During his junior year at Southern, pitcher Cody Hall sometimes struggled with things that matter most to a pitcher.
Location. Two-strike pitches. Getting hitters out.
But the right-hander always had one thing that mattered to Major League Baseball scouts.
He had the pop.
You know that sound, don’t you? When a hard, live fastball hums through the air, then makes an extra-loud pop as it explodes into the catcher’s mitt?
No, Cody Hall never struggled with that.
Time after time, when he took the mound at Lee-Hines Field in the ninth inning on a warm weekend afternoon, Major League Baseball scouts made sure to plant themselves behind home plate with radar guns and notebooks.
Hall’s fastball routinely hit the mid-90s.
Leading up to last summer’s MLB draft, the 6-foot-3 closer said he had encouraging conversations with several organizations. He never expected to be a first-rounder — but, forced to guess, Hall figured he’d go somewhere in the middle rounds. The 15th, maybe. The 20th at worst.
So as he waited, and as the rounds slipped by, and after the Detroit Tigers ended the long, gruesome march by selecting Hall in the 35th round — No. 1,063 overall — he felt a mixture of relief and disappointment.
“I just felt like I could do a whole lot better,” he said.
So Hall returned to Southern. And do better, he did.
He got in better shape and tried to enhance his value. As a result, he came into the season with better command and a stronger, bolder presence on the mound.
He also developed four pitches: the fastball, curveball, changeup and slider.
The results were easy to see, even if the pitches weren’t. Hall led the team in strikeouts (62), innings (60.2) and ERA (3.71), and in the offense-heavy Southwestern Athletic Conference, opponents hit .238 against him.
He proved to be durable and versatile, as well.
He began the season as a starter, and at the end of the season, when coach Roger Cador needed to fortify his bullpen, he moved Hall back to closer. He never blinked.
“That taught me how to pitch a little bit,” he said. “I had to battle through some long innings.”
One other thing: His fastball still had that signature pop.
So maybe, in this case, last year’s bad news has turned into this year’s good news.
The 2011 draft begins Monday — and no, Hall doesn’t expect to be a first-round bonus baby.
But he does expect the phone to ring a little earlier this time.
He and first baseman Frazier Hall (no relation), the two-time SWAC player of the year, both figure to get drafted at some point.
“Where I would like to go is somewhere in rounds 10-15,” Cody Hall said. “But the main thing is, I just want to get that phone call. Whatever spot that is, I’m happy with it.”