By Chris Shuttlesworth
Stanford baseball coach Mark Marquess didn't think right-hander Jeremy Guthrie should leave school for pro ball last year after the sophomore was drafted as the Pirates' second pick (84th overall) in the First-Year Player Draft.
This year, with Guthrie standing an excellent chance of being a much higher pick, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior is leaving few doubts that he's ready to embark on his pro career.
On May 10, Guthrie tossed his third straight complete game to run his record to 8-1, which could be even better were he not the victim of poor run support. He took the loss in one of those complete games (snapping his 11-game winning streak), he threw nine innings against USC before Stanford won in the 10th, and he also hurled 10 innings of an eventual 18-inning Cardinal victory at Arizona. Stanford's ace has a 2.91 ERA in 14 contests, racking up 96 strikeouts in 105.1 innings.
"Obviously from our perspective, he's one of the better pitchers in college baseball," said Marquess. "I think as far as professional prospects, he's going to be a top pick because of, the word I use is 'pitch-ability.' By that I mean he's 90 to 94 [mph] with his fastball, but pitch-ability being that he's got a curve, a slider and a change that he can throw in any count."
What makes Guthrie even more attractive to scouts is that he spent two years without picking up a baseball after his freshman year at BYU. Guthrie, who had been turned down by Stanford out of high school, went on a Mormon mission in Spain during 1999 and 2000. His performance at BYU was strong enough to earn him admission as a transfer student for the 2001 season.
"He's only pitched, really, the last two years and didn't pitch in the summer," said Marquess. "He's pitched for about five months last year and about five months this year. So certainly his arm is well-rested and he's very mature, obviously. I haven't had many players who've been married; he got married in June, and I think that adds a lot. Nothing rattles him, and to be honest, he's just learning how to pitch."
Guthrie agrees: "What I've learned in the last two years here has been just incredible. It's given me a new perspective, and I think it gives me an advantage because I have so much to learn and so if I'm able to be successful at this level with a little bit of knowledge, I think I'll continue to be more successful as I learn more and more."
In 2001, he tallied an impressive 13-4 record and 2.82 ERA and led Stanford in innings pitched (134) and strikeouts (128), second only to USC's Mark Prior, who had 202 K's before being selected second overall by the Cubs in the 2001 draft.
With Prior now one of the hottest up-and-coming prospects in baseball, Guthrie can smile with the knowledge that he was the only pitcher to defeat Prior last season, besting him with a complete game in a 2-0 Stanford victory last March.
Prior returned the favor the following month, as each pitcher tossed a complete game in USC's 2-1 victory.
"Going against him last year was very exciting for me, and I think it was exciting for him as well to go against Stanford," said Guthrie. ""But just having that experience is something very positive for me and gives you confidence, I think, in situations maybe where no one expects you to achieve. I can look back at that and that can be something that no one really expected, but I was able to do it, so that can inspire me throughout my career."
Although Prior and Guthrie are linked by those clashes, they're very different pitchers. The 6-5 Prior is almost exclusively a power pitcher, while Marquess compares Guthrie most often to a certain Yankees pitcher, who happens to be a Stanford alum.
"What I've learned in the last two years here has been just incredible. ... If I'm able to be successful at this level with a little bit of knowledge, I think I'll continue to be more successful as I learn more and more."
-- Stanford's Jeremy Guthrie
Guthrie remains focused on helping the seventh-ranked Cardinal win a College World Series title, but he's also allowed himself to think about the next phase of his pitching career. He says learning to face better hitters at each level will be the biggest challenge he'll face as a pro, but like his coach, he thinks he has the qualities to succeed.
"The ability to learn," is his best strength, said Guthrie, a three-sport star in high school who nearly didn't play baseball his senior year until his coach convinced him otherwise.
"I think I've learned a lot of things here, and I'm very open to learning. And also my work ethic. I think those are two things that have helped me to get where I am now, and I think they're a great combination, the willingness to work and the willingness to learn and improve."
Being drafted won't be a new experience for the 23-year-old. In addition to last year's selection by the Pirates, Guthrie was picked out of high school in the 15th round of the 1997 draft by his favorite team as a kid, the New York Mets. This time around, he'll have an advisor, Scott Boras, as well as the bargaining chip of likely being a top pick who still has a year of college eligibility left.
While he grew up admiring David Cone and Darryl Strawberry ("They were the first World Series I remember watching in 1986, and most kids, they just pick the first team they see win."), Guthrie doesn't care who might select him June 4.
"I realize that if you have expectations, you're only going to be disappointed, probably," he said. "I'm just excited to get picked by a team and make that my new favorite team."
More Cardinal candidates Current Stanford alums dotting Major League rosters include Mike Mussina, Jeffrey Hammonds, Rick Helling and A.J. Hinch. Last year, five Cardinal players were chosen on the first day of the First-Year Player Draft, and this year, Guthrie will likely be joined by several Stanford teammates as Major League draftees. Some of the possible candidates to be drafted:
Jason Cooper, DH/OF, junior: First Team Preseason All-American (Baseball America), semifinalist for Dick Howser Trophy (top collegiate player). Fifteen-game hit streak, Feb. 15-March 28. Batting .362 with 10 homers, 12 doubles and 43 RBIs in 44 games.
Chris O'Riordan, 2B, senior: First Team (Collegiate Baseball, NCBWA) and Second Team (Baseball America) Preseason All-American, semifinalist for Dick Howser Trophy. Has started 160 consecutive games at second. Three 10-game-plus hitting streaks this season and a 38-game on-base streak. Batting .340 with seven homers, 12 doubles and 37 RBIs in 48 games.
Andy Topham, SS/3B, senior: Excellent defensive skills. Played last three summers in Alaska Baseball League. Batting .325 with five homers, eight doubles, 29 RBIs and seven stolen bases in 42 games.
Tim Cunningham, LHP, junior: Second Team Preseason All-American (Baseball America) Played for Team USA last summer and in the Cape Cod League in 2000. Selected in the 22nd round of the 1999 draft by L.A. Approaches 90 mph with his fastball but relies more on good movement on his breaking pitches. Is 5-2 with a 4.34 ERA in 14 starts.
Darin Naatjes, RHP, junior: Tight end on the football team (6-foot-7, 240 pounds). First year as a full-time pitcher after two years as primarily a position player. Good fastball. Is 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA, two saves and 22 strikeouts in 18.2 innings.
Others: Scott Dragicevich, 3B, senior; Ryan Garko, C, junior; Ryan McCally, RHP, junior; Dan Rich, LHP, senior; Arik VanZandt, IF, senior.
Chris Shuttlesworth is an editorial producer for MLB.com and can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.