June 15, 2009
By Larry Watts
When Baseball America revealed its top 50 college prospects in early November, Indiana University juniors Josh Phegley and Matt Bashore were slotted Nos. 32 and 45, respectively. Fellow junior Eric Arnett wasn't even on the radar screen.
Arnett had no qualms about his teammates' preseason accolades. As the 6-foot-5 right-handed pitcher from Pataskala, Ohio, put it, "They deserved it because they had certainly put up the numbers."
But once the season got underway, Major League scouts started to take notice of the unheralded Hoosier with the blazing fastball, which had been clocked at 97 mph. By the first day of the 2009 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Arnett had leap-frogged over both Phegley and Bashore into the 26th position in the first round, where the Milwaukee Brewers selected him. Phegley, a catcher, went at No. 38 to the Chicago White Sox and Bashore, a southpaw pitcher, went No. 46 to Minnesota, giving the Hoosiers a school record three players among the top 50 selections. By the end of the three-day draft, seven Indiana players had their names called, also a school record.
"It's been a crazy couple of days," says Arnett, whose advisor had set up a celebration attended by nearly 200 family members and friends to watch the draft at a tavern in his home town. After his selection, there were countless interviews for the Big Ten Co-Pitcher of the Year before heading up to Milwaukee Saturday to be introduced to the fans at Miller Park. Then it will be off to Rookie ball in Helena, Mont.
A second team All-America selection (the first All-American pitcher in school history), Arnett tied school records for wins (12) and strikeouts (109) in 2009. He posted a 2.50 earned run averaged through the course of his 12-2 campaign, which included six complete games.
"I think what the scouts liked was my ability to stay strong for nine innings," he says. "That's one thing I never seem to have a problem with. In fact, I seem to get stronger as the game goes along. My first inning is usually in the mid-90s and then it gets higher, but I don't know why."
Arnett may have been at his best when he threw three straight complete games to open the Big Ten season -- a 3-2 victory over Minnesota, a 2-1 10-inning verdict over Illinois and a 5-1 decision against Iowa. He allowed four earned runs and 15 hits with 27 strikeouts during that stretch.
"I was hitting 94 on the gun in the last inning against Minnesota and 96 in the 10th at Illinois," he says.
That string of complete games could have easily reached four. In the next outing against Penn State, head coach Tracy Smith pulled his ace after 6.2 innings with the Hoosiers leading 10-1. At that point he had already registered seven strikeouts.
This season marked quite a turnaround from Arnett's sophomore campaign, when he compiled a 4-5 record with a 5.45 ERA. He attributes the change to "a better mental approach."
"I did get a little stronger," says the 225-pounder, "but I just felt more confident this year. I think that really helped in the way I approached games. I think I learned hard work can get you farther than you think it can."
Arnett says his work habits really improved when he joined the depleted roster of the Indiana basketball team as a walk-on for the first two and one-half months of the season. He trained and traveled with the team but was not allowed to play due to scholarship restrictions.
"Coach (Tom) Crean is one of the most intense people I have ever been around and I took that hard work ethic over to the baseball field," he says. "Playing basketball is something I never thought I would do, especially at Indiana considering how good the program has been in the past. This was probably the only chance I would ever have to put on an IU jersey, so I had to take advantage of it.
"It was just amazing to go out there and see all those fans. We had sellout crowds even though even though we weren't doing well. I'm warming up in front of 20,000 fans at Kentucky and, at the most, we get 1,000 fans at Sembower Field (Indiana's baseball facility)."
According to Arnett, his pitching arsenal consists of a fastball and slider 99 percent of the time. Every now and then he may drop in a changeup and splitter.
"I can throw the slider where it looks normal or it can be a little loopy, more like a slurve," he says. "But I know I'm going to have to work on my other pitches in order to doing anything with the Brewers because those guys can all hit the fastball."
Growing up 18 miles east of Columbus, Arnett says he was a Cleveland Indians fan as a youngster before eventually switching over to the Cincinnati Reds.
"I guess I'll have to change again now," he says with a laugh.
Other than possibly buying a new truck, he says he hasn't made any immediate plans on spending his newfound wealth.
"I think my parents are going to be watching me pretty closely to make sure I don't spend too much at once," says the 21-year-old. "My brother Thomas is good with money, but I'm terrible. I don't usually burn the credit card too bad, but when I have money I usually spend it. But it's going to take me awhile to spend this much money."
The extra cash also tends to attract new friends.
"There's a whole bunch of new people showing up on my Twitter and Facebook," he says. "I don't know who they are. Hopefully, they're just Brewers fans wanting to wish me good luck."
From all he has heard, Arnett considers himself to be in a fortunate position with the Brewers. He hopes to make a good first impression so he can end up with the Single A team (Wisconsin Timber Wolves) in Appleton, Wis. by August.
"I never have followed the Brewers too closely, but I know they have a real good farm system and nearly all the players who are on the big club have come up through that system," he says. "I think that's great for me and I get the chance to move up quickly. It (Miller Park) looks like a fun place to play and they have a good fan base."