Making An Impact
June 11, 2009
By Larry Watts
Who could blame Alex Wimmers if his mind starts to wander while preparing for his criminology final Thursday night?
The Ohio State sophomore, who was the Big Ten's Co-Pitcher of the Year, will be boarding a plane the following morning for North Carolina, where he will attempt to crack the 22-man roster of the USA National Team.
And then there's the distraction of Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft. As a sophomore, the 6-foot-2 right-hander from Cincinnati is not eligible for the draft, but he does like to keep tabs on friends and opponents so he can gauge his chances next year.
"I always have to stay ahead with my studies," he says. "Barring an injury, baseball is going to be around forever and if I have a chance to go to the next level, I'll try and do that. But I have to make sure I have my priorities straight."
Once that criminology final is finished, Wimmers' mind will be strictly focused on baseball. He is one of the top 36 collegiate players invited to the team trials, which run June 15-24 in Cary, N.C.
"They haven't given me any indication of how many pitchers they are going to keep," he says. "I hope my chances are pretty good. I know I was asked to be on the team later than some of the other players, but I think if I give a normal effort I'll have a pretty good shot."
Normal in Wimmers' eyes would be putting up the kind of numbers like he did this past spring, when he was a Louisville Slugger second team All-America selection. The Buckeye ace compiled a 9-2 record with a 3.27 earned run average and led the Big Ten with 136 strikeouts over 104.2 innings. He tossed four complete games, including the first nine-inning no-hitter in Ohio State history when he shut down rival Michigan 6-0.
"That Michigan game was probably my most exciting game so far," he says. "No one ever expects to throw a no-hitter coming into a game, but my adrenaline was really going because of the Michigan rivalry and the biggest crowd of the year turned out for that game. It still hasn't hit me yet and I don't know how I did it."
Wimmers says his teammates will not allow him to get a big head over that Michigan gem. "They tell me that's nothing compared to the Texas pitcher (Austin Wood), who threw 12.1 hitless innings of relief (during the Longhorns' 25-inning marathon regional victory over Boston College)," he says with a laugh.
Until this year, Wimmers had always relied on a fastball and curve. But while playing with Luray of the Valley Baseball League in Virginia last summer, he developed a changeup.
"As a relief pitcher my freshman year, I knew I could get by with a fastball and curve," he says. "But I had been a starter all my life and my goal was to be a starter in my sophomore year, so I had to develop a third pitch. I think a big reason for my success this year is I learned to throw that changeup for strikes."
Wimmers had some success as a relief pitcher during his rookie campaign with the Buckeyes, posting a 4.50 ERA with three saves in 25 appearances. But he was determined to grab one of the open starting roles created by the 2008 graduation.
"I told the coaches I was more comfortable as a starter," he says. "I like being in control of my own game and having the game dictated at my pace. If I can throw a complete game, that's awesome because I like finishing what I started. But we do have a couple of outstanding relief pitchers here."
Not only did Wimmers emerge as a starter, but he also became Ohio State's Friday starter, which means he throws the opening game of each Big Ten three-game series.
"Having that pressure on you and being the first one out there, I don't mind it at all," he says. "I like having things placed on my shoulders. I want to do a good job and set the tone for the rest of the series."
One big adjustment Wimmers has had to make at Ohio State is he's not going to make any appearances at the plate. When he wasn't pitching for Ohio powerhouse Moeller High School, he was playing third base, where the left-handed swinger posted a career batting average of .457 over two seasons.
"I love hitting, but coach (Bob) Todd told me to just focus strictly on my pitching," he says. "But I did get into the batting cage earlier this week and got (catcher) Dan Burkhart to throw some to me. I hit six out of the park!"
Burkhart and Wimmers are two of four Moeller grads on the Ohio State roster. "Dan has been my catcher nearly all my life; we've been playing together since we were 9 years old," says Wimmers. "Once he signed with Ohio State, that helped me out in my decision."
Wimmers heads to North Carolina with a bad taste still in his mouth. In his final outing for the Buckeyes, he lasted only four innings in a 24-7 regional loss to Georgia. He gave up eight hits and seven walks while being charged with eight earned runs.
"It's still bothering me to this day," he says. "But I'm going to take it as a learning experience and, hopefully, I'll get to face them again.
"The tone of the game was set early. I made some dumb pitches and couldn't find my location the whole game. When you have a day like that against the World Series runner-up from last year, you're just looking to get pounded. There was a short fence in right field and they took advantage of it for four home runs. Two of them just barely made it over."
As soon as the final cut is made, the USA National Team will play an exhibition series against the Canadian National Team June 25-29 in North Carolina. Following several other exhibition games, the U.S. team will travel to Japan for the 37th annual Japan vs. USA Collegiate Championships and then close out the summer at the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline World Baseball Challenge in Prince George, British Columbia.
"The National team should open up a lot of doors for me," says Wimmers. "All of the best collegiate players are coming together and the exposure it gives you is awesome. Some of the guys who have played there have had huge success the following years and in the draft."
Should he not make the final cut, Wimmers already has a backup plan lined up. He will hop into his car and head up to Massachusetts to join the Bourne Braves in the prestigious Cape Cod League.
"I've talked to several players who have told me what a great experience they had playing in Cape Cod," he says. "Either way, I'm not going to wear my arm out because I'll be done by the end of July. I'll have nearly two months of no baseball before I report back for workouts at Ohio State in late September."
And if everything falls into place, at this time next year, Wimmers could be hearing his name called at Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft.