By Gary Fauber Assistant Sports Editor | Posted: Tuesday, June 9, 2015 11:23 pm
The 2013 season saw the West Virginia Miners win their second consecutive Prospect League Championship. Manager Tim Epling absorbed a lot of bone-chilling Gatorade baths along the way.
The ringleader of those frequent celebrations unquestionably was Brandon Koch. It didn’t matter if it was the league title game or if it was a meaningless game on June 10, Koch just seemed to get a kick out of dousing his coach with a big bucket of ice water.
“He was the one who loved making my life happy or miserable,” Epling said with a laugh.
Koch’s contribution to that team went well beyond shocking his coach long before the ice bucket challenge became popular. He contributed both at the plate and as an infielder, but it was on the mound where he made his biggest impact.
Two years later, that’s how it was for Koch as a junior at Dallas Baptist, where he became one of the top closers in college baseball. On Tuesday, his evolvement was duly noted when the Tampa Bay Rays selected him in the fourth round (118th overall) of the 2015 first-year players draft.
Koch (pronounced “coke”), was brilliant as the Patriots’ closer this season. He led the team with a 1.26 earned run average and had 14 saves in 26 appearances. He struck out 76 in 43 innings and opponents hit just .160 against him.
Of the 23 hits allowed by Koch, only three went for extra bases.
No, it didn’t all start in Beckley. But Linda K. Epling Stadium was an important stop on Koch’s path to pro baseball.
“Any time you go in the top five rounds, that’s pretty daggone good,” Epling said via phone Tuesday before the Miners’ game at Butler. “When he came here, he was actually considered a two-way player. Once he started to concentrate on one position, that’s when he took off.”
Epling said Koch hit 92 miles per hour when he was with the Miners. He used his effectiveness to put together a stellar season. Only two of his 19 appearances were starts, yet he tied for the league lead with seven wins.
The right-hander was 7-3 with one save and a 2.77 ERA, 57 strikeouts in 48 2-3 innings and a .193 opponents batting average.
“When he was here, at the very beginning he struggled,” Epling recalled. “But later in the year he became very, very dangerous to the opposing team. He was just lights-out from one half of the season to the next.
“His development was similar to Jake Johansen and even Sammy Lewis (former Miners pitchers who became professionals). The way they pitched might have been different, but the way they developed was similar.”
Dallas Baptist is a program on the rise. The Patriots were ranked in the top 10 this season and hosted an NCAA regional for the first time ever.
MLB.com’s analysis of Koch went this way:
“Dallas Baptist has five Draft-eligible pitchers who can reach the mid-90s with their fastballs. Of that group, Koch has the best pure stuff but also the most violent delivery. Koch’s heater sits at 92-94 mph and touches 96. It can be overpowering at times, though it also can be hittable because it’s fairly straight and he leaves it up in the strike zone more than he should. His best offering is actually his tight 84-87 mph slider, one of the best breaking balls in the Draft. Koch relies heavily on his slider, which leads to concerns about his long-term health, as does his maximum-effort delivery. He’s physically mature at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, so what you see is what you get, but he does have two plus big league offerings.”
Epling said he got to watch Koch pitch for Dallas Baptist on television a few times this spring and noticed his competitive spirit.
“I saw him strike a guy out and he gave a fist pump,” Epling said. “He is a confident guy with a big competitive nature. If you don’t have that then somebody is going to pass you by.”
Koch could possibly return to West Virginia, starting his career with the Princeton Rays of the rookie-level Appalachian League.
The P-Rays have other connections to the Miners. Manager Danny Shaeffer’s son, David, was a catcher on last year’s team. Steve Crosier, in his third tour of duty as Princeton’s strength coach, spent the 2012 and 2014 seasons as the Miners’ hitting coach.
No other Miners were drafted through the Round 10. According to a list provided by the team, Kock is the 38th former Miner to either get drafted or sign as a free agent with a professional team since 2010.
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