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Arizona State’s Connor Higgins happy to land with Angels

Former Arizona State pitcher Connor Higgins is happy he landed with the Angels. This was the second time he was selected in the MLB draft. (Photo courtesy Connor Higgins)

SANTA MONICA, Calif. – Although it was a down year for Arizona State’s baseball team in 2018, success came in the MLB draft. Five players were selected, four more than last year.

The repeat? Junior relief pitcher Connor Higgins.

Higgins was selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the 30th round. His road to the Angels was anything but linear.

In the 2017 draft, the Texas Rangers took Higgins in the 35th round, No. 1,034 overall. He had a strong end to his sophomore season, holding opponents scoreless in 12 of his 19 appearances and finishing the season with four saves.

Higgins was surprised when he was drafted as he had not made his eligibility known until late in the draft process. MLB draft rules state that once a player decides to play college baseball, he will no longer be eligible to be drafted until after his junior season or once a player turns 21, whichever comes first. Higgins had turned 21 before the start of his junior season.

“It was actually kind of funny,” he said. “I didn’t know I was going to get drafted because at that point I was in the Cod league pitching. I was starting on Opening Day of the Cape Cod League. I came in the dugout and one guy goes, ‘Hey you just got drafted by the Rangers.’ I was like,” ‘No way.’ “

However, because of his mother’s desire for him to continue to pursue his education and Higgins’ inclination to improve his draft stock, he returned to school. Higgins’ limited playing time this past season and an altered arm swing motion resulted in an inconsistent season. Unlike his sophomore season, he struggled, finishing with a 6.41 ERA in 23 appearances and 26.2 innings.

“I am a really aggressive pitcher out of the arm,” Higgins said. “I throw the ball as hard as I can. I really rip it out. (The coaching staff) was really trying to have me slow it down and then attack it really fast. It took a while to get adjusted.”

Higgins worked with first-year ASU pitching coach Mike Cather to improve his arm swing in order to help him reach the next level. Although his pitching mechanics may have changed, Higgins’ energy on the mound did not.

“When he’s on the field he’s emotional. He gets pumped up after every strikeout,” ASU relief pitcher Fitz Stadler said. “He’s a very energetic guy.”

Higgins finished out the 2018 season strong as he did not allow a single run in his last four appearances, pitching 5 ⅔ innings in relief and earned a win in the process. Even through an up-and-down season, ASU junior outfielder Gage Canning said Higgins did not display a negative mentality leading up to and throughout the draft process.

“I talk to him about it and he said he thought he was going to get drafted even though he did not pitch a ton this year. He still had a good demeanor about it,” Canning said.

Despite Higgins being preoccupied with his own draft concerns, he was there to help any of his teammates about the process, Canning said.

He helped me out with that and told me what to expect and what he did the year before,” Canning said. “He let me know what was going to be ahead with the meetings with teams and the questionnaires and all that stuff.”

Canning would be the first ASU player taken off the board, by the Washington Nationals in the fifth round, No. 161 overall. Several teams expressed interest in Higgins early in the draft, but many rounds passed and three more Sun Devils would be taken before Higgins eventually had his name called.

“I was sitting on the couch and watching the draft tracker. The Angels called me and 30 seconds later it was the phone just lit up with notifications all the way through. It was insane,” Higgins said. “It was a big sigh of relief. ‘Finally I got picked up.’ ”

This time around, he accepted the contract and signed with the Los Angeles Angels. The Angels had scheduled a pre draft workout Thursday night before the draft.

“I really didn’t know much about the Angels besides Mike Trout and (Shohei) Ohtani,” Higgins said. “It was really cool because I fell in love with it and the rest of the organization. I think it’s going be a real good fit.”

Higgins is currently on the Angels’ rookie team roster and will be playing in the Arizona League. Higgins said this year felt right to make the leap from collegiate baseball to the pros.

“I felt more mature coming out of school this year than last year. … Pitching up in the Cape Cod League and pitching in school just gave me an extra year of maturity,” Higgins said. “I felt I was definitely the most ready I have been to play baseball, definitely compared to last year.”

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