Senior right-hand pitcher Stephen Yancey is on a roll.
The senior right-hander is 3-0, having only allowed one run in three starts for the Rams this season. The business major was named the Sooner Athletic Conference Player of the Week for his first start, a 1-0 win over Bethany College on Feb. 3 that kicked off the 2018 season and saw him throw 10 strikeouts in six innings, according to ramsports.net.
“It’s really good just because that was like that was very first game of the season,” Yancey said. “Especially when you’re playing a series of three games. So winning the first is huge to have that energy for the other two. But, of course, it’s a lot easier to pitch when you have a big lead.”
Junior pitcher and exercise major Parker Robinson predicted Yancey would get the SAC honor.
“Opening weekend before Yancey went out for his first start, I told him that he was gonna get conference player of the week,” Robinson said. “He kinda just like laughed about it and shrugged it off. We kinda took it lightly as a joke and stuff, but I was tryna motivate him to help him go out there and do this thing. After we won that game one to nothin’, on Monday, whenever the news came out, as soon as he found out, he texted me like, ‘Dude, I got it, holy cow.’”
Robinson said the achievement is a sign for things to come.
“To get it on opening weekend and making a statement on how the season’s supposed to go and how well he’s prepared for the season – he just kinda deserved it, ya know?” Robinson said.
Yancey’s played for Wesleyan since his freshman year in 2014. Taking the game seriously at a young age, he played Select Baseball for teams like the Arlington A’s and the Dallas Dodgers. The next phase was South Grand Prairie High School, where he pitched under Coach Dennis Pelfrey, who Yancey said helped push him to where he is now.
“Coach Pelfrey was a great coach because he was very relationship and task oriented. He was hard on players at times, but also joked around and could have fun with us,” Yancey said. “He worked on my hitting and pitching mechanics, which helped me excel to the next level. Playing baseball in high school was a lot different than select baseball. We had practice every day and could constantly get better due to more practice time.”
It was Pelfrey who lead Yancey to Wesleyan, recommending him to Head Coach Mike Jeffcoat.
“[Pelfrey] gave me a call,” Jeffcoat said. “He said, ‘Hey Mike, I got this high school player over here. I think he’s a late bloomer, but I think he has potential.’ [So then, I] got him over here, got him to throw a bullpen. I liked it, and we signed him.”
Jeffcoat said Wesleyan has served as a sort of home for talent like Yancey to grow and reach new heights.
“There are young men who, for whatever reason, can’t go Division I,” he said. “Maybe grades, the cost, or they’re late bloomers, what I call talent spurts, and they come over here, figure some things out, really get it going, and are able to get a shot at playing on the professional level.”
The particular place Yancey’s bloomed as a player is in his velocity, a strength he’s done well to refine enough to attract scouts.
“He was only about a mid-80s pitcher his freshman year,” Jeffcoat said. “And in his sophomore, he was touching 90, and last year, he got it up to 95. He seems to be maintaining that velocity this year better than what he was last year.”
Yancey is already in the process of securing himself a new home after Wesleyan.
“The main plan right now is to play minor league baseball and hopefully get drafted by an MLB team,” Yancey said. “There’s about seven or eight teams that have contacted me and that I’ve filled out information for. They come to my games, video me and watch me pitch and stuff.”
Out of those seven or eight teams, the one Yancey has his eye on is the Seattle Mariners. In addition to his play at Wesleyan, he garnered attention by playing for Minnesota’s Duluth Huskies in the summer of 2017.
Yancey said he loved taking in the scenery in Minnesota while pitching for the Huskies.
“It was really fun,” he said. “We played pretty much a baseball game every single day. Most of the time, we played at night, so that was pretty cool. We played in [places like] North Dakota [and] Wisconsin against players from big Division I schools. The level of competition was definitely higher. You never know who’s watching up there for like MLB teams, so you always wanted to play the hardest.”
At the time Yancey pitched for the Huskies, field manager Daniel Hersey was the coach. Even though he hasn’t coached since then, Hersey can still recall Yancey’s performance.
“He did an outstanding job, whenever he was called upon to come in and pitch. He was a guy that we could lean on,” Hersey said. “He did all of his extra work and maintained his arm. He was a great asset to our program.”
The Huskies didn’t have the best record last summer, going 31-41. Yancey had a 4.11 ERA with two wins and one loss in 15 games. However, Hersey believes everybody that played still got better.
“In the whole scheme of things, I believe everybody that came up got a good experience,” Hersey said. “I kinda classify [playing with the Huskies] as a minor league internship, [with] all the travel, playing day in and day out, taking care of their bodies and performing at a high level. If they can do this, hopefully, they’ll get to the minor leagues, and then eventually to the major leagues.”
2018 marks Yancey’s final season on the mound for the Rams. He said he wants to accomplish two things.
“Having a winning season for the team, have fun with all my friends this year, especially on road trips and staying in the hotels,” Yancey said, “but also, [trying] to play well enough and ‘show off,’ I guess, for the MLB scouts. I’m tryna play at the next level after this year.”
Robinson said those expectations are already on track.
“The season’s kinda exceeded expectations,” Robinson said. “Some of the other outside teams weren’t expecting great things any more, but we jumped out to a 3-1 start, and I think we’ll just keep this momentum. The thing is, we’re not even playing our best baseball yet.”
While the future is definitely a big thing for Yancey, right now, the present is what he is focusing on.
“I can’t say I have anything specific I want to accomplish in the MLB since I’m not there yet!” Yancey said. “My main goal right now is focusing on school, winning at the college level, and making memories with friends that will last a lifetime. Making to the MLB is just the icing on top. If I did make it, I definitely want to become one of the most successful, hard-working, and dedicated pitchers to ever play the game.”