Leaving college to embark on a career can be daunting for a young person, but Aaron West seems to have made the adjustment just fine, thank you.
West, a graduate of Snohomish High School, is in his second month of playing professional baseball as he pursues his dream of pitching in the major leagues.
After stellar careers at Snohomish High and the University of Washington, West was selected in the 17th round of this year’s Major League Baseball Draft by the Houston Astros. He signed his first pro contract in June and was assigned to the Tri-City ValleyCats of the short-season Class A New York-Penn League.
For West, 22, the whole experience was a whirlwind.
“I signed the contract and was over here three days later and I haven’t looked back since,” he said. “I started practicing right away and playing games.”
West initially thought he would be playing close to home. He confused the ValleyCats, based in Troy, N.Y., with the Pasco-based Tri-City Dust Devils of the Class A Northwest League.
“At first, I thought it was Tri-City (in) Washington. Then I found out it was New York, and it was even better because I had never been to New York,” he said. “I did a little research and found out the team has been good in years past and I was excited to come down here and play.”
Since West was the 519th player selected in this year’s draft, he didn’t arrive in New York burdened with the heavy expectations placed on more highly regarded prospects. But so far, he has outperformed just about everyone in his draft class. Through Thursday, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound right-hander had made eight starts and allowed just 27 hits in 43 innings. He is 6-0 with a microscopic 1.05 ERA while helping Tri-City to a 31-13 record and a 10-game lead in its division.
Batters are hitting just .175 against West, whose arsenal includes a fastball in the 93-95 mph range, a slider and a changeup, all of which he throws with uncanny accuracy. In his 43 innings, he’s walked just five hitters. he has struck out 41.
While West has been happy with his early results, he still sees room for improvement.
“I have been working the most on my changeup,” he said. “But my fastball has probably been my best pitch, in and out at the knees and up when I need it to (be up), My changeup is coming around, especially to lefties. I get it to dive away and help me keep them off balance.”
West’s hot start has not gone unnoticed by the Astros. After West threw seven shutout innings on July 20 against the Vermont Lake Monsters, Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow wrote on Twitter: “And how about Aaron West’s night on the bump … His entire season in fact! ValleyCats rolling on …”
With so many players in the Houston system, being singled out for stellar play by the GM is high praise for a first-year player — especially one picked in the 17th round.
The ValleyCats have used West exclusively as a starter. He hopes to stay in that role, but acknowledges the decision will be up to the Astros. “I’ll do anything they need me to do,” he said.
One of the biggest adjustments West had to make this summer was to the pace of minor-league baseball.
“(In) school you have to practice for the week and then play three games on the weekend,” he said of pitching at UW. “I like going out there every day. I feel it gets you more into a routine.”
The most difficult adjustment, West said, has been getting used to the strenuous travel schedule.
“The hardest thing for me so far is the one time having a three-hour bus ride in the morning and pitching that same day; trying to get your legs underneath you because you’re tired from the bus,” he said. “I’m going to have to get used to it because it’s part of the life, but that was new for me.”
While he’s enjoying his time in New York, West said he misses a few things back home in Washington: his family, his friends, the weather.
“I miss the rain a little bit,” he said. “It’s hot over here and I’m not used to that.”
If he continues to pitch the way he has in his first two months as a pro, it could be a while before West gets to enjoy another cool Northwest summer.
Unless, of course, he comes to town as an Astro.
Andrew H. Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.