With two of his best bullpen arms graduating to pro ball at the end of 2016, Louisiana Ragin Cajuns head coach Tony Robichaux turned to starter Wyatt Marks and asked him to make a change.
“We needed some people in the bullpen and Coach Robichaux came and talked to me and he asked if I’d be okay with that,” Marks said. “And I said, ‘sure, whatever we need to help the team win.’”
And help the team win he did. Marks turned in one of the best seasons of any reliever in Division I in 2017. Marks led all Division I pitchers with a 15.17 K/9. The next closest pitcher posted a 13.66 ratio. And he wasn’t just a strike-out pitcher, either. In 59.1 innings, Marks posted a 2.28 ERA, saved seven games and he allowed only 54 base-runners. He was named a second-team All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
Marks parlayed that standout season into an opportunity to play professional baseball. On Wednesday, the Oakland Athletics selected Marks in the 13th round.
Marks spent Wednesday watching the draft on MLB.com with his brother and his parents, nervously waiting to hear his name called. A’s area scout Kelcey Mucker called him in the 12th round to let him know the A’s were thinking of selecting him in the 13th and offering a certain amount to sign.
“I was like, ‘okay, sure.’ So he said he’d call me right back. Then there was the waiting game because it wasn’t official yet,” Marks said. “We get to the next round and like two picks before the A’s, he called me and said, ‘congratulations, you’ve just been drafted by the Oakland A’s. I’ll give you a call after the draft.’ Literally as we hung up, it came across the draft tracker and my family got to celebrate.”
Marks says the moment he was told he had the opportunity to turn pro literally left him speechless.
“When [Mucker] called, it was like ‘oh wow.’ When he said it, in my head I’m thinking ‘this is real,’” Marks said. “It was definitely emotional, exciting basically every word you can think of. It’s everything you have been working towards since you were a little bitty guy.”
Marks officially agreed to terms with the A’s on Friday. He comes to the organization with experience as a starter, a long reliever and a closer. Marks best two pitches are his two-seam fastball and his slider. He also throws a four-seam fastball and a change-up, although he didn’t use his change-up as often as a reliever.
Marks says the relief role suits him.
“The bullpen kind of fits my pitching mentality a bit more. Coming in when they really have to start swinging the bat, they can’t afford to not swing the bat,” Marks said. “It helped me isolate two pitches [the sinker and slider]. I still had my change-up in my back pocket for when I faced hitters a second or third time because I did do some long relief.”
He also enjoys setting the tone in the late innings.
“As Coach Robichaux always talks about, ‘set the mentality for the game. Either taking the momentum back or keeping the momentum going,’” Marks said.
Marks used his time in the bullpen to give him extra ammunition when he entered the game.
“A starter might go five or six or maybe seven innings, so I had a couple of times to watch them through the line-up and see the hitters’ tendencies and what pitches they were more aggressive on and little key things like that,” Marks says.
For a pitcher who led the NCAA in strike-outs per nine innings, it only makes sense that Marks’ hero is the strike-out king.
“I’ve had Nolan Ryan as my background on my phone since I was probably a freshman in high school,” Marks said. “The picture is of him in his windup and he has blood smeared all over from a groundball. That’s my favorite photo because he had a bulldog mentality.”
Marks says he is looking forward to taking the next step into professional baseball. He has been in contact with friends currently in professional baseball, picking up tips on how to live the minor league life. He is also planning to work on his change-up in the pros.
“The more pitches you have in your arsenal, the better,” Marks says.
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