Former Baylor aces help Mets, Rangers to division titles

Officially, Baylor Night at Globe Life Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, this season was June 12 when the Texas Rangers hosted the Minnesota Twins. Theoretically, though, it took place two months earlier--April 12--when former Baylor pitchers Shawn Tolleson (2007-2010) and Logan Verrett (2009-2011) both made relief appearances for the Rangers.

Six months later, the duo found themselves in the playoffs but in vastly different roles than the ones they filled in April. Verrett wasn't even with the Rangers anymore.

"For us to spend that first part of the season together, it was fun," Tolleson said. "It was neat to be there for his debut and show him along, teach him a few things about how it works. I was sad to see him go."

Verrett, who made his Major League debut April 8 at Oakland, experienced a whirlwind 2015 season. A third-round draft selection of the New York Mets in 2011, Verrett was left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft, and the Baltimore Orioles claimed his rights. After spending most of spring training with the Orioles, he was released and claimed off waivers by the Rangers.

That April 8 outing was the first of four appearances with the Rangers for Verrett, a native of The Woodlands and product of Corpus Christi's Calallen High School. After being designated for assignment in late April, Verrett returned to his original professional organization--the Mets--two weeks later.

"Being with the Rangers was great," Verrett said. "But once I got released, I didn't want to go back into another high-pressure, perform-now situation."

The Mets' familiarity with Verrett proved beneficial. They were able to send him back to Triple-A Las Vegas where he could work with 1988 Cy Young Award winner Frank Viola, who had been Verrett's pitching coach with Class-A Savannah in 2012.

"He understands me as a pitcher," Verrett said of Viola. "He knows my strengths, my weaknesses, what I need to work on, and what it takes for me personally to get to the next level. He got me back on track and back to where I felt confident and that I could succeed."

Verrett spent six weeks with Las Vegas before joining the Mets in mid-June. He worked two perfect innings with four strikeouts against the Toronto Blue Jays in his first game with the Mets. Three weeks later, he struck out three over three scoreless innings for his first career save.

After another month-long stretch with Las Vegas, Verrett returned to New York in mid- August as the Mets were beginning to establish themselves as the team to beat in the National League East Division. Verrett made his first career major-league start Aug. 23 at Colorado, holding the Rockies to one run on four hits and a walk with eight strikeouts over eight innings en route to his first career MLB win.

14 appearances. He established himself as another quality young arm in a Mets arsenal that is considered one of baseball's best with names like Jacob deGrom, Noah Snydergaard and Matt Harvey.

"It's been great to get back with these guys," Verrett said. "I came up through the minor leagues with (them). To rejoin these guys that I've grinded it out with in the past has been great. We feed off each other. Just watching these guys and the level at which they pitch makes me better."

Four weeks after Verrett's departure from the Rangers, Tolleson pitched a scoreless ninth inning in a 2-1 Rangers victory over the Boston Red Sox. It was Tolleson's first major-league save--but hardly his last.

First-year manager Jeff Bannister (whose daughter, Alex, is a member of Baylor's volleyball team) implemented a bullpen-by-committee approach. Common in baseball until two generations ago, the idea of undefined roles in a modern-day bullpen raised eyebrows.

Before long, though, roles emerged, and Tolleson, who was a 30th-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010, was tabbed the teams closer.

"I was throwing pretty well and had been consistent up to that point," Tolleson said. "Probably after five or six times, I felt like I had earned the right to throw the ninth inning from then on."

A Dallas native a product of Allen High School, Tolleson finished the regular season fifth in the American League with 35 saves, most of any AL pitcher from the time of his first save through the season's end.

"I just approach it as three more outs to get," Tolleson said of being the closer, a role he never filled as a professional prior to this season. "I'm not trying to overpower guys. I just try to pitch and use my stuff. My mindset really hasn't changed."

Tolleson, whose Baylor career was delayed by Tommy John surgery as a senior in high school, ended the 2015 season with 178 career appearances in the majors--the first 41 of which came with the Dodgers in 2012 and 2013.

"My command has gotten a lot better since my time at Baylor," Tolleson said. "I still throw about the same fastball, the same slider. I added a changeup to the mix, which has really helped me out. It's really consistency--being in the zone and being well-located in the zone."

Verrett and Tolleson were not the only former Bears in the majors this season. David Murphy (2001-03) split the season between the Cleveland Indians and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Murphy hit the 100th home run of his 10-year MLB career during 2015, the first former Baylor players to reach that total. Max Muncy (2010-12) singled in his MLB debut April 25 against the Houston Astros and played 45 games with the Oakland Athletics.