By Greg Schaber
Bobby Bevel and Matt Watson aren’t yet household names. But their successes to date could turn golden—not only for them, but for the University’s baseball program as well. While other members of the University’s teams have made the leap from college ball into the professional ranks, Bevel, a pitcher with the Colorado Rockies’ organization, and Watson, an outfielder in the New York Mets’ farm system, have risen furthest. The pair play at the AAA level, one step below the majors.
“I don’t know of anyone from the University who has gotten as close to the big leagues as these two guys,” says head baseball coach John Morrey. “They’re both just a phone call away.”
And as if to keep the pressure on them, a third University product, pitcher Kevin Cave, was drafted by the Florida Marlins in 2001 and is progressing up the minor league ladder. Two other recent players—Mike Scuglik, a former pitcher who played in the Texas Rangers’ organization from 1999-2000, and Lou Witte, a pitcher who played in the New York Yankees’ organization from 1999-2001—have also been drafted and played professionally. All of which reflects well on a Musketeer baseball program that has been on the upswing for the past decade—a decade that’s seen the University make a major commitment to the sport in terms of facilities, staff and scholarships.
The result, Morrey says, is that the team now draws the attention of more good players. And those players get to test themselves against competition like Purdue University, Indiana State University, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Louisville and Western Michigan University—teams that weren’t on the schedule 10 years ago. This kind of competition has a real impact on the development of young players.
“You’re forced to grow up in a hurry,” Morrey says. “The young players really need to focus in on what they can do to improve their skills so that they’re able to compete at a higher level as the year progresses. It’s a big change coming in from high school.”
And for the University, no players exemplify the ideal of competing at a higher level more than Bevel, Watson and Cave. Bevel, who graduated in 1995, was the first of the three to hit the minors. He currently plays for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox of the Pacific Coast League.
“Bobby has persevered,” Morrey says. “He’s been released three times and he keeps fighting back. He graduated in 1995 and was signed by Colorado. He worked his way up from rookie ball to AAA. He went to Seattle and then to St. Louis and now he’s back in Colorado. He’s been playing a long time, and he’s hung in there. If he gets a break, hopefully he can get up there and show them what he can do.”
In terms of numbers, there’s little question that Watson has had the most impressive start. The left-handed hitting, right-handed throwing outfielder played for the University from 1997 to 1999 and was originally drafted by the Montreal Expos. In his first year, playing for the Vermont Expos, he lit up opposing pitchers, setting the New York-Penn League single-season record for most hits with 108.
“There’s been a hundred major leaguers in that league, and he set the record,” Morrey says.
Injuries sidelined Watson for much of his second season, but he came back in 2001 to be the Expos’ organizational player of the year. Last year during the season he was traded from the Expos to the Mets and was sent to their AA team in Binghamton, N.Y., where he hit .286 and was advanced to the AAA Norfolk Tides of the International League, where he is now.
Just two seasons ago, the right-handed Cave could be found pitching at Hayden Field. He was drafted in 2001 by the Florida Marlins in the 17th round and making what Morrey calls normal progress. He played in the New York-Penn League in 2001, moving to the Class A Midwest League for the Kane County (Ill.) Cougars last year and is now in the upper level of Class A ball with the Jupiter Hammerheads in the Florida State League.
“He’s moved up a level a year, and that’s good,” says Morrey. “By anyone’s standards, all three of these guys are doing very well.”
By Morrey’s standards, that’s good news for the future of Xavier baseball.
“It’s great because it lets other future prospects see that they can come here and get their education as well as achieve their goal of getting into professional baseball.”