He’d like to have that last game back, but that’s baseball. Sometimes the best pitchers have to bow to the burly guys with bats in their hands. But West pitcher Kellen Yoder will be remembered more for what he accomplished during the 2012 summer season than for any playoff game.
He was quite simply the most consistent pitcher around. He was 7-0 going into the state quarterfinal and finished 7-1 with a 2.45 ERA. Opponents batted just .175 against him and he had a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He is the Press-Citizen’s Pitcher of the Year.
Yoder’s stats don’t really do him justice.
“He was really consistent from the start of the year. He threw well from the first day to the last day of the year,” West coach Charlie Stumpff said.
“He made great improvement between his sophomore and junior year. Last year was something we hadn’t seen from Kellen. He really came into his own last year. Kellen was good as a freshman and sophomore but not that kind of pitcher.”
As a junior, Yoder was the “go-to” guy out of the bullpen for the Trojans, making the transition from being a starter as a freshman and sophomore. Stumpff said he thinks going to the bullpen from starting is a bigger adjustment than vice versa but one that Yoder managed seamlessly.
Yoder said the transition from the pen to starter was smoothed because he started with the Iowa Select team in the fall. He worked through the offseason to build up his arm.
“He just took off from there in the starting rotation and really was dominant; his numbers were incredible,” Stumpff said.
“As a starter, I had to think a little more, and I had to have more of a game plan and a strategy to it,” Yoder said.
He worked with assistant Tom Cronk in developing his plan of attack and his mental approach.
“Just going out and not trying to do too much,” Yoder said of what worked best. “Let my stuff work how it goes.”
He benefited from having Colin Baker behind the plate, a catcher who’s handled him since U-14 ball.
Yoder always has been a pitcher throughout youth baseball, although he’s played third base, too.
“Depending on how the game goes, you’re in control of the game,” he said. “It’s pretty much you and eight other guys out there. You’re leading the pack. I love it.”
He uses his considerable experience and all his pitches to stay firmly in control.
“He throws with good velocity,” Stumpff said. “When you’re throwing 82 to 85, that’s good, above-average high-school velocity. The thing that sets him apart is his curveball is so hard and it breaks so late it’s different from most other curveballs. It’s almost like a slider velocity, but it is a curveball. It’s hard for hitters to get a gauge on that because he throws it so hard and it breaks so late. I think that’s his go-to pitch. He gets ahead and he can really put them away with that pitch.
“And he has a very underrated changeup. So he has three pitches that are all above average, and that’s going to make him a pretty good high school pitcher.”
Yoder will play college ball at North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City with the aim of eventually playing at the Division I level. Several West High players have taken that route, including Sean Moore, who has gone from DMACC to Wichita State. Former West player Jeremy Cronk will be a second-year pitcher at NIACC this year.
“(Yoder’s) a very good student so he could have gone anywhere he wanted to academically,” Stumpff said. “He just wanted to see if he could play a higher level of baseball down the road.”
NIACC pitching coach Travis Hergert said he’s been watching Yoder for quite some time.
“He stuck out to me because he had some arm strength and a good breaking ball and he’s an athletic kid,” Hergert said.
Hergert said the things that Yoder will need to work on to achieve his goal are command of the strike zone and increased velocity. But he raved about Yoder’s slider.
“We’ve seen him as high as 87 mph, but we’d like to see him even higher,” Hergert said.
He thinks the full-time nature of college ball will help Yoder make that leap. Hergert also likes Yoder’s mental makeup.
“It’s funny because Kellen … I like Kellen a lot because he does have quite the personality,” Hergert said. “He does have a personality that definitely draws a person in because he’s kind of a character. But when he steps on the mound, he flips a switch and he becomes a competitor. I think you need guys on your team like Kellen to keep things loose.”
Not to mention getting guys out.