Another superb Kellogg season at ASU

* LHP Ryan Kellogg (Whitby, Ont.) is one Canuck standing tall for the Arizona State Sun Devils. He's 8-1 in 14 starts with a 3.45 ERA. ....

Canadian stands tall in desert

Jeff Dahn
Perfect Game Scouting USA

PHOENIX – The assessment – more of a critique, really – was blunt and to the point. It came on Saturday, Feb. 28, after Arizona State first-year head coach Tracy Smith had watched starting pitcher Ryan Kellogg give up a leadoff home run with his first pitch of the game, induce a bases-loaded double-play in that same top-of-the-first inning, and then settle-in to pitch an eight-inning, nine-hitter in the Sun Devils’ 5-2 non-conference win over Gonzaga.

“He has better than average stuff, but he doesn’t have great stuff,” Smith told a reporter from ASU’s student newspaper, The State Press, after Kellogg’s early season outing. “What separates him and why he has probably won a lot of games (at ASU) is that he competes, and I’ll take that any day of the week.”

Now midway through his junior season at ASU, Kellogg has learned to compete at an elite level for Smith, pitching coach Brandon Higelin and all of his Sun Devils teammates. Kellogg is a 6-foot-5, 225-pound, 21-year-old, junior left-hander from Whitby, Ont., who has compiled a 24-4 record with a 3.41 ERA in his 2½ years in Tempe.

Those totals include the 8-1 record and 3.45 ERA he takes into his scheduled start Friday night against USC in Los Angeles. In 14 starts this season, he has given up 18 runs on 106 hits over 101 2/3 innings of work, striking out 78 and walking 17.

Kellogg pitched 103 innings in each of his freshman and sophomore seasons while compiling a 19-4 record. He is on pace to throw more innings this season depending, of course, on how far into the postseason the Sun Devils advance; he has struck out 156 and walked 47 in 255 2/3 career innings.

Additionally, he was named First Team All-Pacific-12 Conference after both his freshman and sophomore seasons, and the mechanical engineering major is a four-time Scholar-Baller, a national Academic Momentum Award.

“The best thing about Ryan is that he knows who he is, and when he’s out there he’s always himself. A lot of the great pitchers know who they are and they don’t try to be anybody different,” Higelin told PG last week. “He’s throwing a little bit harder than he did in the past – he’s up to 92-93 (mph) most games, which is very good for a (6-5) left-hander – but it’s just his command, his demeanor; he’s just unbelievable.”

Kellogg’s journey to this point in his career has not been typical. It’s not every day a kid from Canada lands at ASU and finds himself pitching frequently in historic and beautifully remodeled Phoenix Municipal Stadium, which became the Sun Devils’ home field this season.

The Toronto Blue Jays selected Kellogg in the 12th round of the 2012 draft from the Ontario Prospects in Whitby. He gave a lot of consideration to signing with the Blue Jays, but after talking it over with his family and his advisor, he decided school was the best fit for him at that point in his life.

“It’s a little different from back home – weather-wise, to say the least,” Kellogg told PG during ASU’s late-March Pac-12 series against Stanford at Phoenix Muni. “I’ve really enjoyed my time here and I’m really glad that I decided to come to (college) instead of signing (professionally) right out of high school.

“I feel that it has been really good for my development on and off the field, so I’ve loved my time down here and I’m really happy to be here.”

Kellogg honed his game playing not just high school baseball, but also travel ball and one season with the Canadian Junior National Team, when he was named its Most Valuable Player. Even with all the success he’s enjoyed at ASU, he still calls the 8 2/3 shutout innings he pitched in Team Canada’s 1-0 win over Team USA in a game played in Korea as his most exciting moment in sports.

He credits two pitching coaches he worked with while in high school – Chris Reitsma with Team Canada and Chris Kemlo with the Ontario Prospects – as having the biggest influence on his baseball career.

Kellogg played in two Perfect Game tournaments, both in 2011. The first was the PG WWBA Northeast Qualifier #2 in Yaphank, N.Y., with the Ontario Prospects, and the second was the prestigious, heavily scouted PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., with Team British Columbia.

“They’re really well-run events with a ton of scouts all around,” he said of his PG experiences. “It’s a great way to get seen and I know we have a lot of guys on this team that have also done them and it’s worked out well for them, too.”

The PG WWBA World Championship – known simply as “Jupiter” to most baseball people – was especially eye-opening for the young Kellogg, with its 100s of scouts zipping around the Roger Dean Stadium Complex in hundreds of golf carts.

A total of 25 prospects in attendance at the 2011 PG WWBA World eventually became first-round draft picks and another 13 were first-round compensation selections.

“It was crazy to see 30 radar guns go up right behind home plate when you’re pitching,” Kellogg said, smiling at the recollection. “You have to be like, ‘All right, just try to get guys out and hopefully somebody will like you.’ But I really enjoyed my time down there and it was definitely a new experience; I wasn’t really familiar with all that.”

Despite those experiences, Kellogg said he really wasn’t sure what he was getting himself into by becoming part of the elite NCAA Division I program at ASU. The lack of emphasis on both high school and college baseball in his native Canada left him with more questions than answers.

Any apprehension he experienced was quickly assuaged once he reached campus and went to his first workout in the fall of 2012. With the help of the players and coaches on campus at the time – Kellogg was recruited by the staff of former head coach Tim Esmay – he came to realize the program’s expectations. That, in turn, helped him in his preparation for what would become an All-Pac 12 freshman season.

Now, 2 1/2 years later, Kellogg is the Sun Devils’ Saturday night starter, a slot generally considered the No. 2 position in the starting rotation, with the Friday night starter recognized as No. 1. Sophomore right-hander Seth Martinez has been the Sun Devils’ Friday night starter most of the season.

“I honestly think he could pitch on Fridays for anybody in the country,” Higelin said. “I think for us, having him on Saturdays is a luxury because of his ability to go deep in ballgames and he just goes out there and wins; he’s been a winner everywhere.”

And the fact that Kellogg is enjoying success as a native Canadian doesn’t surprise Higelin at all. There is a long list of Canadians that have reached the major leagues, including current players like Joey Votto, Justin Morneau and Russell Martin.

“He won when he was in high school and his work ethic is second to none, and he’s right up there mentally with (anyone). His desire to work every day to get better is unreal,” Higelin said.

“I feel like I’ve really matured,” Kellogg said of his time in Tempe. “I’ve really developed all of my pitches, and I think that’s been the biggest thing – my secondary stuff wasn’t that great in high school – so I was able to come down here and work on that.”

Kellogg believes he has benefitted by having two pitching coaches in his three years at ASU. He worked with Esmay’s pitching coach Ken Knutson for two years before that staff was replaced by Smith and Higelin last July. He appreciates that he has experienced two different perspectives as to how pitchers should pitch in the same situation and that has helped his progression.

The non-conference portion of the schedule was bumpy for the Sun Devils at times, as the players worked to familiarize themselves with Smith and the new staff. They went 10-5 in non-conference play (and have since beat New Mexico State) and lost their Pac-12 opener to Oregon State, which left them with a 10-6 overall record.

They proceeded to win 10 of their next 11 games – taking Pac-12 series from Oregon State, Oregon and Stanford in the process – and stood 20-7 overall (8-2 Pac-12) after Thursday’s 5-3, 12-inning win in the first of three games at Utah. Four of ASU’s 19 wins have been of the walk-off variety.

“Walk-offs have sort of become a thing for us,” Kellogg said. “It’s kind of hard on the heart – little ‘cardiac devils’ is what we call it – but it’s been fun and it’s been a good season so far; I can’t complain.”

The ASU Sun Devils are consumed by tunnel vision these days, staring straight ahead at the dual goals of winning a Pac-12 regular season championship, a Pac-12 Tournament championship and then making a run to Omaha and the College World Series for the first time since 2010.

At some point Kellogg will also have to consider the upcoming MLB June First-Year Player Draft to see what result it will bring. In the preseason, Perfect Game ranked Kellogg as the No. 129th overall (college, junior college, high school) prospect in the draft and the No. 59-ranked college junior. His junior ASU teammates Brett Lilek, Ryan Burr and David Graybill are also expected to hear their names called during the draft.

“You have to take it one day at a time. You can’t start worrying about it now, it’s still three months away,” Kellogg said in April of the draft. “You have to take it a day a time and just enjoy (the college season) because you never know when this is going to be over. This has been a great three years so far and I’m just trying to make the most of it.”