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Archer inspires, shares insight at Dream Series

@JesseSanchezMLB
January 17, 2020

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The most impactful bullpen session of Chris Archer’s career came Friday afternoon on a mound behind the right-field wall at Tempe Diablo Stadium and lasted about 15 minutes. The right-hander misfired on the first six or seven pitches. He finished strong with a dozen fastballs exactly where

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The most impactful bullpen session of Chris Archer’s career came Friday afternoon on a mound behind the right-field wall at Tempe Diablo Stadium and lasted about 15 minutes.

The right-hander misfired on the first six or seven pitches. He finished strong with a dozen fastballs exactly where he wanted them. It was Archer’s second bullpen session of the offseason, so he was understandably a bit off.

But to his catcher, 17-year-old high school junior Ian Moller, the entire experience was perfect. To the rest of the Dream Series participants who had gathered around the mound to watch a big league pitcher throw to their big league-dreaming buddy, it wasn’t just inspirational, it was aspirational.

“It was awesome,” said Moller, who is from Dubuque, Iowa. “I wasn’t that nervous because it was kind of like catching everyone else. It was nice to prove to myself that I could do it. I went out there and did it.”

Archer was the guest of honor Friday at the Dream Series, a program run by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball that is designed to develop and diversify the talent pool in the sport. The event, which runs in conjunction with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, continues through Monday at the Spring Training home of the Angels. The program includes hands-on coaching and presentations on baseball career opportunities on the professional and collegiate level.

“I came in because I was told how special this camp was, especially on the eve of MLK Day,” Archer said. “It’s just a special opportunity for these kids. I live in L.A. in the offseason and I was like, ‘I’m an hour flight away. There’s no way I can miss this.’”

Friday’s event began with athletic assessments, including measurements of agility, movement and cognitive speed, and a sports-vision screening through Prospect Development Pipeline (PDP) screenings. The teens later participated in defensive drills and batting practice on the main field. It concluded with a Q&A with Archer, study hall and a presentation on NCAA compliance.

“It’s important for Chris to see this, too, because he’ll go back and tell some of his buddies, some of the players in the big leagues that don’t really know what Major League Baseball is doing as it relates to the development of the young African-American player,” said Tony Reagins, MLB's executive vice president of baseball and softball development. “Chris will be able to communicate that because he sees it. We have a lot of strong programs. Our challenge has been awareness. If we can continue to emphasize the awareness that this is taking place, and with the type of instructors we have, it will gain momentum year after year.”

Archer encouraged the participants to have fun, work hard and be resilient. He has a chance to lead by example.

Last season, the Pirates' pitcher finished the 2019 campaign injured and with a 3-9 record, 5.19 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 119 2/3 innings in 23 starts. He did show some encouraging signs over his final nine starts, recording 63 strikeouts with 17 walks in 46 innings, and that’s part of the reason the club picked up his option in November. His $9 million salary would be a bargain if he can return to the form that made him one of the game’s top pitchers from 2013-15.

It’s not unreasonable to think he can bounce back. After all, he posted a 2.74 ERA with a 26:9 strikeout-to-walk ratio and only three homers allowed in his first four starts in 2019. By the end of the season, he was back to pitching to his strengths -- four-seamers and sliders -- and stopped throwing the two-seam fastball. That said, he didn’t pitch after Aug. 20 because of right shoulder inflammation.

Archer said he is completely healthy and won’t be limited during Spring Training. He’s been working out five or six days per week and steadily increasing his throwing program.

“My body feels great,” he said. “Last year at this time, I was rehabbing with lower abdominal surgery and it was brutal. I think since I was not all the way healed, I started to put too much stress on my arm. Right now, my arm feels good and so does my lower body. I’m in a good place.”

He’s also looking forward to participating in events like the Dream Series during the season and next year. In many ways, Archer is the ideal guest speaker.

“We’re trying to create an opportunity for the kids to speak to the guys that look like them that are having success so that they in turn feel like they can do it, too,” said Del Matthews, MLB's senior director for baseball development. “Bridging the gap is part of what we do. We are so happy Chris showed interest in being a part of it.”

Jesse Sanchez, who has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.