When you turn on your television next spring and see a big “K” being hung up over the rail of a major league ballpark, don’t flip the channel. That “K” may just be for Bulldog pitcher Jon Steitz ’02.
More than 40 Major League Baseball scouts and ESPN baseball guru Peter Gammons journeyed to Harvard Stadium on Friday to witness Steitz’s (2-3, 3.23 ERA, 67 K, 47.1 IP) blazing 94 mph fastball. And after three dominating seasons on the mound for the Bulldogs, the big league prospect has a legitimate shot at being drafted in the opening rounds of 2001 MLB draft.
Steitz’s performance against the Crimson last weekend was not his best — six earned runs on 11 hits in six and a third innings of work. But the talent and arm were there — talent that has been evident since he played on the diamond at New Haven’s Hopkins School, less than a mile from the Yale Field.
Steitz — a football, basketball and baseball standout in high school — is not new to the scrutiny that comes with being a professional prospect. In the summer after his junior year of high school — with only one year of summer ball under his belt — he was receiving attention from professional scouts as his fastball began to climb into the upper 80s. By his senior year, his arm hit overdrive and reached major league heights at 90-plus mph.
On the second day of the 1998 MLB amateur draft, the Anaheim Angels selected Steitz. But he gave up his chance to play in the California sunshine the day he walked into his first Yale class.
“I never really considered not coming to Yale, so the draft was nothing more than just a nice accolade,” Steitz said. “I was 17 at the time and not ready for pro baseball.”
Steitz said he chose Yale over other schools because he had an opportunity to jump immediately into the Bulldogs’ starting rotation. His parents, both of whom are molecular biophysics and biochemistry professors, may have also helped him decide on Yale.
In his freshman campaign, Steitz was third on the team with 38 strikeouts and tossed a one-hit, 12-strikeout game in his first Yale start.
His performance over the past three years suggests now he is primed to go pro.
No two teams know that better than Princeton and Columbia.
On April 7 at the Yale Field, Steitz pitched 10 innings of four-hit, 13-strikeout baseball, in which he didn’t give up a single earned run. Although the Bulldogs (8-17, 3-9 Ivy) lost the game 3-2 in the 14th inning, Steitz’s performance stuck in the mind of his teammates and competitors.
“Columbia was his best game of the year,” captain R.D. Desantis ’01 said. “He was still throwing 92 mph in the 10th inning, which is something that is rare even in the big leagues. Had we given him an ounce of support, we would have won the game.”
Columbia head coach Mikio Aoki said he just hoped the Lions would not have to take on Steitz anymore.
“Our team has faced some outstanding pitchers this year, and Jon ranks right up there with any of them,” Aoki said. “As far as the draft goes, I hope some club takes him in the first round and gives him a bunch of money so we don’t have to face him next year.”
The Tigers were not so lucky March 31 at Princeton’s Clarke Field. This time the Bulldogs gave Steitz nine runs worth of support. Nine was more than enough. After giving up three hits and two runs in the second inning, Steitz pitched shutout ball the rest of the way for a complete game, seven-hit, 14-strikeout win.
“Jon’s performance was one of the most dominating that we have had thrown against us in my four years at Princeton,” Princeton head coach Scott Bradley said. “We face some of the top teams in the country, and Jon’s ability is the best that we have seen. His fastball explodes with great movement, and he has the arm strength to throw an extremely hard breaking ball.”
Steitz’s live-arm and movement on both his breaking ball, which has been clocked as high as 85 mph, and fastball have been the main attraction for major league scouts. But Yale head coach John Stuper, who said he returns at least 10 calls a week concerning Steitz’s next start, does not believe Steitz is finished developing.
“Jon is probably the best pro-prospect in the Northeast,” Stuper said. “He is an outstanding athlete and has a pro body, and I think he’s going to get bigger and stronger and will throw even harder.”
Stuper, who pitched a four-hit complete-game victory in Game Six of the 1982 World Series on his way to winning the title with the St. Louis Cardinals, has been a valuable resource for Steitz since he came to Yale.
“Having coach Stuper there to advise Jon is a huge advantage,” Bradley said. “He’s been in Jon’s shoes, and he knows exactly how to deal with pro baseball people.”
Steitz’s handling of the pressure and constant attention has been one of the most impressive aspects of his game since he came to Yale, Stuper said.
“Jon has pitched for Yale and not the scouts,” he said.
Stuper may not be able to say the same thing next year. With boundless opportunity waiting for Steitz, countless scouts watching his every move and Peter Gammons writing about him in his weekly online column, the allure of the Bigs may be too much to pass up.
“I’m going to be draft eligible again this June, and there is a good chance that a team may make me an offer I can’t refuse,” Steitz said. “From there it’s off to pursue that major league career.”
Should Steitz, who is accelerated by one semester, decide to pursue his major league dream after this season, he intends to return to Yale to complete the final semester for his degree.
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