By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa.— Little more than a year ago, Altoona Curve pitcher Brandon Waddell was the toast of the college baseball world after pitching the Virginia Cavaliers to the NCAA championship in Omaha.
A year later, in his first full professional season, Waddell is pitching in the Class AA Eastern League.
“I had the experience of my life,” Waddell said of his time at Virginia. “I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
A native of Houston, Waddell wound up at Virginia “because I wanted to get out of Texas and experience another part of the country.
“I just wanted to play baseball and I didn’t really know where I wanted to go,” said Waddell, who admitted he was not highly recruited out of high school. “None of the big Texas schools were after me so I was real late committing, but it worked out for me.”
Wow, did it ever. Waddell led the Cavaliers to the NCAA finals two years in a row. They lost to Vanderbilt in the 2014 championship, but avenged that by beating the Commodores for the crown in 2015.
He also earned a degree in economics in only three years.
“I pitched five games in Omaha and was fortunate to go 5-0,” the 6-3, 180-pounder said recently at Peoples Natural Gas Field. “I went seven innings in Game 3 (for the title) in 2015.”
The Pirates then made him a fifth-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft.
“I had an advisor, but didn’t know what to expect,” Waddell said of the draft. “I was just focusing on what was ahead of me (NCAA finals). It was exciting, though. I enjoyed the whole experience, especially when you hear your name called.“ I still get chills just thinking about it.”
After signing, Waddell was sent to short-season West Virginia where he went 1-1 with a 5.75 ERA in five starts for the Black Bears. He beat Williamsport in the New York-Penn League semifinals.
“That was awesome,” he said. “It was a new stadium and a great atmosphere for my first year in pro ball.”
Waddell began 2016 in Bradenton (advanced A) and dominated the Florida State League, posting a 4-0 record and 0.93 ERA in five starts for the Marauders, earning an early promotion to Altoona.
“It’s a big jump from college to Double-A,” Curve manager Joey Cora said, “and he’s probably even surprised how fast he got here.
“He’s been up and down here, but that’s to be expected,” Cora continued. “He’ll hit some bumps, but he’s been fine and learning from each experience, and that’s what we want.”
“He’s had tons of goods and tons of not-so good,” pitching coach Justin Meccage said. “He’s learning a lot, though, and we’re starting to see adjustments.
“By the end of the year, he’ll have things figured out and that will help him next season,” Meccage added.
As of July 25, Waddell had a 7-5 record and 4.20 ERA for the Curve.
“I’ve had ups and downs, but it’s been fun,” Waddell said of his time with the Curve. “We have the best stadium in the league and Joey is an unbelievable manager. He has so much to offer, and I’m taking in as much as I can.”