Two things have remained consistent for the Dirtbags since 2001: good pitching and Troy Buckley.
Buckley, who has spent 10 of the last 12 years in the Long Beach State dugout and has been head coach since 2011, is, as the Dirtbags media guide puts it, “one of the most respected pitching coaches in the nation.”
Before Buckley turned from player to coach, he was a star catcher at Santa Clara University, posting numbers that are still in the record books. At Santa Clara, Buckley was named the 1988 WCC Player of the year after batting .442 with 82 RBIs.
After being drafted in the ninth round by the Minnesota Twins in 1989, Buckley spent the next six years of his career playing in the minor leagues for the Twins, Cincinnati Reds and Montreal Exposorganizations. He eventually reached a point in his playing career when he decided it was time to hang up the cleats and become a coach.
“I always wanted to be a part of the game, and there was a point where I could have kept going, but I had the opportunity to coach,” Buckley said. “I didn’t know if I wanted to do it long-term, but at the time I knew I liked being around the game, and I liked the camaraderie with the players and everything like that. So I gave it a chance, and I was fortunate enough to be around a lot of good people.”
It was while he was in the Expos system that Buckley first came in contact with the person that would eventually lead him to LBSU, Dave Malpass.
“Troy [Buckley] was a catcher that played to Triple-A and actually became a coach in Triple-A,” Malpass said. “He knew what he wanted to do and asked our pitching coordinator at the time, a guy named Jim Benedict. Troy asked [Benedict if he could] go all the way down to the Gulf Coast League to become a pitching coach.”
After coaching in the minors for a few years, Buckley eventually came back and coached at the college level, where he was an assistant coach at Santa Clara from 1998 to 2000. He then moved on to LBSU in 2001 when then-head coach Dave Snow retired after a successful 29-year coaching career
Since his arrival at The Beach, Buckley has seen nine former pitchers of his be drafted in the first three rounds of the MLB draft after developing their craft under him.
The most popular name in the group is Los Angeles Angels ace Jered Weaver, who was taken with the 12th pick in the 2004 amateur draft. Weaver won the Big West Pitcher of the Year award and was named the National Player of the Year in 2004 when he went 15-1 with 213 strikeouts and a 1.62 ERA. Not all of Buckley’s understudies have had the success of Weaver, but seven more have made it to the majors, including the Angels’ Jason Vargas and the Twins’ Vance Worley.
Malpass, who is currently a scout for the Cleveland Indians, said Buckley had an important role in developing pitchers that weren’t exactly elite prospects before coming to LBSU.
“He has made guys into players that certainly weren’t the most sought after,” Malpass said. “Whether it be with Jered Weaver or Vargas, or other guys that didn’t achieve the same success as [Weaver], he’s been a great teacher and a great developer.”
Buckley spent six years as a pitching coach developing some of the best arms in the Dirtbags’ history. His success earned him a stint in the majors, as he worked as pitching coordinator for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2007 to 2009.
Buckley then returned to LBSU in 2010 to take over the head-coaching job from Mike Weathers, who had announced his retirement mid-season. LBSU saw an immediate improvement in the pitching staff upon Buckley’s takeover, as the team ERA dropped from 4.67 to a Big West-best 3.08 in just two seasons.
The Dirtbags are looking to keep improving, and a 2013 pitching staff led by Shane Carle, Jake Stassi and Jon Maciel gives them a good chance to do so.
David Yamane, the director of baseball operations at LBSU, named these three as the next group of Buckley pitchers to reach the next level.
“I would be surprised if those three went undrafted,” Yamane said.
Buckley said he also sees the potential in the trio, putting the emphasis on each player’s style, mechanics and mentality.
“I think they all have the chance to be successful,” Buckley said. “So it’s the comparing and the contrasting of everyone has different weapons, and everyone has different stuff. I think a common theme with guys that have been successful and are successful is that they’re aggressive, they throw a lot of strikes, they know how to pitch, and they’re not afraid of failure.”
LBSU junior left-hander Jake Stassi said he is aware that he may be drafted someday, but right now he is focused on the task at hand.
“There is no predicting it, and there is no way to tell if I’m going to go at all, or when, so I’m not worried about it,” Stassi said. “I’m just worried about what I can control right now and taking care of this season. We’ll see about the draft later.”
The odds of Stassi accomplishing his long-term goal of making the big leagues are certainly better because of his time under Buckley. One of the quickest to give Buckley an endorsement is Malpass, who has made a career out of judging baseball talent.
“If I had a son who was a pitching prospect and thought that he had a future as a pitcher,” he said, “there is no one else I would rather send my son to than Troy.”
The LBSU pitchers are being counted on once again this season. The Dirtbags’ bats have been especially cold this year, as the team batting average of .254 is second-worst in the Big West. Carle, Stassi and freshman starter David Hill will look to continue to keep the team in games this weekend, when LBSU hosts UC Davis in a three-game series.