EVERETT — Wyatt Mills had an inkling.
The Seattle Mariners had called him the night that Major League Baseball conducted its first round in order to gauge his interest in signing with his hometown team.
Sure enough, the Mariners selected Mills, a sidewinding closer from Gonzaga University in the third round on the second day of the three-day draft, fulfilling a lifelong dream of the Spokane native who attended Gonzaga Prep prior to walking on with the Bulldogs.
“I’m not going to say we tried extra hard, but we knew if it was something that could really happen it would just be like a dream come true,” Mills said. “I would love to play for any team, of course, but the Mariners are really special.
“It’s something that worked out and it’s kind of the way things have gone,” he added. “I stayed local in college and it just worked out, so to stay local here has kind of been the theme of my career.”
It turns out the “local” portion of his first minor-league season was short-lived. Mills was promoted to the Class A full-season Clinton Lumberkings on July 18.
A product of 17 years of Jesuit schooling, Mills brings an articulate and analytical approach to his profession.
His mother, Pat, is an elementary school teacher at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Catholic School, and his father, Greg, commutes to Pullman where he is a news producer at WSU’s Murrow College of Communication. He has three younger sisters who followed in his footsteps from St. Aloysius to G-Prep and are now in various stages of college.
Mills parlayed his background into what was originally planned to be a recurring segment called “Wyatt’s World” with “The Fish” Jeff Aaron on KRKO 1380-AM. (It doesn’t hurt that Tom Harmon, a former producer for The Fish is Mills’ uncle).
But none of that is why Mills initially came to Everett as the third pick of the Mariners. His true story is that of a tall, lanky, GU walk-on who reinvented himself from an over-the-top thrower who topped out at 88 miles-per-hour, into a side-arming Division I closer who touches 95 with a wicked slider.
He made the switch as a 19-year-old during fall ball of his sophomore year.
It wasn’t what saved his career — or was it?
Mills recognized his limitations after a freshman campaign in which he allowed 13 hits, fanned three and walked eight in 12⅓ innings in seven relief appearances. Then he picked the best time to change things up.
“I gained velocity because I chose a time when I was filling into myself and I gained 35 pounds and it wasn’t just because of eating,” he said. “It was me growing into myself.”
The Tampa Bay Rays took him in the 17th round following his junior campaign as the Bulldogs reached the NCAA tournament, but Mills decided to return for his senior season at GU.
In his final campaign he fashioned a 2-2 record with a 1.79 ERA and struck out 58 in 40⅓ innings before the M’s took him in the third round.
Everett pitching coach Danny Acevedo takes a hands-off approach with collegiate pitchers mechanics-wise when they come to Everett. The primary thing Mills worked during his seven appearances for the AquaSox was developing a changeup to complement his fastball and slider.
“That’s a pitch he didn’t really use in college because he is more about movement and hard slider,” Acevedo said. “Right now we’re trying to get him to develop the changeup in case he gets in trouble with lefties. Sometimes they’re much better with sliders and especially a guy who throws with that sidearm (delivery).
“A changeup can be a put-away pitch if you have a good one,” Acevedo later added. “A changeup is a complicated pitch sometimes, especially for a guy like him who is used to throwing from that arm slot.”
Mills was very effective in his brief stint with the AquaSox. He was 0-1 with a 2.57 ERA in seven appearances while striking out 11 in seven innings. He allowed three hits and walked just three hitters — all in one inning against Salem-Keizer on July 9, but got out of the jam with a pair of strikeouts.
He figures to project as a situational right-hander as he continues to move up in the Mariners organization, but he will continue to work on the change for when faces lefties.
“Changeup was sort of like, ‘OK, now we’ve got a feel for two pitches, let’s go for the third,’ and we’re in that stage,” Mills said. “It’s a feel pitch and it’s hard to get a feel for something you’ve never done and you’re trying to throw (it). It’s all feel and it’s just repetition and repetition to try to get it, and I haven’t really found a grip that I’ve stuck and been able to perfect.”
It may not be perfect, but it was enough to get him moved up to Clinton.
For the latest AquaSox news follow Jesse Geleynse on Twitter.