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Detwiler goes from underdog to top pick

Detwiler goes from underdog to top pick

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Paul Evans made a phone call shortly after Ross Detwiler tossed another gem, a complete-game one-hitter over Creighton University in the 2006 Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

Evans, Missouri State's pitching coach, dialed USA Baseball and told the official about his tall left-hander, who had three "plus" pitches, a 4-1 record and a 0.93 ERA in his last five starts.

"I don't know if he is on your radar, but this guy deserves to be at there [at the Team USA tryouts]," Evans said to the official.

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The official called back a few hours later: Detwiler had a spot. The left-hander was a late invite to the trials, which included several of the nation's top pitchers from major Division I powerhouses, including North Carolina State's Andrew Brackman and Vanderbilt's David Price.

Detwiler didn't think he was going to make the team. Two days before his last outing, Detwiler called his pitching coach.

"I just get the sense the team is already based on name schools, that kind of thing," Evans recalls Detwiler saying.

Evans said, "You have one more chance to pitch, don't you? Then you have something to say about [the cut.]"

Two days later, Detwiler tossed a brilliant game, striking out seven over four innings and earning a spot on the national squad.

"I believed in him and he believed in himself," Evans said. "He got on a roll where he had confidence and all of his pitches were clicking."

It didn't stop. Detwiler threw for Team USA all summer, compiling a 2-0 mark and 0.95 ERA. Coupled with the outstanding finish to his college season, Detwiler's summer cemented himself as one of nation's best pitchers for the upcoming 2007 year.

And he hasn't faltered since. Detwiler has matched -- or bettered -- his performances from last spring and summer and risen to the top of baseball's draft boards. The 6-foot-4, 175-pound, soft-spoken, easy-going left-hander is widely considered the second-best left-handed pitcher in the upcoming draft, ranking only slightly behind Vanderbilt's Price, the consensus No. 1 overall selection.

One scout said Detwiler -- who has a high Dontrelle Willis-type leg kick and a lanky frame that yields a 90-94 mph fastball, a plus breaking ball and a plus changeup -- was one of "the best left-handers he had ever seen." Another called Detwiler "pretty similar" to Price and a "likely" top-10 pick in the upcoming First-Year Player Draft.

"He's pretty good," one scout said. "His out pitch is his fastball, his breaking ball isn't bad and his changeup is pretty good. His secondary pitches are coming along to complement his fastball."

Through 12 starts this season, Detwiler is 4-4 with a 2.28 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 79 innings pitched. His .179 opponents' batting average actually betters Price's (who pitches in the SEC) .209 mark. Detwiler has also exhibited tremendous control, compiling a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

That includes arguably his best performance of his career last Friday against Indiana State. The 125-pitch performance saw Detwiler constantly work ahead in the count with all three pitches. With 20 scouts and about 10 radar guns on hand, Detwiler struck out a career-best 14 hitters over eight innings, coaxing punchouts with his fastball, curve and changeup.

"Most guys that I have seen who have that kind of velocity and that kind of bite on their breaking ball aren't strike throwers," Indiana State head coach Lindsay Meggs said. "They are usually [having a] 3-2 [count] on everybody, so it's impressive to see him throw strikes on both sides of the plate with really three pitches. With a power pitcher, you don't see that type of command that often at this level."

Detwiler didn't have that command when he first arrived at Missouri State from Holt High School, a school located about 20 miles west of St. Louis.

"I could hardly throw a strike," he said.

Evans, who has seen 35 Missouri State pitchers sign professional contracts, including the Blue Jays' Shaun Marcum and Brett Sinkbeil, the No. 19 overall pick in the 2006 draft, immediately made some minor adjustments to Detwiler's mechanics.

"He had a good arm and hit 91, maybe touched 92," Evans said. "We talked about getting ahead of guys and how good he could be."

He lowered Detwiler's hands in his windup and made him throw in a straight line toward the plate instead of across his body. Evans also changed Detwiler's position on the mound, moving him to the extreme third-base side of the rubber.

"I had trouble getting in to righties over the plate and it gave me a couple more inches in," Detwiler said.

The changes didn't help his freshman year, as Detwiler missed most of the season with a hand injury and produced a 6.35 ERA. During the summer, Detwiler's mom asked him to return home and take summer classes. Instead of pitching in a college league, he played American Legion baseball.

Things changed his sophomore year. He learned a circle changeup that became a weapon that he can now throw 20 times a start. The new pitch and mechanical adjustments jelled with the moving fastball and a breaking ball that Evans calls "devastating." A different pitcher, Detwiler emerged as arguably the best Evans has ever seen at Missouri State.

During one start, Evans was standing next to Sinkbeil in the dugout -- the highest draft pick in Missouri State history -- when Detwiler unleashed an unbelievable curveball with nasty break. Evans and Sinkbeil were in shock.

"I just looked at Sink and said, "Sink, you have a great slider and your [stuff] is as dirty as hell, but [Detwiler's stuff] out there, that's unbelievable," Evans said.

Sinkbeil didn't argue. He knew Evans was right and simply said, "I know."

The rest of the Missouri Valley started to understand, too. Constantly gaining confidence in his changeup and mechanics, he allowed three runs or fewer in 12 of 14 starts. Everything clicked.

When Sinkbeil suffered a late-season injury, Detwiler emerged as the staff ace and tossed two complete games in his last five starts. He started hitting mid-90s consistently, including 97 against Wichita State. Scouts started taking notice -- not just looking at the velocity, but the command, a combination that few pitchers had.

"The biggest thing was being able to be around the plate with all three pitches and get them to start chasing," Detwiler said.

The season culminated with the one-hitter against Creighton, a game that yielded a phone call that gave Detwiler a chance to prove he was among the nation's best.

Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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