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Joe Serafin’s Underdog Story

Posted By Brian Joura On August 30, 2009 @ 3:55 pm In Sleepers,Starting Pitchers | 5 Comments

Chances are you have never heard of Joe Serafin, a pitcher in the minors with the Kannapolis Intimidators, the low-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. But if Serafin ever makes it to the majors, his story has all of the makings of a Hollywood movie.

Everyone always makes a big deal out of Mike Piazza being a 62nd-round draft pick. Today, the draft does not last that long; still the odds of someone making the majors after the first 10 rounds are slim. The White Sox picked Serafin on the 37th round this past June, the 1,123rd player taken overall.

Furthermore, Serafin was a fifth-year senior. In his final college season he went 4-7 with a 6.26 ERA. And it is not like Serafin was at one of the elite programs. He graduated from the University of Vermont, a program which has sent just 12 players to the majors, only two of which started their careers after the end of World War II.

Perhaps the most famous University of Vermont baseball alum was the last one from the school to reach the majors – Kirk McCaskill. Regardless, Serafin has a chance to be the final Catamount to play in MLB. Vermont AD Robert Corran announced in February that the school was dropping its baseball program following the 2009 season, which was the 110th season the school had a baseball team.

“We found out the week before we left for Vanderbilt to play our first weekend games,” Serafin told Tim Hayes of the Bristol Herald Courier. “Our [athletic director] came out, he’s a big hockey and basketball guy, and read off a piece of paper … It was a very emotional year.”

Another thing adding to the mystique around Serafin is his size. Depending upon the source, he is listed at either 5-10 or 5-11, a height he might reach if he donned some 1970s platform shoes. Serafin resembles someone much more likely to be at a Phish concert than at a Donna Summer show, so his choice of footwear probably had little to do with his “official” height.

This year at Kannapolis, Serafin has an impressive 4.00 K/BB ratio. But before you think of him as a Billy Wagner clone, Serafin does not even crack 90 with his fastball.

“I don’t throw my fastball very hard so I can’t blow it by people,” Serafin told the News and Record. “Up here I’ve been keeping it down in the zone, moving it in and out and hitting corners, which has really led to my success.”

After the draft, the White Sox assigned him to the rookie level Appalachian League and installed him in the bullpen. He got off to a hot start and won the loop’s Player of the Week Award honors by pitching five scoreless innings with six strikeouts in his first two professional games.

That got him into the rotation, where he went 3-1 in five starts with a 1.93 ERA. Once the White Sox executed the Jake Peavy deal and traded away four pitchers, including Dexter Carter, a spot opened up at Kannapolis and Serafin found himself in full-season ball. Saturday night’s win, in which he allowed just 1 ER in 7 IP, upped his record in the South Atlantic League to 3-1 and he has a 7-2 mark overall in his first season in pro ball.

“Since joining the White Sox I have continued to be the same crafty lefty who hits my spots and changes speeds with my curveball, and sometimes a good change up,” Serafin told Shane Bufano of the Vermont Sports Network.

“One day in Bristol during a bullpen (session) my pitching coach taught me how to throw a sinker/2-seam fast ball that tails away and sinks from a right handed hitter. This new pitch allows me to get ground balls in 2-0 counts and I throw it mostly with runners on base to give my infielders a chance to turn a double play. It has been very successful so far.”

The low minors are littered with soft-tossing college pitchers who post good strikeout numbers. Historically, Double-A is the level which weeds out most of these players.

Yet there is a lot to like with Serafin, who has already overcome many obstacles in his career. An undersized lefty, a late bloomer, a low draft pick from a school which no longer plays baseball and a soft tosser all rolled into one.

The only question is who will play him in the movie.


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