Assistant Of The Year: OSU’s Nate YeskieAwards
Coaches and fans alike always want to know about the man behind the madness.
As head coaches of the eight College World Series teams descended on Omaha a couple of weeks ago, many seemed to marvel about the gaudy record Oregon State put together, while also placing a heavy emphasis on the earned-run average the Beavers possessed – 1.93, the nation’s top mark, and by a wide margin, with Illinois-Chicago the next best staff, statistically speaking, at 2.65. OSU also led the nation in WHIP (0.98) and shutouts (14).
When it comes to OSU’s pitching staff, perhaps Yale head coach John Stuper put it best during the Corvallis Regional when he looked at some of OSU’s pitching numbers during a press conference, shook his head, and proclaimed those were video game numbers. Actually, he corrected himself: He’s not sure he could create pitchers that good on a video game.
Given what Oregon State’s pitching staff accomplished this season and the past few seasons – finishing with a Top 10 ERA in three of the last five seasons — many prominent head coaches around college baseball are beginning to ask about OSU’s man behind the madness and video game numbers.
That man would be unassuming pitching coach Nate Yeskie.
“He does a really, really good job of getting our guys to trust in the process that we have,” Oregon State coach Pat Casey said. “It’s one thing to have the Drew Rasmussen’s of the world, but it’s another to help form the leaders that they are. If you don’t have good leadership on the field, you can’t coach them at all one at a time. You have 14 arms that you’re working with and you have guys in the bullpen.
“You have to trust your kids and the kids have to trust you,” Casey continued. “He’s done a great job, and I feel like we can all do a lot of things with recruiting and working with our guys on the field to be more successful.”
In the day and age of constant self-promotion by some in the industry, you’d think that Yeskie would be banging the drum and showing the numbers of this season and past years to anyone who’d listen. However, his laid back but demanding personality is a huge reason why he’s been so successful, and really reminds me of 2016 D1Baseball.com Assistant of the Year, TCU’s Kirk Saarloos. Saarloos, as with Yeskie, let their pitchers and numbers do the talking, and aren’t out chasing new jobs. With that breeds loyalty, not only within the OSU coaching staff, but also with his players, more specifically, the pitchers for whom he works with.
“He’s humble, and he works hard. He’s dedicated to what he’s doing, he’s dedicated to his family, and he’s not out trying to promote himself. He’s not out trying to find other jobs,” Casey said. “Those things, in my opinion, are so important. To a head coach, trust is everything. And while that doesn’t mean you can’t be trying to move up in the industry, communication is important.”
Communication also is a big reason why OSU had one of the best pitching staffs in the last decade this season. OSU’s 1.93 ERA ranks second amongst No. 1 ERA teams in college baseball over the past six seasons. Arkansas in 2013 finished with a 1.89 ERA, and that’s the only staff ahead of this year’s Beavers staff. The next team behind the Beavs and Razorbacks? The 2015 UCLA staff, which finished with a 2.17 mark. That puts what the Beavs did on the mound this season into perspective.
For this year’s staff to get where it ended the season required some pitchers to rise to the occasion. OSU entered the season knowing that righthander Drew Rasmussen wouldn’t be available until the end of the regular season. That didn’t seem to matter. Lefthander Luke Heimlich, who had some off the field issues cloud the end of his junior season, emerged as one of the nation’s premier arms and showed more consistent velocity in the 90-93 range, while freshmen such as Jake Mulholland and Brandon Eisert were immediate threats. Bryce Fehmel also took a sizable step forward and served as a weekend starter throughout the regular season, while the most notable transformation was that of junior righthander Jake Thompson. Thompson has always had premium stuff, but putting all those pieces together hasn’t always been easy. Thompson had a 4.28 ERA two seasons ago, but this season? He tallied a 1.96 ERA in 128.2 innings, while also showing major improvements in the command category and finishing the season with a national best 14 wins. Florida’s Jackson Kowar, TCU’s Brian Howard and LSU’s Jared Poche finished in a tie for second with 12.
“The pitching staff came together great this season, and there were things that you really didn’t know about coming into the season,” Casey said. “You know, was Jake Thompson going to take another step forward? He did. Was Fehmel going to be the same guy that he was last season? He wasn’t. Those were natural question marks that we had.
“Then, you look at what he did with Mulholland and Eisert. Those two guys were fabulous out of the pen. And of course, the obvious jumps that Thompson and Heimlich made. Heimlich was a middle of the pack guy with pretty average stuff, then he and Thompson made a pretty big jump this season. Taking jumps like that is something that really has to happen each year if you want to have numbers like we did.”
Casey saw this kind of potential from Yeskie when he hired him a decade ago.
Nate Yeskie has always wanted to be a college baseball coach. He wants to help young people achieve their goals.
He had a three-year collegiate career at UNLV, tallying a 4.36 ERA in 144.1 innings of work in 1995. And after he got drafted in the ninth round by the Twins back in 1996, he figured he’d try his hand at professional baseball. Yeskie got as high as Double-A for a couple of seasons, but finished his career in 2001 with St. George of the Independent League. There was a break in between, but he began his Division I coaching career by returning to his alma mater to serve as pitching coach from 2005-07. It was then that Casey took notice of what Yeskie was capable of at a bigger program.
“He was a guy that really, really wanted to be involved in what we were doing. He was single at the time and he was really dedicated to becoming a full-time coach,” Casey said. “He was willing to do absolutely anything that we needed him to do.
“I liked his philosophy and I liked what he said he’d do and how he’d teach,” he continued. “There wasn’t anything I didn’t like about him. And I knew that he would become a good recruiter once he got around to doing that. Once he got to working with us, I really grew a deep respect for what he stood for on and off the field. It’s easy to say someone is good on the field, but with a guy like Nate, he’s a first-class individual off the field, too. He cares a lot about people and his players and he’s loyal, and to me, that’s something you really can’t even begin to put a price tag on.”
While Yeskie certainly did an amazing job with the nation’s best pitching staff and particularly Thompson this season, he has a long list of pitchers who have made enormous strides under his tutelage. For instance, Casey specifically brought up Andrew Moore, who went from a guy sitting in the mid-to-upper 80s to a guy who was more low-90s with his fastball by the time he left Corvallis. Moore recently made his MLB debut with the Seattle Mariners. Casey also pointed to Sam Gaviglio (big leaguer), Josh Osich (big leaguer) and Jace Fry as other big success stories.
“He does a really good job of getting guys and finding their strengths and building on those,” Casey said. “He gets the guys in position to succeed. All of our velocities have gone up since they arrived. He thrives with the mechanical and mental aspects of the game and brings all of them together, while also creating a good philosophy.
“He builds a process for our pitchers to believe in,” he continued. “He doesn’t tweak things just to tweak things, he tweaks things that are needed to maximize pitcher’s abilities.”
Casey as a head coach is like that father who relishes every moment that his son becomes older, wiser and better. He’s the same way with Yeskie.
When Casey hired Yeskie, he knew that communication on the recruiting side of things needed to improve. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Yeskie was a quiet and unassuming guy who didn’t bother step on any toes or get in someone’s way.
Now, he’s much more hands on and is an instrumental part of the recruiting process, teaming up with associate head coach Pat Bailey to form one of the nation’s better scouting and recruiting tandems.
Additionally, Yeskie is more up-to-date in today’s technology. Casey doesn’t even have a computer in his office, and he admits that there are things Yeskie will and wants to do that he and Bailey don’t or can’t do.
“The communication piece both on and off the field, and in recruiting. I’ve really seen him grow in that department,” Casey said. “You have some success and so some things and it really helps you gain some confidence. He started to get confident in what he was doing and he started getting out there and really communicating with recruits and families. He built some terrific relationships, and that’s not easy to do.
“Those things are important to the continuity of your staff. It’s a great balance with him and Bailey. He likes to do some things that Bails and I don’t like to do,” he continued. “He’s really good at finding things on the web and does a great job of making sure to follow recruits, and that’s super helpful for us. He’s willing to do anything in recruiting.”
Yeskie and Bailey have made some serious waves on the recruiting trail over the past few seasons. Despite not exactly being in a talent-rich part of the country, the duo has done an impressive job both in scouting players and reeling in talented recruiting classes. The Beavs had the nation’s No. 19 recruiting class last season, while they’ve been as high as seven in the last six seasons with every class in the Top 25 but one. All that in the Pacific Northwest.
“The thing about Nate is that he has a system in place that has been there long enough, guys follow it and are believing in it,” he said. “He doesn’t try to micro manage what they do and kids pick up on that. A lot of guys out there want to try to fix everything, but not everything needs to be fixed and Nate knows that.”
Casey also knows that it’s only a matter of time before someone comes calling for Yeskie for a potential head coaching job. But knowing Yeskie, he might just be content with things in Corvallis for a while longer.
But no matter what, Casey will always relish his time with his pitching coach. You know, the brains behind OSU’s pitching madness.