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Pitt's Mildren faces big decision about baseball future

| Thursday, April 11, 2013, 6:27 p.m.

Pitt junior Ethan Mildren has emerged as one of the Big East's top pitchers this season, leading the conference in innings and winning five of seven decisions.

A much bigger decision awaits in two months.

Mildren, a Laurel Highlands graduate, almost certainly will be selected in the June 6-8 MLB Draft. Then he must weigh the lure of a signing bonus and the start of a professional career with returning to Pitt for his senior season.

“It's one of those things that when it happens, I'll deal with it,” said Mildren, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander. “I can't really pinpoint a certain number. I can't base my decision on anything this early.”

Another factor is Pitt's move to the ACC next season. That would give Mildren the chance to face elite college hitters on a regular basis, a level he said is comparable to rookie ball.

“I don't think (staying would) financially benefit him in any way, but it is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pitch in what is arguably the best baseball conference in the country,” Pitt coach Joe Jordano said. “Playing in front of huge crowds, having the opportunity to be on that national stage.”

However, Mildren also could hurt his draft stock for 2014 if he returns and struggles in the ACC. Plus, there's the injury risk. See why Mildren is trying to block out the draft talk?

So far, his performance has said plenty this year. Mildren has a 2.85 ERA in 60 innings — including three complete games — in helping Pitt to a 20-9 record. His five wins are tied for third in the Big East, and opponents are hitting .230 against him. Scouts have been at all eight of his starts.

“He's definitely a big-time draft guy this year because of his body,” said Panthers pitching coach Jerry Oakes, a seventh-round pick by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2000 who spent eight years in the minor leagues. “My guess is he'll go pretty high.

“He's got big league makeup on the mound. He's a big kid. He can locate well. He knows how to pitch.”

Mildren's fastball typically sits between 88-91 mph, and he also throws a cutter, changeup and curveball.

“He'll run it up there at times, but he just has a great feel for pitching,” Jordano said. “He commands his pitches. He has a feel for his offspeed. He controls the running game. He just has a great presence.”

Mildren also doesn't hurt himself on the mound. He has only 13 walks this season, and as a freshman, he pitched more than 50 innings before issuing his first walk.

“When you have command, you are pounding the zone, you have three pitches that have great movement, and you can command that, you can win at any level,” Jordano said. “When he gets into an environment where it's baseball 24-7, he's doing it for a living and he continues to physically and mentally mature, that's when he's really going to blossom.”

Mildren has talked about his dream of playing in the majors since his days at Laurel Highlands, where he was a two-time Tribune-Review Baseball Player of the Year and the 2010 Male Athlete of the Year. That dream might not be so far-fetched anymore.

“(My dream is) just to get the opportunity to have a shot and be able to make it and stay up there and have a long, healthy career.”

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