The six-month wait is over.
After firing former pitching coach Brandon Higelin in January before the start of the 2017 season, Arizona State has hired longtime minor league pitching coach Mike Cather to fill the vacancy, the program announced Wednesday.
“After an extensive and diligent national search, we’ve found a pitching coach whose credentials match the unique requirements of ASU Baseball. We wanted a candidate whose solid base of knowledge and deep experience in the professional ranks best suits him to guide and develop young pitchers to thrive in the baseball-rich environment at Arizona State University,” ASU head coach Tracy Smith said in a Sun Devil Athletics press release. “The high caliber recruits we pursue at ASU all share the same mindset. They choose to be educated at a world-class university while honing their skills for a long career in professional baseball.”
Cather played professionally for 10 years — three in the MLB with the Atlanta Braves from 1997-99 — before beginning his coaching career. He was a private instructor for pitchers from 2001-05, then spent 2006-15 in the minor leagues working for five different organizations over that span.
He has made major league connections from all over throughout his career. Cather worked as a pitching coach under former ASU baseball coach Pat Murphy in Triple-A El Paso with the San Diego Padres organization. He’s also worked for Theo Epstein, the Cubs president of baseball operations, twice — once with Boston and then with Chicago, where his Triple-A Iowa Cubs staff tallied the best ERA in the Pacific Coast League.
“Arizona State is traditionally an exceptional baseball institution and there’s a different chemistry and drive to the players that come here,” Cather said in the release. “For me, it makes a lot of a sense to come to a place where I can provide my insight from the professional side and help these players achieve those goals of competing at the next level.”
Cather began his coaching career in 2006 with the Boston Red Sox. In 2010, after he’d already worked as a minor league pitching coach for a few years, Cather was named one of the club’s major league scouts, meaning he provided reports on the major league staff.
Although admittedly not ideal, ASU head coach Tracy Smith took on the pitching coach duties during the 2017 season. During the season, Smith said his mindset is to fix something when it’s broken, so when he realized pitching was a piece of the program that needed improvement, he relieved Higelin of his duties to allow ample time to make the right hire.
The Sun Devils finished the year with a 5.53 team ERA, which ranked 10th out of 11 teams in the Pac-12. They were dead last in opposing batting average, hits allowed and runs allowed, eighth in strikeouts and tied for ninth in walks allowed.
“Did (the pitchers) suffer to some extent? Absolutely, because I wasn’t able to devote the time, especially because of all the losing,” Smith said in a June 22 interview in his Phoenix Municipal Stadium office. “That creates a whole different element.”
One positive in a down year was left-hander Connor Higgins, who was the only Sun Devil selected in this year’s MLB Draft. Higgins, who had a 3.92 ERA and four saves, was ASU’s top relief pitcher and has announced he’ll return to school next year. He is expected to anchor next year’s starting rotation.
ASU’s lengthy search for a pitching coach took its turns. According to a source close to the team, Smith was interested in Houston’s Frank Anderson before he took a job as Tennessee’s pitching coach. Smith also looked at Stanford’s Rusty Filter and Washington’s Jason Kelly, the source said.
Filter took a head coaching job at Santa Clara and Kelly stayed put in Washington. Last Friday, D1baseball’s Kendall Rogers reported that ASU was in “hard pursuit” of Oregon pitching coach Jason Dietrich.
In the June 22 interview, Smith discussed wanting players who aren’t solely focused on their professional careers but also strive to win championships. It seems his pitching coach is a suitable fit to help the players do both.
“The biggest thing for me in accepting this position was having the chance to develop players for multiple years,” Cather said in the press release. “Player development has always been my first love. I love teaching and have a passion for helping. My driving force is to see the light bulb go off in a young man’s head when things click.”