On June 11, former men’s baseball star Jake Fishman became the first player ever from Union to be selected in Major League Baseball’s Amateur Draft.
George Haas Jr. ’47 was the first Union baseball player to reach affiliated minor league ball, but he predates the MLB’s amateur draft, which was not launched until 1965. Fishman’s selection, which came in the 30th round, marked a historic moment for Union Athletics.
“It’s just an unbelievable feeling. This makes me incredibly happy,” Fishman said back in June. “I believe this puts Union baseball on the map and draws attention to our college and program.”
Head Baseball Coach Paul Mound echoed Fishman’s sentiment when I spoke to him last week: “Interest grows when someone gets drafted, especially out of a high-academic Division III school. I’ve been inundated with recruiting opportunities this fall.” Fishman was just one of 20 Division III ballplayers to be selected in this past June’s draft, which spanned 40 rounds in total.
Fishman forewent his last season of eligibility at Union, but does intend on finishing his undergraduate degree. The Sharon, Massachusetts, native’s main reason for leaving Union a year early was simple: leverage. As a senior entering the draft, Fishman would’ve had no leverage at the negotiation table with any team that drafted him. As a junior, he had the option, or threat, of returning to Union and re-entering the draft in 2017.
Ultimately, the Blue Jays met his demands, which included $50,000 on top of the payment for his senior year tuition, around $65,000. The Blue Jay minor leaguer was a managerial economics major and digital media minor while at Union, but said, “At this point I’m gonna try and go as far as I can in professional baseball.”
Coach Mound credited Fishman’s work ethic, drive to become better and passion for the game together as reasons beyond pure talent as to why the lefty has enjoyed all of this success.
Fishman’s fastball sits in the low 90s, but perhaps his best weapon is his windup. “He’s got a deceptive motion,” Mound said, “that’s one of the things that makes him very, very effective.” The 2016 Midseason Golden Spikes Award Watchlist candidate’s unique delivery makes him appear as if he is throwing from nearly three feet closer to the plate than the standard 60 feet 6 inches, according to Mound.
That combined with a lot of late run and sink on his fastball helped Fishman accrue a 0.41 ERA in 2016, the lowest in any division of NCAA Baseball that year. Despite his dominance in the Liberty League last spring, the transition was, expectedly, not always smooth for the former Dutchman southpaw.
“The days are much longer than what you’re used to. The DIII lifestyle, you’re more of a student-athlete than if you’re in Division I,” Fishman said. “Down here you’re playing baseball from the moment you wake up until basically the sun goes on. It’s a long day.”
On top of that, the demographics for Fishman’s new team are like nothing he had ever experienced before.
“Basically 75 percent of my team was Latin players,” Fishman said. “I had to bring out the Spanish that I learned in high school. It’s a very different culture and one that was completely new to me.” This difficult transition was reflected on the stat-sheet and Fishman got rocked in his first few appearances.
“My first few appearances I just couldn’t figure it out. The hitters were completely different,” Fishman said. “I kind of had to reevaluate my approach. I changed a couple mechanical things and then my last three appearances it was like I was a different pitcher.”
Ultimately, the 2016 draftee was able to lower his ERA to 4.80 by the end of the season, racking up 13 strikeouts to just four walks and surrendering but one home run in 15 innings of work.
Coach Mound believes the former Dutchman’s best chance to make it to the Major Leagues will be as a lefty-specialist out of the bullpen, but was quick not to dismiss Fishman’s chances as a starting pitcher at the big-league level.
“He’s flown the Union flag very well,” Mound said.