Former USD pitchers called up to the big leagues

Dylan Brockmeyer | Asst. Sports Editor | @dbrock08

Feb 28, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees pitcher James Pazos (89) throws in the outfield during the morning workouts at George M. Steinbrenner Field . Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Pazos pitched for USD from 2011-2012 before being drafted (Photo Courtesy of USD Athletics)

Two former University of San Diego Toreros were recently called up from the minor leagues to the MLB during the “September call-up” period where teams are allowed to expand their active rosters. Pitcher James Pazos with the New York Yankees and pitcher Sammy Solis with the Washington Nationals were both added to their respective organization’s MLB team earlier this month. After ups and downs in their professional careers, both pitchers recently emerged as bona fide big leaguers thanks to strong seasons in the minors.

Utility player Zach Walters has been back and forth this year between the Cleveland Indians and their AAA affiliate in Columbus, Ohio. He has amassed over 600 games in the minor leagues trying to finally cement himself as a regular fixture on the Indians’ roster. After a short stint with the big boys earlier this summer, Walters once again finds himself sharpening his skills with the AAA Columbus Clippers.

Pazos, a left handed pitcher, was drafted in the 13th round to the New York Yankees in 2012. He had played on a total of five minor league teams jumping very quickly to AA and AAA play within just two years of his being drafted.

Pazos was officially moved onto the Yankees 40-man roster on Sept. 5, 2015.  In his 2015 regular season, Pazos started with the Trenton Thunder (AA) and dazzled hitters to the tune of a 1.86 ERA with 12 strikeouts in just nine and two-thirds innings. These dominating numbers earned Pazos a call up to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (AAA) where he posted an even better ERA of 1.09 and struck out 37 batters. USD baseball’s head coach Rich Hill notes that Pazos has always been a fierce competitor, even dating back to his time in college.

“James was and is a great competitor,” Hill said. “He has a gentle personality off the field but he is a bulldog on the mound.”

At the time this publication was sent to print, Pazos had appeared in four games for the playoff-contending Yankees as a relief pitcher. He has fired just over two innings and has yet to allow a hit or an earned run. In his big league debut, Pazos entered the game in the ninth inning and stood tall on the Yankee Stadium mound.

He recorded just two outs before being lifted for a right handed reliever, but was able to record his first strikeout against veteran outfielder Daniel Nava of the Tampa Bay Rays. While still a largely unproven big league pitcher, today’s managers tremendously value left-handed relievers.

If Pazos can show an ability to get left-handed hitters out, he has an outside shot of making the Yankees’ postseason roster. The sight of a former Torero donning the iconic Yankee pinstripes in a playoff game would be quite exciting.

Walters was first drafted in the 9th round in 2010 by the Arizona Diamondbacks. A switch hitter and outfielder, Walters put up some impressive numbers in his 2015 season to earn the promotion he received. While playing for the Columbus Clippers (AAA) he appeared in 91 games, batted .249, had 41 RBIs and hit 10 home runs.

Coach Hill spoke about the level of play Walters is able to achieve due to his dedication to the great old sport of baseball.

“Zach Walters is blessed with a great skill set,” Hill said. “You want him walking off the bus first! He’s a great switch hitter who had to work hard everyday to make himself such a great switch hitter.”

Walters first cracked a major league roster with the Washington Nationals in 2013. He played in a mere 40 games with the club before being traded to the Indians during the 2014 season. He has hit seven home runs over a small sample size of 42 games in a Cleveland uniform. One thing that could help Walters permanently land on an MLB roster is his versatility. In his short time in the majors, Walters has been penciled in the lineup card at an astonishing six different positions: second base, third base, shortstop, left field, right field and designated hitter.

Pitcher Sammy Solis was drafted in the 2nd round to the Washington Nationals in 2010 and first made his debut on April 30 of this year. Solis had played on a total of five teams during his minor league career.

Solis is resilient to say the least, taking a break from his 2012 and early 2013 seasons to undergo and recover from Tommy John surgery. Solis quickly bounced back and continued to play for the Potomac Nationals. He appeared in 14 games throwing a 3.32 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 59.2 innings. Solis continued to throw hard and fight off injuries in his 2014 season working his way back up from the ROK, A (Full), A (Adv) to AA. He struggled again in the beginning of his 2015 season at the Harrisburg Senators (AA) and the Syracuse Chiefs (AAA) pitching a total 13.1 innings with 11 strikeouts and improved from a  6.75 ERA to a 2.03 ERA.

Solis was recalled and optioned three times from the Syracuse Chiefs (AAA) and the Washington Nationals this past July and has remained on the Nationals roster as of Sept. 1, 2015. Since then, Solis has appeared in 13 games, pitched 16 innings, thrown an amazing 14 strikeouts and has a 4.50 ERA. Coach Hill recounted how Solis was a top prospect when he was selected in the eighteenth round in 2006 by the Arizona Diamondbacks, but Solis did not sign and chose to attend USD.

“Sammy was a high profile recruit out of Arizona,” Hill said. “He and his family were very committed to the USD education. He battled quite a few arm injuries, but when he’s healthy he’s dominating. He is a first class guy.”

The former Torero players are proof to Minor Leaguers and Major League hopefuls everywhere that continual hard work pays off, even if it’s at the tail end of the season.