Why A's top prospect has tough act to follow

September 1st, 2022

This story was excerpted from Martín Gallegos’ Athletics Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

WASHINGTON -- Ken Waldichuk is going to have a tough act to follow.

Called up to make his Major League debut on Thursday at Nationals Park, Waldichuk, Oakland’s top-ranked pitching prospect by MLB Pipeline, is the third starting pitcher from Saint Mary’s College to reach the big leagues. The other two from the small school in Moraga, Calif.? That would be reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes and Dodgers All-Star Tony Gonsolin.

“I’ve never met either of them. But I always try to tune in when they’re pitching and keep up with how their season is going,” Waldichuk said. “It’s awesome to be a part of that group. There’s a lot of good talent that’s come out of there in the last four or five years.”

Long Beach State baseball coach Eric Valenzuela, who watched all three pitchers develop at the college level as head coach at Saint Mary’s from 2014-19, said all three are different in their own way. He did, however, note one distinct quality shared by the trio.

“Their work ethic is off the charts,” Valenzuela said. “What we had brewing in that culture there is that work ethic. That hard-nosed mentality. Saint Mary’s and the West Coast Conference, because they’re all private schools, the outside perspective is that you have a lot of kids that come from money and are not the toughest. But we had a culture there that those guys felt it was us against the world.”

Few are a better example of that mentality than Waldichuk, who began his college career at Saint Mary’s as a non-scholarship walk-on.

“He was tough on the mound and mean,” Valenzuela said. “We had that mean streets type of mentality and our guys just gravitated to it, Ken being one of them. That was just how we did it.”

It didn’t take long for Waldichuk, who was the centerpiece of the package acquired from the Yankees at the Trade Deadline in exchange for Frankie Montas and Lou Trivino, to impress the A’s. In four starts at Triple-A Las Vegas, he posted a 3.38 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 21 strikeouts over 18 2/3 innings, showing off a mid-90s fastball, a pair of plus offspeed pitches with his changeup and curveball, and an improving slider.

Now having reached The Show in a year that began at Double-A, Waldichuk will get a chance to solidify himself as a big leaguer over the final month of the season as part of Oakland’s starting rotation.

“It’s exciting,” said A’s manager Mark Kotsay. “Hopefully, we’ll just continue the momentum that he’s built and continue that good feeling of success here.”