Arizona State’s first-year pitching coach Mike Cather recently met freshman pitcher Boyd Vander Kooi.
“Do you trust me?” Cather said.
A hesitant Vander Kooi responded: “Yes.”
What seemed like a rhetorical question was anything but. Cather was intent on making a point.
“Trust is something that has to be built, and that’s what I tell him.” Cather said. “I said, ‘I don’t trust you and you don’t trust me. Let’s learn how to trust each other,’”
Vander Kooi admitted Cather was right. He didn’t trust his new pitching coach in the beginning.
Since then, Cather hasn’t messed with Vander Kooi’s mechanics or tried to add another pitch to the freshman’s arsenal. Instead, according to Vander Kooi, Cather has worked to strengthen his mentality.
Cather said he doesn’t ask all of his players the question, but he needed to know Vander Kooi “was in belief and in cahoots with the conversation.”
Vander Kooi committed to ASU in January of 2017, in the middle of one the worst seasons in program history —one in which the Devils didn’t have a full-time pitching coach.
With head coach Tracy “Skip” Smith taking over those duties last season, he promised the then-high-schooler that he’d bring in a “good guy.” Vander Kooi said that once Smith got Cather to take over the pitching duties, Smith texted him, ‘we got the guy.’
Cather was not there to recruit or even watch Vander Kooi before getting to ASU. Going along with the trust question, Cather wanted Vander Kooi to not just buy into what he was teaching, he wanted him to believe it, too.
“Part of the development process is actually building that relationship where you know that when the conversation is happening, the things that you’re saying, he is absorbing,” Cather said “If not, you have robots that go out there.”
Coming out of Skyline High School in Mesa, Vander Kooi was the top right-handed pitchers in Arizona, and the 81st-ranked player in the country, according to Perfect Game.
He had originally committed to Oregon, but upon taking a trip to Eugene, Ben Greenspan, ASU’s associate head coach, received a call from Vander Kooi’s high school coach. Greenspan said his coach emphasized that Vander Kooi didn’t feel comfortable at Oregon.
The 6-foot-5, 210-pound pitcher eventually landed at ASU, and decided to stay there after getting drafted by the Diamondback in the 36th-round, but there seemed to be some teammate-to-teammate recruiting going on.
Vander Kooi was part of the T-Rex travel ball team along with now-Sun Devils Drew Swift, Trevor Hauver and Scott Mehan. And according to Hauver, the group flipped Vander Kooi over to Tempe.
“We’d always give him crap trying to get him to come over and once he went on his visit (to Oregon), and we all went on our official visits (to ASU), we’re like, ‘dude, you’ve got to come here, we love it here,’” Hauver said. “We played all the time together and we finally got him to decommit, so that was pretty cool.”
Some freshmen get eased into college. Their development progresses until it hits a point to where they’re ready to contribute. Vander Kooi is different.
He’s in contention for the Devils’ fourth starting spot. Smith said that he “certainly has the ability,” but what he shows in the next couple weeks will be pertinent to how the rotation shakes out.
“I think Boyd is going to push for innings right away,” Smith said. “I’m cautiously optimistic about that because I still haven’t seen it in a game.”
Like Skip, Vander Kooi wasn’t ready to pencil himself in for a starting spot quite yet.
“I try not to think like I want to start right away. I want to work towards it and try to prove myself instead of automatically think I’m going to start. I really want to prove a point to Skip that I have the ability and the hard work to have the starting spot.”