Ball Star

Cardinals’ Rosenthal saw his career take off at Kansas junior college

Updated: 2013-10-16T04:35:01Z

By PETE GRATHOFF

The Kansas City Star

Should the Cardinals advance to the World Series, they may owe a small debt of gratitude to the coaching staff at Cowley County Community College in Arkansas City, Kan.

In the fall of 2008, Lee’s Summit West graduate Trevor Rosenthal was playing shortstop and pitching for the Tigers. However, head coach Dave Burroughs and his assistant, brother Darren Burroughs, had a chat with Rosenthal that winter.

“He was not having an opportunity to develop because his arm was sore from being a position player, a shortstop,” Darren Burroughs said in a phone interview. “It wasn’t allowing him to give maximum effort toward pitching. Once we got him on the mound and talked to him about realizing that would be his future, that’s when he started making jumps on the mound.”

“By the end of the year, when we went to the World Series in Colorado, on their gun, he was up to 97 mph.”

At the 2009 Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference tournament in Wichita, Cardinals scout Aaron Looper watched Rosenthal (who had a 3.18 ERA in 34 innings over 21 games) and convinced the Cardinals to draft Rosenthal in the 21st-round of that year’s draft.

Rosenthal soared through the Cardinals’ system and made his major-league debut in the summer of 2012. He was so impressive that the Cardinals added him to their postseason roster last fall and he made seven scoreless appearances covering 8 2/3 innings, allowing just two hits and two walks with 15 strikeouts.

Hitting 97 on the gun at the NJCAA Division I Baseball Championship in Grand Junction, Colo., in 2009 was just the start. Rosenthal has regularly reached 100 mph since joining the Cardinals.

“There’s not a lot of 95, 97s in junior-college baseball,” Burroughs said. “Trevor has done well on his own. He’s worked on his secondary stuff. He had a breaking ball here. Quite honestly, didn’t have to use it a whole lot — had a pretty good breaking ball — but was throwing the fastball by everyone. He was closing for us also. He worked on his secondary stuff in the bullpen a lot, but didn’t have an opportunity to use it a lot.”

Rosenthal, just 23, was used in a set-up role at the start of this season by the Cardinals, but he grabbed the closer’s role when Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny replaced Edward Mujica. Rosenthal, who had a 2.63 ERA in the regular season while striking out 108 batters in 75 1/3 innings, got saves in his first three opportunities in September.

Matheny initially said he was going with a bullpen by committee, but Rosenthal was called upon to close out two games against Pittsburgh in the divisional series, then got the save in game two of the NLCS, a 1-0 win over the Dodgers. He also got the save Tuesday night in the Cardinals’ 4-2 win in game four.

Rosenthal’s trajectory in the majors mirrors that of his time at Cowley County.

“He just gradually got better and got better,” Burroughs said. “Probably the first or middle of March is when we made him a full-time pitcher. When he first jumped in there, his fastball just started getting better and better. Basically, that’s kind of how the story goes.”

• Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t heard of Cowley County Community College, although it has a rich baseball history.

The Tigers have won 15 Jayhawk Conference Eastern Division titles in the past 19 seasons, and made six trips to the Junior College World Series in the past 17 seasons.

At this point, Rosenthal is not the biggest name to come from Cowley County. Travis Hafner, who played last season with the Yankees after spending 10 years with the Indians and one with the Rangers, has had a great career (213 career home runs).

Junior Spivey, who was an All-Star with the Diamondbacks in 2002, also played there. Pitchers Travis Hughes (Rangers and Nationals) and Dustin Richardson (Red Sox) also have made it to the majors.

To reach Pete Grathoff, call 816-234-4330 or send email to pgrathoff@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/pgrathoff

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