COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. – TinCaps closer Nick Mutz has been humbled by professional baseball.
Like plenty of players at today’s Midwest League All-Star Game, Mutz knows the feeling of being a prospect.
Unlike many, his road to the midseason exhibition at Fifth Third Ballpark was a bumpy one.
Originally selected by the Angels 285th overall in the 2011 draft, the California native quickly showed his gifts that year in rookie ball. Mutz was ranked among the Angels’ top 15 prospects after giving up six earned runs in 23 1/3 innings.
He was 21 and on track to reach his dream.
I knew I had to put in the work to reach the higher levels and advance, Mutz said. It doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have to put in the work.
Despite the right frame of mind, struggles were right around the corner.
Mutz pitched only 18 games in 2012 and went 0-4 with an 11.14 ERA. Worse, he had developed an elbow issue.
By March 2013, Tony Reagins, the general manager who drafted Mutz, was replaced, and new Angels boss Jerry Dipoto released the right-handed pitcher.
I just didn’t fit into their plans, Mutz said.
Since then, he has gone from non-entity to All-Star. He was named to the Eastern Division squad along with teammates Mallex Smith and Tyron Guerrero.
I was pumped for him, said TinCaps pitcher Coby Cowgill, Mutz’s roommate. It’s definitely well-deserved.
Sporting a 1.86 ERA, Mutz cited his teammates’ support, on and off the field, as half the reason he was selected.
If anything, those teammates admire the work Mutz has put in. It’s been a hard journey at times.
After being released, he had a heart-to-heart discussion with former major league pitching instructor Dick Adams. The two had a longtime relationship and talked over Mutz’s situation.
It was to know you have control over yourself, he said.
To continue to play, Mutz spent parts of 2013 with the Trinidad Triggers and New Jersey Jackals in independent ball.
It was a lot different, he said. There’s no moving up. The only way you’re going anywhere is if you get picked back up by an (MLB) team.
In August, that’s exactly what happened. Mutz still isn’t sure how he got on the Padres’ radar.
Someone’s always watching, TinCaps manager Michael Collins said.
Mutz viewed it as a new beginning. After pitching in three games last year with short-season Eugene, he earned a spot on Fort Wayne’s 2014 Opening Day roster.
It all clicked. With Mutz showing confidence, velocity and refinement, he got a chance to close and has held opponents to a .231 batting average.
I always felt like I should be succeeding, Mutz said. I didn’t necessarily think it would be this fast.
Mutz was just happy to be in a major league farm system. Now, he’s an All-Star.
A great story, Collins said. Everybody loves to see somebody have success that’s come out of nowhere. It’s a difficult path. He fought his way back. I couldn’t be happier for him.
To see his journey, I’m sure people take notice. As long as you keep fighting and have a uniform on your back, you’ve always got a chance.