Baseball Corner: HPU alumnus lands in Hoppers rotation
The Greensboro Grasshoppers will be opening the 2014 South Atlantic League season with none other than High Point University alumnus Sean Townsley in their starting rotation.
After being drafted by the Miami Marlins in the 25th round last June, the 6-foot-7 southpaw pitched in relief last summer with eye-opening results.
“We see something in Sean that we like,” said Grasshoppers manager David Berg. “Anytime you get a guy who hasn’t started before (in pro ball) and make him a starter in the minor leagues, you do it to get him innings – get him that experience you don’t get in the bullpen.”
Growing up in Fleetwood, Pa., just outside of Reading, Townsley, born Sept. 19, 1990, was a starter at Oley Valley High School, but had problems adjusting to his frame as he grew six inches from his freshman year until his graduation. He also played basketball, soccer and golf for Oley Valley.
“Early on, I realized that basketball just wasn’t my thing,” Townsley recalled. “I did soccer basically just to stay in shape. I was a goalkeeper, but I figure that baseball offered me the brightest future.”
While helping his big sister move into her dormitory at Francis Marion University, in Florence, S.C., the Pennsylvanian, appreciating South Carolina weather, threw in the bullpen at nearby Florence Darlington Technical College. Preston McDonald, Florence Darlington Tech’s baseball coach observed the high school left-hander and told him he was welcome to pitch for Stingers upon graduation if nothing else came up.
“After high school I didn’t really have any great opportunities up north,” said Townsley, who had been named Berk County (Pennnsylvania) Baseball Player of the Year. “I knew if I wanted to make a future and a name for myself, I’d have to go down south. Being from a small town in Pennsylvania, getting your name out there was basically impossible.”
After starting for two seasons at Florence Darlington Tech, the tall lefthander, who went 6-3, 3.51, as a sophomore was recruited by HPU baseball coach Craig Cozart and accepted his invitation for a visit.
“I absolutely fell in love with the area, and the campus is absolutely gorgeous,” Townsley said. “The coaching staff there is one of a kind.”
On June 4, 2011, Townsley pitching for the Florence RedWolves of the Coastal Plain League, was defeated at home by the HiToms. That was his first and last start in the CPL. The Millis Scholar athlete tore his ACL in the fourth inning, was lost the rest of his CPL season and was red-shirted his first Southern Conference season for the Panthers.
When he returned in February 2013, Cozart started Townsley in his first nine High Point games before switching him to relief. The big left-hander went 5-2, with two saves to go with a 4.08 ERA, which was considerably lowered by his move to the bullpen.
“The biggest obstacle I faced was the mentality of going to the pen,” Townsley remembered. “As a starter, you have a routine. You’re able to plan out mentally what you need to do before a game. When you’re in the pen, you’re six pitches away from going into the game. Once I adjusted to that, I fell in love with relief pitching.”
And it showed.
“Sean Townley is one of the most talented left-handed pitchers I have ever worked with,” Cozart said. “He is an intelligent, hard-working player and is a tremendous teammate.”
After drafting Townsley, the Marlins sent him to their Rookie League team in the Gulf Coast League. There he had a stingy ERA of 0.98 with three saves before his promotion, after 13 appearances, to the Batavia Muckdogs of the Short-Season-A New York-Penn League, where he had an ERA of 2.08 in 13 innings.
“I just hit the ground running when I got into the Rookie-ball squad in Florida and kept going in Batavia,” Townsley said.
In his first season as a professional, Townsley fanned 41 betters in just over 31 innings.
“I don’t really try to let the ball get into play,” Townsley said. “I like striking guys out. Who doesn’t like that feeling? But I get a lot of ground balls, and I’m happy with that.”
The HPU alumnus continued to show improvement this spring – to the point he won a spot in the Hoppers starting rotation.
“Sean’s a great kid,” said Greensboro pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “He’s pitched himself into a role that we can extend him innings and get him more looks.”
Townsley’s height helps, as well as the fact that he is left-handed.
“Sean pitches; he’s not just a thrower,” Berg added. “He locates his fastball, and his ball moves; it’s never really stays straight. I’d rather have a guy out there that can actually pitch than have a guy who throws 95 and doesn’t know where it is going.”
Townsley throws a two-seam fastball, a curve, which he describes as “being more like a knuckle slider,” and this year plans to use a change-up.
“Sean is going to be a tremendous asset for the Greensboro Grasshoppers and the entire Marlins organization,” Cozart said.
Townsley, who weighs about 240 pounds is still adjusting to the major growth spurt in height he went through at Oley Valley High.
“Baseball is a very athletic sport and it takes a long time to adjust to growing six inches in height during high school,” he said. “In the last year or so I feel like I’ve taken a few strides, and I actually feel somewhat athletic for my frame.”
The hurler may have given up basketball and soccer, but he hasn’t given up golf.
“I’ve got a tee-time tomorrow at Bryan Park,” he said.