The distance from the independent leagues to affiliated ball often feels millions of miles away for those trying to make the move, but for new Beloit starting pitcher Joey Wagman, it was only about 20 minutes up the road.
After beginning the season with the Frontier League’s Rockford (Ill.) Aviators, Wagman had his contract purchased by the Oakland A's almost two weeks ago and was assigned to Beloit, which is just across the Wisconsin-Illinois border.
"I grew up 20 minutes from Oakland and a huge A’s fan, and of course still am," - Joey Wagman said.
“I showed up to the field in Rockford last Tuesday and my manager pulled me aside and said the A’s had bought my contract,” Wagman said. “I showed up for a normal day and there was no lead-up or anticipation, it was just ‘you show up to a different field tomorrow’.
“It really couldn’t have worked out any better. I found out on a Tuesday before one of my Rockford games, so I kind of hung out the rest of the day and said goodbye to some of the guys. But it hasn’t even been a real goodbye, because I haven’t even left my host family in Rockford. The only difference is now I drive 20 minutes to Beloit, instead of five minutes to the Aviators' stadium.”
Wagman posted a 3.05 ERA in 12 appearances (11 starts) and struck out a league-best 85 batters in 76.2 innings as a member of the Aviators. This isn't Wagman's first season of pro ball. He was drafted in the 17th round by the Chicago White Sox in 2013, but was given his release this April.
“We followed him, our professional scouts took a look at his statistics, and figured maybe there was a reason why we could benefit from him,” said Snappers' manager Rick Magnante.
“It’s a four-pitch mix with fastball, curveball, slider and change. He attacks the strike zone and is not overpowering. [Beloit pitching coach Craig Lefferts] has made a couple suggestions on things he might be able to locate better and enhance his arsenal.”
Not known for having great velocity – Wagman said his fastball sits between 87-88 MPH – he has made his living with pinpoint control of his four offerings. He made his first start for the Snappers on July 31st, going seven innings and allowing just one run on three hits while striking out seven and walking none.
However, in his most recent third start, Wagman didn’t fare as well and was charged with six runs on seven hits in just 2.2 innings. After striking out 14 and walking one in his first two starts, Wagman allowed two free passes while retiring just one batter on strikes.
“I’m much more concerned about locating pitches and moving the fastball in and out, up and down, and throwing different pitches in counts where guys are looking for a fastball or in a different location,” Wagman said. “That approach is what got me here.”
In addition to moving 20 minutes to Beloit, Wagman has joined the organization he has rooted for since he was a youth in Danville. However, when he came out of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, the Monte Vista HS alum said he didn’t hear much from the A’s.
“I think the only communication I had with the A’s was I probably filled out a pre-draft questionnaire,” Wagman said. “It’s not a formal thing and doesn’t mean a whole lot. But I grew up 20 minutes from Oakland and a huge A’s fan, and of course still am. This has been a pretty cool ride for me in the past week and a half. I’m just enjoying it."