptist University graduate Connor Eller had a whirlwind first week of professional baseball after being drafted in the 22nd round of the Major League Baseball Draft June 11 by the Toronto Blue Jays.

After a week of minicamp games in Dunedin, Fla., Eller flew to Bluefield, WV on Monday where he will play for the Bluefield Blue Jays in the Advanced Rookie Appalachian League. The season begins on Thursday.

“It’s just so exciting,” Eller told The Leader on Tuesday from Bluefield. “It’s a lot of work but it’s every little kid’s dream to play professional baseball. It’s a 5:45a.m. wakeup call and you get back to your room about 4 o’clock completely exhausted, but I’m still excited.”

Eller knows very little about how or as what he projects in the Blue Jays organization. He was a durable starting pitcher for the Tigers the last two seasons. He even had a complete-game, 10-inning win last season. But he’s uncertain whether the organization is looking at him as a starting pitcher, or a relief pitcher. He only threw one inning during minicamp. It was, despite its brevity, a successful outing.

Eller faced three batters and recorded two strikeouts. Sandwiched between the fannings was a broken-bat groundout to second base.

“It was fun and I felt really good about it,” Eller said. “I was a little nervous because it was my first time pitching live in about a month, but it all came back to me pretty quick and I think I pitched pretty well.”

Eller has five pitches in his reportoire, of which three he uses frequently. His favorite is a powerful fastball that averages between 89-93 miles per hour. He occasionally touched 94 throughout his senior season at OBU, and has topped out about a half-dozen times this season at 95 mph.

He says his second-favorite pitch is a cutter that only loses about 5 mph from his fastball.

“That’s my next-best pitch,” Eller said. “It’s a pitch I can throw into the zone and still throw pretty hard. I’m comfortable with it and I can use it as a wipe-out pitch.”

He also throws a hard slider, and breaks it up occasionally with a change-up or a sinker.

“I’m comfortable with the slider, and I’ll throw the other two every now and then,” Eller said. “Throwing the change-up and sinker, it really depends on the situation and who is at the plate. The other three I’m really comfortable with and I can command pretty well.”

Early indications are that almost all the Bluefield pitchers will work about the same amount. That gives the organization a chance to see who projects as a starter, who projects as a reliever and who, if any, fail to advance their careers further.

“Right now it looks like they’re going to go with about a 5-4 split for pitchers,” Eller said of innings for pitchers. “They have two lined up for each game, and that depends on how they do once they’re on the mound. It could be shorter, but it looks like two for each outing to start out with.”

The Bluefield season begins at 6:05 p.m. with a home game against Bristol, Conn. Interested fans can listen to Bluefield Blue Jays games by visiting milb.com/schedule/index.jsp?sid=t517, and clicking on the audio link provided inside the schedule.