After a frustrating junior season with the Princeton University baseball team in 2013, Michael Fagan took a hiatus from the game.
“I got burned out and didn’t play over the summer last year,” said Fagan, who went 1-4 with a 7.99 ERA in 2013.
“I took an internship in New York City. It cleared my head, working 9-5, I saw how baseball could be fun again. I didn’t pick up a ball, except to play softball for my office. That was fun, I could hit and they needed me for my defense.”
Coming back to Princeton for his senior year, Fagan brought a fresh perspective.
“I went into the fall only expecting to lead the team and have fun,” said Fagan, a 5’11, 160-pound lefty who hails from San Diego, Calif.
“I thought it was going to be my last year of organized baseball. I worked with Matt Bowman (former Princeton star currently pitching for Binghamton in the New York Mets organization) that fall; he hammered in some mechanics for me. After the fall, I worked with a sports psychologist. He helped me develop a pre-pitch routine so one pitch didn’t carry over to the next. One of my big problems was that I would go to a 1-0 count and then start thinking that I was going to walk the batter. I learned that balls will happen, errors will happen.”
Applying those mechanical and mental lessons, Fagan developed into one of the top pitchers in the Ivy League this spring, going 4-2 with a 2.33 ERA as he earned first-team All-Ivy recognition. Fagan struck out 77 and walked 18 while allowing 46 hits in 58 innings pitched.
Turning heads with his dramatic improvement, Fagan was picked by the Oakland Athletics in the ninth round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Signing with the A’s, Fagan started his pro career with the Athletics of the rookie-level Arizona League and was quickly promoted to the Vermont Lake Monsters of the New-York Pennsylvania League, a short-season A circuit.
Fagan, who had been chosen by the San Diego Padres in the 45th round of the 2010 MLB draft after finishing high school, sensed he was back on the pro radar after an outstanding effort against Cornell in late April when he struck out 11 in nine innings against the Big Red.
“After the weekend at Cornell I thought I would be taken,” said Fagan. “I went against the top pitching prospect in the Ivy League (Brent Jones who got chosen in the 4th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks) and there were 50-60 scouts there. After that I had some pre-draft workouts but no real contact with Oakland. In the 8th round, Oakland called and said if I was still available in the 9th, they would take me. I was excited. I thought it was a good fit and a good organization.”
For Fagan, getting organized at Princeton took some work. “Time management was a big thing, the baseball wasn’t so hard but it was balancing time with studies,” said Fagan.
“Going from high school to Princeton was a huge adjustment. I could spend 15 minutes a week on a course in high school and get an A; it was not like that at Princeton. Also in high school, baseball was basically 3-5 p.m. At Princeton, we had morning lifts and practices at night. It took me a few years to get used to the system.”
After going a combined 3-10 in his first three years with the Tigers, Fagan was ready to lift his game.
“By the time I got to the fourth year, I could lead on and off the field,” asserted Fagan.
“I had my worst outing at Greensboro, I went out after four innings and then I had a great outing against Cornell and there was no discernible difference with the way I walked off the field.”
When Fagan walked on the field for his first pro outing on June 20, he was definitely feeling some butterflies.
“I had the A’s home uniform on and my heart was racing,” recalled Fagan, who went 1 2/3 innings, giving up no runs and one hit with two strikeouts.
“I walked the first batter on four pitches and none of them were close. After the first batter. I got two ground balls. In the next inning, I got two strikeouts before I reached my pitching count. I calmed down my emotions; it is a testament to how well things went with Matt and the sports psychologist.”
Since signing with the A’s, Fagan has benefitted from some intense training on the nuances of pitching.
“It has been great,” said Fagan. “I spent the first two weeks in Arizona, honing mechanics, working on pitching philosophy and learning what pitches to throw when, there is so much to learn.”
While Fagan has been mainly a starting pitcher on his way to the pros, it looks like he will be coming out of the bullpen for the A’s organization.
“I think they will be using me as a reliever for the most part,” said Fagan, who had one more outing for Arizona before getting promoted to the Lake Monsters, where he has posted a 3.38 ERA in 2 2/3 innings of work in two outings with a 0-0 record and three strikeouts.
“They are into velocity. I throw 89-91 mph as a starter; I can bring it up to 91-93 as a reliever. In summer after sophomore year, I played in the Northwoods League and I was a reliever the whole time. I like the idea of coming in and throwing my best for 25 pitches. It is a different type of game, you are not trying to set batters up, like showing less on a slider and then showing more the second time through the lineup.”
Now, Fagan is looking to spend a long time in the game. “I just want to be a professional everyday and continue learning,” said Fagan.
“I have 3+ pitches but I need to learn when to use them and learn the sequence of pitching.”