A few days before the MLB Amateur Draft, University of Richmond right fielder Mike Mergenthaler made a prophetic purchase at a Richmond Flying Squirrels game.
"Him and [teammate Adam] McConnell went to a Squirrels [the AA farm team for the San Francisco Giants] game a couple days before the draft," Richmond coach Mark McQueen said. "And Mergenthaler bought a Squirrels hat and was wearing it."
"And McConnell said, 'You should have never bought that hat. What if the team that drafts you is not going to let you wear that hat?' And Mergy says, 'Well, maybe I'll get drafted by the Giants.'"
Sure enough, a few days later, Mergenthaler was selected by the Giants in the 32nd round.
When Mergenthaler bought the Squirrels hat, it was a risky purchase. He said that other teams had appeared more interested in drafting him than the Giants.
"I didn't even think about the Giants and then I saw my name pop up," Mergenthaler said in a phone interview. "I was kind of shocked, but I was excited."
Mergenthaler was the second Spider selected in last year's draft, and the third in the past two years. Pitcher Ian Marshall was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 40th round of the 2010 Draft and McConnell, a junior who missed all of last year recovering from hip surgery, was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 30th round, but elected not to sign.
"I think [the number of draft picks] speaks a lot for the assistant coaches we've had that go out and find good student-athletes who fit into the University of Richmond," McQueen said. "And [they] have the ability to teach them a little bit, coach them up a little bit and help develop their skills."
Richmond has a history of producing MLB players, most notably outfielder Brian Jordan and first baseman Sean Casey. Currently, Tim Stauffer, a pitcher with the San Diego Padres, is the only Spider in the Major Leagues.
In total, 16 UR graduates have gone on to make the Major Leagues, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Although Marshall, 24, had a year head-start in becoming the 17th, he sat out all of last year following Tommy John surgery in May.
"Right now, I'm doing everything I can to get back to playing," Marshall said in a phone interview. "But injuries are part of the game. So when they come, you just have to have the best attitude about them and know it's a temporary trial."
Instead of building on his first year, when he went 4-3 with a 4.44 ERA for the Gulf Coast League Braves and the Danville Braves, Marshall had to run and lift weights to rehabilitate his arm in Orlando.
Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter
Although his combined season stats were average, Marshall was promoted to Danville at the end of the season and pitched in three games, going 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA. He started two of those games and pitched in relief in one of them.
It was not the first time that Marshall had worked out of the bullpen. Before establishing himself as a full-time starter his senior year, when he developed into an ace for the Spiders, Marshall moved between the rotation and the bullpen.
"I like starting because it's just fun going out there for seven, eight, nine innings," he said. "But when you close, you throw harder. It's fun to have that pressure from the get-go when you pitch as a reliever."
McQueen said that Marshall had alternated roles his first few years because, despite possessing a fastball that could reach the lower 90s, Marshall would overthrow at times and lose his command.
"I think toward the end [of his Richmond career], he finally learned how to pitch a little bit," McQueen said. "He learned how to start and finish games and go deep into games and to pace himself and stay away from mistake pitches."
Like Marshall, McQueen said he had noticed Mergenthaler, 22, had pro potential early in his career. He came to the school highly regarded by his high school coach and former Spider, Mike Dwyer, who McQueen had coached when he was an assistant coach for Richmond.
McQueen compared Mergenthaler to former Giant's star Will Clark, with his "pretty left-handed swing that's smooth." There were minor adjustments that McQueen and his staff needed to make before Mergenthaler could be drafted, McQueen said.
"He was going to need to shorten his swing a little and just be more consistent, not just try to hit so many home runs," McQueen said. "Just be more of a complete hitter."
Mergenthaler spent most of his first year in pro baseball with the Arizona League Giants, the rookie-ball team. There, he hit .388 with four home runs while playing mostly left field.
At Richmond, Mergenthaler spent most of his time playing first base before moving to right field last year. He said that the Giants wanted to get him acclimated to all three outfield positions, and were working him some at first base.
On June 27, 19 days after getting drafted, Mergenthaler was called up to the Fresno Grizzlies, the AAA team, for one day to fill in for an injured outfielder. In his one at-bat at AAA, Mergenthaler grounded out to second base.
"It was the same game and there wasn't much difference between short season [Giants] and AAA," Mergenthaler said.
Later in the season, Mergenthaler was promoted to the Augusta Greenjackets, the A-team for the Giants, for their playoffs. There, he faced former All-Star Johan Santana, who was rehabbing for the New York Mets.
In his one at bat against Santana, Mergenthaler reached base on an error.
"It felt weird [facing Santana], especially since growing up in New York, I was a Mets fan," Mergenthaler said. "You never think you're going to face him one day."
And one day soon, Mergenthaler could find himself at the Diamond once again, wearing a Squirrels hat. But instead of buying it, he could be paid to wear it.
"It's weird because in college, we would go to the Squirrels games and hang out and look at these players like, this is where we want to be," Mergenthaler said. "Now, I see it's pretty close. Maybe in a year or two, I can be playing in Richmond in front of my friends. It'd be cool."
Contact staff writer Andrew Prezioso at firstname.lastname@example.org
Support independent student media
You can make a tax-deductible donation by clicking the button below, which takes you to our secure PayPal account. The page is set up to receive contributions in whatever amount you designate. We look forward to using the money we raise to further our mission of providing honest and accurate information to students, faculty, staff, alumni and others in the general public.Donate Now