By Caleb Nguyen, Sept. 13, 2022
After a dominant award-filled 2022 season pitching for the Broncos, Will Rudy, 21, was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the fifth round of this year’s MLB Draft this summer, becoming the first Division II player off the board.
Rudy, the California Collegiate Athletic Association’s Most Valuable Pitcher in 2022, decided to forego his final three years of academic eligibility and sign with Milwaukee’s minor league affiliate, the Brewers Blue of the Arizona Coast League for rookie ball.
“I had an expectation of getting drafted, but I didn’t know where I was going to go. When I got the call, it was exciting. A joy. Kind of left me speechless, honestly,” Rudy said.
Despite playing the game for over a decade, getting drafted was a surprise.
He continued, “I knew the Brewers were high on the list of teams that were interested in me, and they kind of came out of nowhere. I’m happy to be where I’m at.”
As a youth, Rudy remembers his preschool teachers and parents encouraging him to play outside and join in sports leagues. Rudy would play football, basketball and soccer in addition to baseball in these early years, before deciding that baseball would be his primary focus in high school.
In high school, Rudy’s Woodbridge Warriors debuted on varsity as a sophomore winning Rookie of the Year, while his junior year earned Rudy an All-Pacific Coast League First Team nod. Graduating in 2019, Rudy ended his high school career with a Coach’s award before ultimately committing to the Broncos.
Rudy played multiple positions before settling on being a full-time pitcher shortly into his Cal Poly Pomona career due to the straining requirements for both batting and pitching.
“I was mostly a shortstop/pitcher growing up and was recruited as a two-way player to come to CPP. About two months into my freshman year, I made the transition to be a pitcher only due to the high demand to be both. I wanted to focus solely on pitching, and you know, I think it worked out,” said Rudy.
When referencing those who have helped him along the way, Rudy credits multiple sources, the most impactful of which was his first pitching coach, Charlie Phillips.
“Growing up from age 10 to 12, I had a really good pitching coach … He played professional baseball with the Angels … He showed me the mechanical side of pitching and showed me different pitch grips and how to throw those. How to get the best spin — stuff like that,” he said.
In his search to find the right combination of pitches, Broncos coach Jenzen Torres aided Rudy in discovering what would be most successful after Rudy’s commitment to CPP for his college career.
“When I came into my freshman year at Pomona, I had a good fastball and curveball, but I didn’t really have that great third pitch. I was kind of working on it, and Coach Torres helped me develop a better change-up, and honestly it turned out to be, I’d say, my best pitch right now,” said Rudy.
While the pandemic cancelled most of Rudy’s 2020 and all of his 2021 season, the two-year period away from the game allowed Rudy to hone his craft, contributing to his sparkling 2022 campaign.
Using this time off, Rudy would train in his hometown of Irvine and quickly garnered results for his hard work. In his 2022 season, Rudy recorded an ERA of 3.10, a K/9 rate of 10.7, a K/BB ratio of 6.4, and an 8-1 win-loss record over 87 innings pitched.
No pitcher is complete without his catcher, and Rudy had plenty to praise about his batterymate, Johnny Pappas. Rudy credits their strong bond in the past three years for much of his CPP success leading to his draft selection.
“Oh man. I can’t tell you how much Johnny means to me. When we came onto campus in my freshman year, we just clicked and connected well. I just can’t describe how much he’s meant to me, not just this year, but all three years I was at Cal Poly Pomona. We’ve built a great relationship and he’s a phenomenal, phenomenal catcher and ballplayer. I love that guy like a brother,” said Rudy.
With these fundamentals and persistence, Rudy was able to piece the puzzle together in 2022. The American Baseball Coaches Association, Division II Conference Commissioner’s Association, and National Collegiate Baseball Writers’ Association all recognized Rudy to their first teams through his dominant revised freshman season.
His most dominant start of the season was a complete game shutout of Sonoma State on March 23. This and two other dazzling performances gave Rudy three Collegiate AA’s Pitcher of the Week for the year, and 2022 CCAA First Team honors for his seasonal efforts.
Though appreciative, Rudy maintains humility and focus on the simple things amidst his great success.
“I’m just competing every day, trying to be and the best teammate I can around the group of guys I’m with. The accolades are cool and all, but I’m not focused on that. I’m not playing the game for those awards, I’m playing the game to have fun and just be a better version of myself each day,” said Rudy.
For Rudy, the distinction as the first Division II player drafted this season comes with a caveat, as some critics might point to his lower field of competition in comparison to his Division I counterparts. Rudy disagrees with those naysayers, claiming that talent like his is just as competitive no matter where they start.
“I feel like some of these critics don’t get out and watch Division II baseball. Just because it’s D1, D2, D3 or NAIA, you have good competition everywhere you can go. People will find that good competition, for sure,” said Rudy.
With eyes toward the major leagues one day, Rudy reminds himself a successful professional career is attainable by focusing on the present.
“I’m not too worried about the future right now. I’m trying to live in the present and get after it today, get after it tomorrow, then keep taking it day by day. I feel if I stay on that path, I feel like I can get to that point,” said Rudy.
Humble, but never satisfied, Rudy has already made a name for himself with CPP’s highest baseball selection since the 2015 season. While it’s a moment to be cherished, Rudy knows that the journey has just begun.
Rudy was assigned to Arizona Complex League by the Brewers for his rookie ball assignment on Aug. 11. From here, the path to the major leagues is a long road, with three successive levels of minor league baseball needed to surpass in order to progress into the MLB.
After rookie ball comes Single A ball, then Double A ball, then Triple A ball and finally the majors. Despite the challenges ahead, Rudy is up to the task to continue building his legacy as a CPP alum.
Feature Image Courtesy of Will Rudy.
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