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Road less traveled

Valencia grad rejuvenates career with uncommon move

Posted: July 25, 2009 7:42 p.m.
Updated: July 26, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Valencia graduate Casey Mulligan (22) is met by teammates in a game against Canyon on May 9, 2006 at Canyon High. Now in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, Mulligan has made the switch from cather to pitcher.

 
Casey Mulligan laughs about a comparison to St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Rick Ankiel.

Ankiel lost the strike zone in 2000 as a 21-year-old pitcher during the National League Division Series. He rejuvenated his career by becoming a power-hitting position player.

Mulligan, a 2006 Valencia High graduate and that season’s All-Santa Clarita Valley Baseball Player of the Year, was a catcher in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

He is rejuvenating his baseball career as a pitcher on the Palm Beach Cardinals.

“We both like to fish,” Mulligan deadpans about things he and Ankiel have in common.

He continues: “I guess you could say we’re identical in an opposite way.”

Mulligan is doing something rare in professional baseball.

By switching from position player to pitcher, Mulligan is trying to accomplish something that very few baseball players have succeeded in doing.

Name someone who has made the transformation and done it well.

Here’s one.

Trevor Hoffman.

Major League Baseball’s all-time saves leader was a light-hitting shortstop in the Cincinnati Reds organization before he was converted to a pitcher in 1991.

The rest is baseball history.

Like Hoffman, Mulligan is a hard-throwing reliever.

The 21-year-old is 3-2 this season with a 1.16 ERA and 13 saves between two Single-A teams.

Prior to that, he spent three seasons in the Cardinals organization as a light-hitting catcher/third baseman.

He batted .218 with five home runs and 29 RBIs in 362 at-bats.

“I wasn’t hitting very good,” Mulligan says. “I was not having fun playing baseball. I was just miserable every day.”
Just to give an example of how much life has gotten better since Mulligan made the switch to the mound, multiple members of the Palm Beach Cardinals front office tell stories about two recent Mulligan incidents.

He convinced his bullpen mates to join him in singing the national anthem.

And during a recent rain delay, he performed the dance routine of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” to the Palm Beach fans.

Yet the misery experienced before that had much to do with Mulligan’s spot in the Cardinals organization.

He wasn’t playing.

Mulligan served more as the Cardinals’ bullpen catcher or “team dummy” as he calls it.

So he approached the St. Louis organization’s vice president of amateur scouting and player development, Jeff Luhnow, about making a change.

The Cardinals did have a lot invested in Mulligan as a catcher.

He was selected in the 22nd round of the 2006 Major League Baseball Draft and he decided to sign with St. Louis, passing up a scholarship to baseball powerhouse California State University, Fullerton.

But the Cardinals organization granted Mulligan’s wish.

He recalls a game last season where he was sitting in the bullpen, and his Cardinals were getting beat pretty badly.

A coach told him to warm up, so he reached for his catching gear thinking he was going in the game to catch.

He was told he was going to pitch.

Mulligan had to borrow a teammate’s glove, as he only had a catcher’s mitt, and a teammate’s cap, as he only had his helmet in the bullpen.

He remembers going into the game and retiring the side in order, striking out two batters in the process.

That was his Minor League pitching debut.

“It’s not odd at all,” says his high school coach, Jared Snyder, of his change from catcher to pitcher.

During his senior year at Valencia, Mulligan would go in and close games, often not giving batters a chance.

His hard, heavy fastball was difficult for high school batters to keep up with.

Snyder says had the team needed, Mulligan would have been the Vikings’ No. 1 starter.

That season he pitched just nine innings and faced just 38 batters. He surrendered two hits and struck out 17.

So when he struggled with the bat in the Minor Leagues, Mulligan had a backup plan that he couldn’t hold onto any longer.

“He knew he’d only go as far as his hitting took him,” Snyder says. “Nobody ever questioned the fact that he could flat-out catch. The question was, ‘Could he hit at that level?’ It didn’t work out. He’s so lucky he had something to fall back on.”

Mulligan went to Colombia for winter ball, but shut himself down early because he experienced pain in his throwing arm.

The 6-foot-2-inch right-hander, though, went on a training program before the season that saw him return to Valencia High to practice his pitching.

He started the season for the Single-A Quad Cities River Bandits and went 2-0 with a 0.45 ERA and nine saves in 17 games before moving up to Palm Beach.

In 24 games with the High-A Palm Beach Cardinals, he is 1-2 with a 1.69 ERA and four saves.

In all, he has 69 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings this season.

The switch may have prolonged his career.

“I’m going to play baseball until the day my arm can’t throw a ball anymore,” Mulligan says.

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