After a superb Ivy Championship-winning season that marked the best postseason performance by a Yale baseball team in 69 years, a member of the Bulldog coaching staff earned recognition for helping bring the team to new heights.
Craig Driver, the team’s catching coach, is set to join Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies for the upcoming MLB season. At Yale, Driver also assisted with hitting, as well as recruiting.
“[Driver] is an extremely hard-working coach who gained the trust of our team very quickly by showing how dedicated he was to learning about and teaching both the fundamentals and the specifics of the catching position,” catcher Tom Fuller ’19 said. “He’s a fun-loving guy who everyone gets along with well, and he helps us stay loose and fun during practice while still working hard. We couldn’t have been as successful as we were last year without Drives.”
Driver joined Head Coach John Stuper’s before the 2017 season. In his first and only season with the Bulldogs, they claimed the 2017 Ivy League Championship, Yale’s first Ivy League title since 1994. Yale swept Penn 5–0 and 11–7 to win the championship and claimed a spot in the NCAA Division I Men’s Tournament. Along the way, Driver and the Bulldogs also clinched the Ivy League’s Red Rolfe Division Championship and won a program-record 34 games.
In the Corvallis regional, the Elis reached the final in their bracket, defeating Big Ten-champion Nebraska, as well as Holy Cross. However, they came up just short, falling to then-No. 1 Oregon St. in a pair of hard-fought games.
Defensively, Yale catchers immediately improved dramatically under Driver’s tutelage. The Bulldogs saw a decrease in stolen bases against, total stolen base attempts and passed balls compared to 2016, as well as increasing their caught stealing percentage. Starting catcher Andrew Herrera ’17 gunned down one more runner than in the previous campaign, with 10 fewer opportunities.
“We really focused on receiving throughout the offseason and made a concerted effort to improve that ability for all the catchers,” Herrera said. “It often goes unnoticed, but a catcher is very involved in every single pitch. Coach Driver really stressed that if the catcher is a good receiver he can have a huge impact on every at bat by getting borderline pitches called strikes, and subsequently a huge impact on the game.
Offensively, too, Bulldogs fans witnessed one of the most impressive seasons in school history. In 2017, the Elis led the Ancient Eight in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, runs batted in and walks.
As a result of that success, first baseman Benny Wanger ’19 was nominated unanimously to the 1st Team All Ivy, while third baseman Richard Slenker ’17, center fielder Tim DeGraw ’19, right fielder Harrison White ’17 and second baseman Simon Whiteman ’19 were all nominated to the 2nd Team All Ivy.
“I am incredibly grateful to have called Yale my home for the greater part of the last two years,” Driver said. “The relationships with our Yale baseball student-athletes and coaching staff, John Stuper, Tucker Frawley and Ray Guarino were the most rewarding part. Each person in the program always pushed me to be the best coach I could be, and I can safely say that I would not have this opportunity with the Philadelphia Phillies without the help of each of them. I look forward to tracking the team’s progress throughout the spring as they defend their 2017 Ivy League Baseball Championship.”
Driver came to New Haven after two years at the University of Puget Sound as athletic recruitment coordinator and head assistant coach between 2014 and 2016. While in charge of the Logger catchers, Driver oversaw a sharp increase in caught stealing percentage from 19.6 percent to 27 percent. The Loggers also lead the Northwest Conference in the same category in 2016. As well as managing the catchers, Driver also ran Puget Sound’s in-game offense, where it led the Northwest Conference in batting and stolen bases in 2015 and batting in 2016.
He played as a catcher in college as well, graduating from Puget Sound by way of a solitary season at Columbia Basin College. He played behind the plate for the Loggers from 2009 to 2011 and, as the 2011 captain, received All-NWC honors.
Driver joins Philadelphia after a 66-win season, where the Phillies placed fifth in the National League East, 31 games behind the first-place Washington Nationals. The Phillies hired a new manager in the offseason, former Major League outfielder Gabe Kapler, the team’s fourth in the past six seasons.
Nevertheless, the Phillies have perhaps finally completed their rebuilding process after six-consecutive seasons of sub-.500 ball since they winning the 2008 World Series. They are excitedly anticipating the continued development of outfielder Rhys Hoskins, who is set to play his first full season in the majors, after an unexpected rookie year. Hoskins hit 18 home runs, overtaking Hall of Famer Ted Williams’ total of 13 for a player — let alone a rookie — who did not make his season debut until Aug. 1.
Driver will spend most of his time with another prospect, 24-year old catcher Jorge Alfaro, who enters his second full major league season after taking over from long-time incumbent Carlos Ruiz.
“The opportunity to jump into professional baseball is exciting and particularly the chance to join an almost entirely new staff with one of the youngest teams in Major League Baseball,” Driver said. “I look forward to the chance to grow as a coach and have a ton success with this organization.”
The Yale baseball season starts Feb. 23.
Billy Gallagher | firstname.lastname@example.org