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Arizona baseball: Nathan Bannister's senior year boosts his MLB Draft stock

From undrafted to Pac-12 standout in less than a year

Jason Bartel

As the names were called out during the 2015 MLB Draft last June, plenty of draft-eligible Arizona Wildcats never heard their name announced.

Nathan Bannister, even after sporting a sub-3.50 ERA for most of the 2015 season, was one of those Cats that were snubbed by every MLB team 40 times over.

"It always stings a little bit when people don't draft you or if you don't get noticed," he explained. "But you just gotta restart, refocus, rededicate yourself to the game, and I think that's a really good job of what Jay (Johnson) and the coaching staff has done for me this year."

Throughout his collegiate career, Bannister has been successful, despite periods of arm slot changes, lack of use, and whatever else happened with the previous coaching staff in terms of not having a coach dedicated to the pitching staff He's even had successful summers, but still no MLB team took a chance on him.

We could be talking about him as a redshirt junior this year though, with the potential of coming back next year. But Andy Lopez decided to use him in three games in 2013. In those three games, Arizona lost by a combined score of 44-8. That included 2 2/3 innings of one-run ball in a 23-1 loss to Washington.

"The opportunity I got at the end of the year, you could say it's kept me here," Bannister said when asked if he wish he had redshirted that year. "I'm grateful for that."

That experience of not pitching right away has allowed Bannister to not only help himself, but set this program up for success in the future by helping out some of the freshmen that are on this team right now that will make a big impact down the road.

"I think just for me, starting off freshman year and didn't pitch much, even my sophomore year I pitched a little bit more, but just putting myself in their shoes, I know where they're at right now," Bannister said of how he can relate to the younger guys. "I know what they can do, and I just want to make sure they keep working hard day-in, day-out because it's really a process."

"It's really good for a younger guy looking in at the perspectives he possesses," freshman pitcher Cody Deason said of the senior. "Everybody respects him on the field, and that's what you want to be as a baseball player. You want everyone to respect you, because that's a big part of the game. If you're respected on the mound, you're going to have people behind you that want to play for you."

"The useful things he tells us is just get up there and do your game," Deason continued. "Don't make it bigger than it is. It's just a game at the end of the day. The things I really like about Banni are that he always does what he's told, he's always working hard, always doing all that stuff, and he's all for the team. He's just really a guy you want to take after."

After that freshman season, Bannister went to Alaska with Cody Moffett for the summer. Bannister posted a 6-0 record in eight starts for the Alaska Goldpanners, and only walked four batters in 52 innings.

He continued to mess with his arm angle in 2014 though, getting off to an extremely slow start (nine earned runs in his first 6 1/3 innings). But things started to click after that, as he finished the year with 8 2/3 innings with no earned runs allowed. He still hadn't worked his way into a starting role though.

That late-season success continued into the Cape Cod League, where Bannister was one of the best pitchers in the nation's premier summer collegiate league. He was among the league leaders in ERA throughout the summer, finishing with a 2.37 mark in seven appearances, four of them starts.

The summer successes started to carry over into the spring in 2015. His ERA was below three all the way through March of his junior year. A six-run, four inning outing against USC (his second appearance in two days) on April 3rd put his ERA up to 3.38 at the time.

Two weeks later, he would earn his first collegiate start against Oregon State. He went 6 1/3 innings and allowed just one earned run to the Beavers.

He remained the Saturday starter for the rest of the season (seven starts), coming up an out shy of a complete game against Cal, and then turning in nine innings in his final start of the year against Hawaii, who he will also close his regular season out against this year.

He went undrafted after all of this though, and with a new coaching staff came yet another new approach to the game for Banni. When Dave Lawn came in, the philosophy of how pitchers should work out and look physically completely changed.

And it's turned Bannister into a completely different pitcher in his senior season.

"I think I'm just better conditioned," he said of having more success and pitching longer into games this year. "I think we looked at what I need to do for me individually and not group me with the rest of the pitchers or the rest of the team. We really looked at what's right for me and what I need to do, and that's paid dividends."

Not only is Bannister lasting longer in games (8+ innings in six of his last seven starts), he's also throwing the ball harder. He was throwing low 80's at the start of the year, but now he's running it up there around 87 MPH.

"Three or four MPH," coach Johnson said about the jump up in velocity over the course of the year. "And again, the changes he's made in his body and his physical conditioning make it a lot easier for his arm to work, and some improved velocity is a result of that."

After a year like this, and being a senior who has exhausted his eligibility, it's conceivable that Bannister could be taken in rounds 8-10 as teams look to save slot value in the modern era of the MLB Draft. But he hasn't heard anything out of the ordinary when it comes to MLB scouts telling him anything.

"There's been a couple things here and there, but that's usual throughout the year," he explained. "(The Draft)'s getting close, and I know that, but I just need to block it out as much as possible. Just keep putting in the work and I think I'll be alright."

"After this year I just don't know how he didn't get picked up before," Deason added. "He's a stud, and I think he's probably one of the best pitchers in the Pac-12, so I'm excited to see what's going to happen."

"Find me ten pitchers in the west, maybe the country even, that have put up those kind of numbers (8-2, 2.81 ERA, 0.974 WHIP), and I don't think you'll be able to do it," Johnson tacked on. "Just his consistency, pounding the zone, having a three-pitch mix and performing. Ultimately, pitching's about getting guys out, and not too many guys have done that better than him."

As we head into Selection Monday this week, and having the final home games at Hi Corbett for the year, all seven of these seniors are finally in a position where they can look forward to postseason games.

"It feels good to be honest," Bannister said of looking forward to playing games beyond the regular season.

"If we play our style, we've got no regrets."