Giants' Ivy League Draft pick got creative

July 14th, 2021

When the pandemic halted Rohan Handa’s sophomore season at Yale last year, the 21-year-old left-hander returned home to Charlotte, N.C., and focused on reinventing himself.

He joined Tread Athletics, an online pitching development company that helped him clean up his mechanics and improve his arm action, and worked with Houston-based Dynamic Sports Training to rebuild his body.

By the time 2021 rolled around, Handa’s fastball velocity had jumped from the mid-80s to 97 mph, turning him into an intriguing prospect ahead of the 2021 MLB Draft.

There was only one problem: Handa didn’t have a place to showcase his new and improved self. The Ivy League decided to cancel its 2021 spring season, forcing Handa to take his talents to the Mystic Schooners of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, where he got another opportunity to flash his revamped arsenal.

The fruits of his labor were finally realized on Monday, when he was selected by the Giants in the fifth round of the 2021 MLB Draft. Handa became the first Ivy Leaguer taken in this year’s Draft and the fourth-highest pick in Yale history.

“It was unbelievable, especially to be drafted by such a class organization like the Giants,” Handa said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “I couldn’t be happier.”

Despite losing two college seasons to the pandemic, Handa managed to catch the eye of the Giants, who closely tracked each of his NECBL starts this year.

“He was definitely a guy we followed every outing he made up there and the momentum just really grew for us and grew for him in our room,” director of amateur scouting Michael Holmes said. “Although there was no college season for him in the Ivy League, I really feel like we were able to get enough evaluations to feel really confident.”

Along with his fastball, which sits in the mid 90s and topped out at 97.8 mph this summer, Handa also features a plus slider and a developing splitter. Handa said he felt his stock beginning to rise back in May, when he threw a bullpen session in front of a large crop of evaluators before the ACC Tournament championship game in Charlotte.

Interest began to pick up, but Handa realized that he needed to pitch to live batters to further boost his profile leading into the Draft. With the help of Yale assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Josh Schulman, Handa secured a spot with the Schooners, where he posted a 0.52 ERA with 25 strikeouts over 17 innings this summer.

“Once I was able to see a lot of [scouts] there, specifically just to watch me, that’s kind of when I knew, like, ‘Look, I’ve got to show up, but also, you’ve worked really hard to get to this point, so we’ve just got to do our job,’” Handa said.

Many of Handa’s relatives gathered in Charlotte to watch the Draft this week -- including his grandmother, who flew in from India -- but the lefty was still unsure where he would end up falling.

“There were really no expectations except just hoping my name gets called,” Handa said. “Obviously, when you don’t have an Ivy League season, you really have to push yourself to get known. Luckily, the Giants were able to take a risk on me, and I’m truly thankful.”

Handa grew up rooting for the Yankees and idolized Derek Jeter as a kid, but he also enjoyed watching Giants players like Buster Posey, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, a fellow lefty from North Carolina. In San Francisco, he’s poised to reunite with his former Yale teammate Simon Whiteman, a ninth-round Draft pick in 2019 who is now playing shortstop at Double-A Richmond.

Handa said he’s also excited to work with the Giants’ well-regarded pitching coaches, including director of pitching Brian Bannister and coordinator of pitching sciences Matt Daniels, to see how he can continue to elevate his game as he begins his pro career.

“Obviously, the jump has been made now, but we’re here to get a lot better,” Handa said. “There’s a lot of things I still need to work on, and I think the Giants will be the best team for me to really pursue those goals. I’m really looking forward to working with them.”