Turk From OKC Apparently Has a Potent Fastball
by Matt Jones
Daily News Record
Harrisonburg – Carlos Chavez’s biography on the Oklahoma City University baseball website simply reads: “Nasty repertoire.” Other than those two words, the Rio Rnacho, New Mexico, native, is a bit of a mystery.
Standing 6 feet and 170 pounds, Chavez is not at all intimidating. Now on his third college team since graduating from high school in 2011, he has let his right arm do the talking when he steps on campus.
“Every team I transfer to, they’re kind of like, “Oh, who’s this little guy?” Chavez said by phone Wednesday. “Once they see me throw, you see some eyes open and they’re kind of surprised how I can let a ball go that hard.”
Harrisonburg Turks Manager Bob Wease is hoping Chavez – slated to start Saturday or Sunday as the Valley Baseball League opens the 2015 season – can improve his professional stock while helping win some VBL games.
Despite his small stature, Chavez packs some punch. He said his fastball sits around 90-93 miles per hour as a starter and can touch 96 when he needs a strikeout. That velocity – in addition to a curveball – made him a second-team All-Sooner Athletic Conference pick this spring for the Stars, an NAIA school.
Chavez went 8-0 with a 2.02 ERA. He tallied 118 strikeouts in 998 innings, showing the ability to log innings while maintaining his speed.
But what appeals to Wease – who enters his 25th year as president and general manager, and 14th as manager – most is Chavez’s velocity, which he observed during a bullpen session Tuesday. Wease said Chavez could rival former Turk Jon Rauch, who at 6-foot-11 threw 94 miles per hour before an 11-year major league career.
“If he does throw 95, 96, he’ll probably be the hardest thrower we’ve ever had,” Wease said.
Harrisonburg opens the season today at Covington at 7 p,.m., and Wease said he plans to start another Oklahoma City right-hander in that game: 6-foot-4, 220-pounder Matt Young.
In all, the Turks have five Stars on the roster, including catcher Joe Lytle, the son of former Harrisonburg manager Keith Lytle. The older Lytle is currently an assistant at OCU.
Chavez’s presence should help bolster a rotation that returns three arms from last summer. Georgia Tech left-hander Tanner Shelton, Duke lefty James Ziemba and Wingate right–hander Tyler are back, while Wease added JMU left hand-handers Tucker McCoy (Spotswood High School) and Eric Yankey (Turner Ashby).
Left-hander Kale Morton and right-hander Matt Hartman – both native Californians from the University of Arizona – will also be in the mix.
“I think our pitching staff is going to be pretty good,” said Wease, who had an easier time finding arms this summer after struggling to keep them stocked last year. “We got plenty of arms, we’re just hoping that everything is going to work out for all of them.”
The fear, the 71-year-old Wease said, is overworking the pitchers. He said he tries to limit starting pitchingers to 80-85 pitches per outing and no more than five or six innings. For a player like Chavez – who had eight appearances this spring of 100-plus pitches, including 132 at Oklahoma Baptist in late March – watching pitch counts and innings is crucial.
“I’m not going to send a kid back to the school with a sore arm,” Wease said.
Chavez welcomes the opportunity to impress the Valley League scouts with his velocity. However, he knows when to pick his spots.
“I’d like to do that, but there’s a time and a place for that,” Chavez said of unleashing his fastball. “Sometimes I can get a little off the plate when I’m trying to throw it as hard as I can. Just depending on the moment, if there’s room for it, I’ll let it go.”
The rising senior is lucky to even be playing for the Turks. He began his college career at Trinidad State (Colo.) Junior College, notching 11 strikeouts in just 18.1 innings as a freshman. When his coach took another job, Chavez elected to transfer, winding up at New Mexico Junior College in 2013. He recorded seven saves and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings, drawing interest but no offers from Division I programs.
He initially chose to attend Wayland Baptist University in Planview, Texas, as a junior, but said the decision did not feel “100 percent” right, so he dropped out moving home to work out while pitching in a recreational weekend league to stay sharp.
At that point his career was in doubt.
“It was driving me nuts,” said the 23-year-old Chavez. “I was really unsure of my baseball future, because sitting out a year can really hurt you in college. I was working out, throwing every day. Hopefully something would come up and it did.
A college showcase tryout last summer earned him a spot on the Oklahoma City roster, resurrecting his once-floundering baseball dreams.
Now he’s got a summer to show scouts what he’s capable of. He can thank his electric right arm for that.
“I’d just have to say it’s a gift from above, honestly,” Chavez said.