As a lifelong New York Yankees fan, Josh Medeles has had a lot of inspiration from which to draw. With legends such as Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera providing inspiration, the 6-foot, left-handed pitcher has a deep well of memories to motivate him to further heights.
This summer with the Peninsula Oilers, Medeles has proven to be quite Yankee-esque.
The 22-year-old junior out of Fresno Pacific University (California) has pitched his way to a team-best 0.80 ERA, fourth-best in the Alaska Baseball League and second-best among American League pitchers as of Saturday night.
Even more impressive, Medeles’ season garnered enough attention to earn him the starting role in last weekend’s ABL All-Star game, which his side won 4-0.
Oilers coach Kevin Griffin said the decision was made between the three coaches of the AL teams — Jamie Sluys of the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks, Mike Grahovac of the Anchorage Bucs and Griffin himself, lending Medeles credibility as a pitcher that the other team wants to start.
“There wasn’t a debate over it, it was simple,” Griffin said. “They said let’s start him.”
Medeles tossed only the first inning, but silenced the National League’s bats with two strikeouts. And, because the AL scored in the bottom of the frame, Medeles also recorded the win on the mound.
“I think he had a little bit extra on his ball that day,” said Oilers pitching coach Brian Daly. “He seemed to be throwing a little harder.”
Staying with billet parents Steve and Diana Keener of Kenai, and rooming with infielder Jordan Washam and catcher Lukas Hermanson, Medeles is looking for a post-collegiate career. If he is going to be accused of throwing hard, at least he has an excuse. Medeles, who is majoring in accounting and minoring in finance, has one more year left at Fresno Pacific, and could use a big year to impress scouts on pro teams that are constantly keeping an eye out for talent.
“With everyone watching, hopefully they noticed something for next year’s draft,” Medeles said Thursday before the Oilers game against the Bucs. “It was a good experience.”
It’s a strong summer that Medeles hopes will further his career, especially in a year in which defense has become the norm in the ABL and the top of the pitching pool is full of sub-1 ERAs. In the week that just ended, the Oilers gave up an average of three runs in the six-game home stand, but still ended up with a 2-4 record against the Bucs.
But, if there’s been anything he has learned over the years as a Yankees fan, it’s that all that matters is what you bring to the game.
“It’s just that you can’t ever go out and be lackadaisical,” Medeles said. “You gotta give it everything you’ve got, you never know if it’s going to be your last.”
Born and raised in El Paso, Texas, by parents Norma and Ariel Medeles, Josh was, like many ballplayers that make it to college and beyond, an early standout by the age of 9, when he was lured by the Young Guns Little League team to pitch. With the Young Guns, Medeles almost made it to the Little League World Series.
Following a family move to Fresno, California, at the age of 13, Medeles found a niche as a starring pitcher at Clovis West High School, which was hailed as the top-ranked prep team in the nation his junior year.
With the added hype and media buzz surrounding him and his teammates, Medeles said he learned valuable lessons in dealing with the attention and pressure to perform, which he admitted was the best thing he could have experienced.
“We had a team that knew how to play, everybody loved playing,” he said. “That was a great year.
“I learned and built myself as a player, I wanted to pitch in that (environment).”
In the regular season, Medeles made his mark by pitching a complete game with one hit and 13 strikeouts.
Ultimately, Clovis West ended up losing to Buchanan High in the Valley Championship, falling short in the final inning.
“That was hard, guys were just crying,” Medeles recalled.
The experience was a far cry from the parks in which he grew up playing. At a tender young age, Medeles found himself honing his skills he uses today in a dirt lot in El Paso. There was no media, no umps, hardly an audience.
“We were playing with no lines, no bases, nothing like that,” Medeles said.
The kind of schoolyard ball that produces some of the grittiest, hard-working athletes that Medeles has become.
At Fresno Pacific, Medeles appeared in 17 games with nine starts his first year, and became the first freshman in school history to earn All-Conference honors after posting a team-best 2.71 ERA, including 74 strikeouts in 66 1-3 innings.
However, the early success didn’t last. Medeles sustained a shoulder injury his sophomore year — a season he used to redshirt in — then spent most of the next season recovering, getting limited starts.
With his injury finally behind him, the lefty has finally been able to work himself back into the shape that earned him his collegiate accolades.
“I feel like I’m getting back to where I was my freshman year, so hopefully scouts notice that I can pitch,” he said.
Daly, the Oilers pitching coach, said what he noticed the most about Medeles when he arrived in Alaska for the summer was the movement on his pitches. With an ability to establish an early fastball that curls up near the plate, keeping batters at bay, Medeles is then able to work the strike zone with a mix of other pitches.
“He brings a lot, he throws pitches for strikes,” Daly said. “Rarely works deep counts.”
Described as a hard worker who shows up to put the necessary work in, Medeles has started six games this summer for the Oilers and has worked 33 2-3 innings with 23 strikeouts and 18 walks, a statistic that Daly pays close attention to. If a starter can retire more batters than he allows on base, then he may have a future.
“It’s nice for Josh to set the tone early,” Daly said. “That way we can get the cleanup guys in with something to work with.”