Jayhawk duo invited to MLB Spring Training
LAWRENCE, Kan. – With spring training just a few weeks away, two former Kansas baseball players got the call to Major League spring training as non-roster invitees for the month of March. Blake Weiman of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Stephen Villines of the New York Mets will be learning from the big-league guys in their month-long stint in Florida.
Weiman was drafted in the eighth round by the Pirates in 2017 and played through short-season Single-A shortly after leaving Lawrence. He pitched his way to a 2.42 ERA in just 39 games in his first full season in the minor leagues in Single-A and Double-A. Coming into KU as a freshman, the coaching staff saw him as a starting pitcher, but after two years he was given a relief role.
“It was a completely different mentality on how you take care of your arm for the most part,” Weiman said when asked about the change when he took the role in the bullpen. “Your goal is to get the ball to the fifth inning at least as a starter, but as a reliver you have to go blow it out with your best stuff.”
Weiman did just that, posting a 2.80 ERA in 30 appearances his junior season, enough to get him drafted in the top-10 rounds and earn a big-league camp invite after one full season.
“Selfishly, I wanted to be a starter, but I put faith in myself and the coaching staff. I wanted to be a Friday-night starter, but I found comfort in the bullpen and what I do now,” Weiman said. “In hindsight, moving to the bullpen was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Without a good attitude and faith in head coach Ritch Price and the coaching staff, things wouldn’t be where they are today in Weiman’s professional baseball career.
Stephen Villines started off as a walk-on his freshman season at Kansas and shortly thereafter earned a scholarship after posting a 1.52 ERA in 29 games. The sidearm right-hander quickly became a top choice out of the bullpen and was drafted in the 10th round by the Mets after throwing 43 innings with 14 saves, 54 strikeouts and a 2.70 ERA.
The Mets had a reorganization from a management perspective prior to the 2018 season, adding a new manager in Mickey Callaway and a new General Manager in Brodie Van Wegen. The fact that the California native was given a big-league camp invite by new management shows he has the stuff to be in New York soon.
“It’s cool to see some hard work pay off and I am very fortunate that they have that kind of outlook on me,” Villines said. “They are willing to go any route to win and the fact that they had enough confidence for me to come down to Florida early and break camp with them is awesome.”
In his first full season with the Mets Single-A and Double-A affiliates, Villines posted a 3.11 ERA with 96 strikeouts and 10 saves in 43 appearances. The Mets have a very solid pitching staff with Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, meaning he will have a lot of advice to soak up.
“The Mets’ pitching staff from top to bottom is up there as one of the best,” Villines said. “I’m just trying to get to work. It’s more just watching, observing and seeing how they work and going through their daily routines. I’ll stay in my place but learn from those guys because they have had some pretty remarkable careers and achievements.”
The duo of Weiman and Villines were deadly on the mound for Kansas, but the two are also very close off the field in both their college and pro careers. The two lived together in Arizona briefly during the offseason.
“For him to come to Kansas as a walk-on and be a Freshman All-American just speaks to his confidence in himself, and is pretty amazing when you think about it,” Weiman said of Villines. “It doesn’t shock me one bit that he is having success, honestly.”
Villines had great things to say about Weiman’s development stating, “That guy is tearing it up. He’s a hard-throwing lefty with a nasty slider. (His invitation is) well-deserved and I hope I see him down here in Florida.”
The two relievers are making a case to be the first Jayhawks to make it to the MLB since Brett Colton Murray made his debut with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015. Both the Pirates and Mets have two strong pitchers coming out of the bullpen who can give their team a chance to win.
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