DII baseball: Cal Baptist's newest 'Big Three' look to continue strong tradition of starting pitching
That's a nickname the California Baptist University baseball program has earned. Head coach Gary Adcock has pumped out at least one pitcher in the MLB Draft in each of the past seven seasons.
Junior Garett King, sophomore Justin Montgomery and freshman Logan Rinehart are Adcock’s newest rotation, the Big Three for CBU. All are brand new to their full-time starting role at Cal Baptist. King is Baseball America’s No. 2 ranked draft prospect in Division II and part of the reason CBU found itself in the NCBWA Preseason Top 10.
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That’s just the way it goes in Riverside.
“I think it’s the expectation of CBU regardless of who’s in the uniform," King said. "We're going to win the conference, we’re going to make the postseason and we’re going to make a run at going to Grand Prairie, Texas. It doesn’t really matter who is in the Big Three [starters], because there is always a Big Three. That’s just what this program is.”
Being part of a rotation known for producing big-league prospects might bring some high anxiety. Yet these pitchers learn quickly that, at the end of the day, it’s still just baseball.
“I don’t ever really feel the pressure,” Montgomery said. “I like to go out and get my stuff done one day at a time, one game at a time. That pressure doesn’t affect me too much.”
The recipe to continued success on the mound at CBU is simple. Adcock is as structured a coach as any in DII. The plan he puts in place for his pitchers comes in their first conversation. Adcock's attention to detail and the desire to get the most out of every pitcher is what lures these special arms to Riverside.
“Adcock likes to say it is a very preparation-driven program,” King said. “Every pitcher comes to the ballfield every day with a certain routine, and it’s mapped out for the entire year. When I came last summer, he could tell me what I would be doing on what day for the entire fall and entire spring. And that was just insane to me, it’s so detailed. Every single action that we take is calculated. As a pitcher, especially at a high level like this, routine is so important. To be able to buy into a routine that you know works because you can see all the draft picks, it makes you that much better and lethal.”
“The structure and the routine is what makes it so special,” Montgomery added. “Everything is laid out in a plan for us. It keeps us healthy and keeps us in check on a week-to-week basis. The whole mentality is about attacking hitters and staying within yourself.”
King brings two years of Division I pitching experience to this otherwise young rotation. He had a stellar freshman year for Nebraska, earning Big 10 All-Freshman Team honors in 2015. But he struggled his sophomore year, splitting time between the bullpen and rotation.
What he learned about himself in that time was invaluable.
“From a baseball perspective, I really learned how to handle the adversity of me not playing well,” King said. “That’s something very important for pitchers our age: failing, and failing hard. In high school everyone is a stud. Going to college, learning to cope with that you realize that it’s the next pitch. You can’t dwell on the last outing. Every day has to be a new day.”
For Montgomery, he has had the luxury of learning behind two aces. Last season, splitting his time between the rotation and bullpen, Montgomery watched Tyson Miller — drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the fourth round — take the mound with all eyes always upon him. This season, he follows King, who has learned how to stay in the zone despite the adversity on and off the field that comes with having such a high profile.
“How to stay within yourself is the best way to put it,” Montgomery said of what he has learned from the two. “They aren’t going out trying to impress everyone else. They’re going out and are focusing on the game at hand. They aren’t getting caught up in the spotlight.”
King was drafted by the Mets out of high school in 2014 but will humbly admit he wasn’t ready for that jump. Nearly three years later, his mentality has changed.
“When you have the opportunity to chase a dream, and you turn it down once, I just remember thinking my entire sophomore season that I was wishing I would have taken that," King said. "You don’t want to have that opportunity come twice and turn it down twice. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most, that I’ll hopefully get more than once. I’m going to try and not waste it the next time.”
For now, the 2017 season is the focus. The Lancers came out slowly, getting swept by Cal State Los Angeles to start the season. King -- behind a four-pitch arsenal that includes a plus-curve and well-commanded fastball -- has put a rough Opening Day start behind him, picking up two consecutive wins while hurling 15 innings of three-run ball, strking out 19 and walking just two en route to PacWest Pitcher of the Week honors. Montgomery -- who is also most comfortable with his fastball-curveball combo -- has followed suit, winning two in a row. The Lancers have reeled off seven straight wins heading to Colorado Mesa this weekend for their last non-conference action of the season.
The grueling defense of their 2016 PacWest championship soon begins.
"Honestly, our expectations are just more success," Montgomery said. "Everyone that is coming here now is supposed to be legit. They are expected to be very good. Our expectations are now to maintain those records and continue our success."