Steve Ascher, who was a Yankees fan growing up, may one day get the chance to pitch against the Bronx bombers — as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays made Ascher, a 20-year-old left-hander from Cutchogue, their choice in the 17th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft on Saturday.
“It’s honestly a dream come true,” said the SUNY/Oneonta junior, who was the 517th player taken. More than half of the 1,215 selections in the 40-round draft that started last Thursday and concluded Saturday were pitchers.
Ascher, who was a standout for Mattituck High School, leading the Tuckers to a Long Island championship in 2011, said he thought he might be drafted in the 10th round.
“I was hoping I would be called the day before,” he said. “I thought I would be disappointed but you can’t be disappointed when you’re drafted.”
Before the draft, Ascher had reported to the Cotuit Kettleers of the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League. This is his account of how events unfolded:
On Friday night he talked to an advisor who said he had received calls from the Kansas City Royals and the Rays, expressing an interest in selecting him. He also received a call from the Mets, inquiring about his signability. On Saturday, Ascher was leaving for a doubleheader when he took a call from a Royals scout who asked if he was still signable. “I told him I was,” said Ascher.
The Kettleers players who were draft eligible were permitted to carry a cellphone in their pocket. While the Kettleers played in the doubleheader Saturday (Ascher wasn’t scheduled to pitch until Monday), Ascher was involved in another game of his own: a waiting game.
Ascher was near the dugout when he received the first inkling that something significant had happened. He received a text from an Arizona Diamondbacks scout. It read simply, “Congrats, brother.”
Then he learned he had been drafted.
Ascher said he has received a flood of digital support through social media. “I all of a sudden became popular,” he said. “My phone and my social media has blown up.”
Ascher said he had 300 likes on his Facebook page. “I don’t even know if I know 300 people,” he said.
Among those Ascher heard from were members of the current Mattituck High School team, which that day had lost to Rye Neck in a regional final.
Ascher posted the following message to his Twitter account on Saturday: “Thank you for all the support and congratulations. It means a lot!! It’s amazing to be a part of the RaysBaseball!!#DreamComeTrue”
— Steven Ascher (@StevenAscher) June 8, 2014
This has been a magical year for Ascher. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound hurler was presented with the Don Axtell Pitcher of the Year award, given to the top pitcher in the State University of New York Athletic Conference. Ascher posted a 6-4 record with a 1.82 earned run average for SUNY/Oneonta this past season. He struck out 82 and walked 20 in 69 1/3 innings, the most thrown by any of the Oneonta pitchers.
“He had a phenomenal year,” said SUNY/Oneonta coach Ben Grimm.
Last summer may have been a breakthrough of sorts for Ascher. He said his fastball was timed as fast as 92 miles per hour while pitching for the Danbury (Conn.) Westerners in the New England College Baseball League. He went 4-2 with a 3.88 ERA, 35 strikeouts and nine walks in 44 innings that summer.
Grimm said he noticed a difference when Ascher returned to school after that summer season. “When he came back he was a different pitcher,” said the coach.
Ascher had pre-draft workouts with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Rays and the Mets. One of his workouts for the Mets was at Citi Field, a bullpen session in front of about 30 scouts, not to mention Jeff Wilpon, chief operating officer of the Mets, and the Mets’ general manager, Sandy Alderson.
“I thought I did the best I possibly could,” said Ascher, who reached 93 miles per hour in the workouts.
In a story on rayscoloredglasses.com, Drew Jenkins wrote that the Rays had managed to find a pitcher “with some polish in Steve Ascher” who could turn out to be a nice value from the 17th round. “Ascher is never going to dominate with stuff, but he features a solid 4 pitch arsenal,” Jenkins wrote. “He will come at hitters with a 4-seam fastball, and compliments [sic] it well with a slider, a slow curve, and a changeup. The changeup is the best of the three, and there is a chance he will ditch the slider as a pro.”
Ascher surely made his mark at Mattituck High School where he was a second team All-State player as a senior. Ascher had a remarkable senior year with the Tuckers, setting school records for wins (11) and strikeouts (119) in a season. He had a 0.68 ERA from the 72 innings he pitched that 2011 season.
Speaking of Ascher being drafted, Mattituck coach Steve DeCaro said: “I think it’s just a smaller achievement on the way to a bigger achievement. He’s going to go places, I think.”
For one thing, DeCaro said, Ascher has the right temperament. He said Ascher can give up a home run and then get right back to business without allowing it to bother him.
Ascher’s ever-present smile used to bother DeCaro, who took it as a sign that he wasn’t taking baseball seriously. “When he was young it used to drive me crazy,” said the coach.
DeCaro said it wasn’t until Ascher’s junior year that he came to realize that the smile was just a reflection of Ascher’s personality.
DeCaro pointed out that Ascher is one of four players from Suffolk County League VII in 2010 who have been drafted. The others are Chris Pike of Southampton (Rays), Tyler Badomo of Mount Sinai (Mets) and Max Watt of Babylon (Red Sox).
Ascher, who has an agent, Mike Giorgio, returned to his Cutchogue home on Sunday. Wearing a purple Rays cap and Rays shirt, Ascher put pen to paper, inking a contract with the team on Monday. Ascher said he is to fly Fort Myers, Fla., this week for a physical and mini-camp before joining the Princeton Rays to play rookie ball in Princeton, W.Va.
“I just want to make sure I stay working hard, stay dedicated and climb up the ranks,” he said. “I want to be in the pros.”
Grimm said he had a feeling that SUNY/Oneonta would lose a good pitcher in Ascher. He acknowledged mixed feelings, being happy for Ascher but also lamenting his departure. “You’d love to have him back as a senior because he’s a great ballplayer … but at the same time we had a gut feeling,” said Grimm.
DeCaro, who is a Mets fan, said he had hoped, for selfish reasons, that the Mets would pick Ascher.
“Now I’m a Tampa Rays fan,” he said. “There will be no divided loyalties, believe me. If Steven’s pitching, there’s my loyalty right there.”