Former Shocker All-American and Wichita native Mike Pelfrey is the team’s next pitching coach, Wichita State baseball coach Todd Butler announced on Monday.
Pelfrey, 34, was a two-time All-American during his Shocker career from 2003-05 and enjoyed a 12-year career in the major leagues before retiring following the 2017 season. He takes over the position vacated by Mike Steele, who resigned last week to pursue an opportunity in the Cleveland Indians’ organization.
For Pelfrey, who returned to Wichita following his playing career, reuniting with the Shockers is a dream job. An introductory press conference is scheduled for Tuesday.
“When I left here, I thought Wichita State was the best place in college baseball,” Pelfrey told The Eagle. “Part of me coming back wanting to coach at Wichita State is because I want these guys to think the exact same thing when they leave.
“It’s been a dream of mine to return to WSU and have the opportunity to give back to the program that has given me so much.”
It wasn’t until later in Pelfrey’s playing career, 2013 to be exact, when he realized he had a passion for coaching. He had just signed with the Minnesota Twins and the pitching coach declared him elder statesman for the staff in charge of mentoring the younger pitchers. It was a job Pelfrey enjoyed his final five seasons in the majors.
“When you see a light bulb go off in a kid’s head or see him make progress, it’s a really good feeling,” Pelfrey said. “I know mentoring isn’t a full-time job, but I’m a baseball guy. I’ve been around the game my whole life. I know I have a lot to learn, but I learned from the best pitching coach (Brent Kemnitz) in the country when I was here.
“I feel like there is a lot of talent with this pitching staff and Mike Steele left me in a really good spot with these pitchers. I’m looking forward to continuing to do what he’s done here and then add my flavor in a bit.”
In Steele’s two years at WSU, he helped lower the team ERA from 5.97 the year before he took over to 3.91 this past season. The Shockers return sophomore Liam Eddy, who earned freshman All-American status, as well as Preston Snavely, Alex Segal and Clayton McGinness.
But what makes Pelfrey a strong hire for WSU is name recognition.
He arguably is the best starting pitcher in WSU history. He ranks second in career earned-run average (2.18) and strikeouts (366). He made more than $46 million during his playing career.
And he’s ready to use his name recognition in recruiting.
“I’m all-in on recruiting,” Pelfrey said. “I helped recruit at Newman and I feel like we were starting to get better players they weren’t able to get previously before I showed up. I know I don’t know everything about recruiting, but I’ve done it and I feel confident that if you get me on the phone or put me in front of a recruit, I like our chances.”
One difference in the way WSU handles pitchers now compared to when Pelfrey was in school is how the Shockers call the game. Under former coach Gene Stephenson and Kemnitz, WSU allowed its catchers to make the calls. But Butler has since switched to calling the game from the dugout, which is more prevalent in college baseball today.
Pelfrey said he didn’t mind the difference.
“What I told Todd was ultimately no matter what, if you tell me to do something, we’re going to do it,” Pelfrey said. “I feel better about sitting down with the catcher and pitcher and going over the team’s weaknesses and strengths. But ultimately I want to make my pitchers understand what makes them great and what their strengths are more than the scouting report. There’s multiple sides to it and we’ll continue to talk and get deeper there, but whatever (Butler) decides to do we’re going to do and I have no problems either way.”
The Shockers open their 2019 season at the Angels College Classic in Arizona from Feb. 15-17.