InsidethePark.com's question and answer with Wisconsin Timber Rattler manager Steve Roadcap reveals…
Eric O'Flaherty: Home Grown Mariner
Now in his first full season of pro ball, the Walla Walla High grad is enjoying his unique situation. Every boy dreams of someday playing for his favorite team, but only small number actually get it out.
It all began last June when the Mariners selected the hometown left-handed pitcher in the sixth round (176th overall) of the June draft. Labeled the best prospect in the state by Baseball America magazine, the situation worked out well for both sides when O'Flaherty was still available for the M's pick.
As a senior at Walla Walla, O'Flaherty went 5-2 his with a 1.99 ERA and 83 strikeouts, earning him Pitcher of the Year honors for the Big Nine Conference.
Growing up in Washington, O'Flaherty was a huge Mariners fan and has followed the team since the days when he first started playing ball. His grandfather had season tickets, which allowed O'Flaherty to attend a couple games a year at the Kingdome and then, since 1999, Safeco Field. He was even on hand for a game in 1993 during Ken Griffey Jr.'s record-tying eight-game home run streak.
While O'Flaherty does not feel any extra pressure being a hometown hero in the organization, he does admit it would be extra special if he makes it to the majors.
"I just look at it like any other player," O'Flaherty said. "Being from Washington it will be just that much more cool playing there."
The Timber Rattlers coaching staff think O'Flaherty has a good chance of finding out how it will feel. O'Flaherty has a fastball in the mid-90s, a tough slider and is developing a change. But O'Flaherty knows there are still several areas of his game where he can improve. The main areas: delivery and location.
O'Flaherty has been working with Timber Rattlers pitching coach Brad Holman on a more consistent delivery and improving his location. Both Holman and Timber Rattlers manager Steve Roadcap see location as the young pitcher's biggest area for improvement. They would be happy to hear that O'Flaherty has been paying attention to the right model – Mariners' southpaw Jamie Moyer.
"I like his determination and how focused he is on every single pitch," O'Flaherty said of the M's veteran ace. "He doesn't really try to blow it by guys, he just knows his location is going to do the job."
O'Flaherty has been up and down in his three starts so far. He has recorded three strikeouts in 7.2 innings pitched and still doesn't have a decisions for the 2004 season. But, then again, it's still only late April, and the future remains bright for O'Flaherty.
"It's very early in his development yet so he's got a ways to go, but it's a long year and he's gonna probably have another 20 -25 more starts," Roadcap said. "I'm sure he'll learn every time he goes out there."
O'Flaherty has already experienced the challenges of pitching in the elements of a Wisconsin spring. His start on Sunday April 18 against the Peoria Chiefs featured strong gusts of wind. After a rough first inning, O'Flaherty allowed only one unearned run in the next two before exiting the game in the fourth. O'Flaherty did manage to keep the ball in the park while the Timber Rattlers hit three home runs.
Being away from home has not been a problem for O'Flaherty. He sees it as part of the game and is able to stay in touch with parents who listen to all of his starts over the internet.
Making the jump from high school to pro ball has had its challenges and benefits, and while the hitters are more disciplined and better at exploiting pitchers' mistakes, the defense is much improved.
The young O'Flaherty, still years away from playing in Safeco Field, says he has his mind set on one career goal.
"To make it to the big leagues and get a couple rings," he says.
That's something the people in the state of Washington would like to see too.
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