Bishop Canevin grad Mitchell Taufer gives W&J baseball quality over quantity
Sometimes, a coach can learn from a player. Even a veteran coach like Jeff Mountain, who is in the midst of his 17th season as Washington & Jefferson’s baseball coach.
Three years ago, Bishop Canevin grad Mitchell Taufer came into Mountain’s program, and the coach admitted he initially had reservations about Taufer’s place on the team.
So Taufer, a right-handed pitcher with what Mountain called a “herky jerky” delivery, sat and watched during his freshman season. Like everybody else who was a regular on his high school team, Taufer wanted to be a factor in college.
“I just used it as a chip on my shoulder,” said Taufer, now a senior. “Just seeing the types of players who were being used, I realized my standard and my ability at that time weren’t up to that.
“I feel like not pitching my freshman year helped me in the long run to keep that edge.”
Taufer since has become a valuable member of the Presidents’ pitching staff. His appearances have lacked in quantity, but he has more than made up for it with quality.
In two-plus seasons, he has made 35 appearances (46 ⅓ innings), going 4-1 with a save, a 1.36 ERA and 57 strikeouts against only 16 walks. This season, in 14 appearances (20 innings), Taufer (2-0) has not allowed an earned run, striking out 22 and walking seven. That has helped the Presidents (23-9, 17-1 as of April 25) put a stranglehold on first place in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference.
“He hasn’t been used a lot, but he embraces the bullpen role,” Mountain said. “He’s definitely good enough to be a starter, but he’s been an unselfish teammate.”
Mountain said he tried to tinker with Taufer’s mechanics. His delivery, Mountain said, is very over-the-top and unorthodox, but it also is part of what makes Taufer successful.
Because his curveball and fastball delivery look essentially the same, hitters have a difficult time anticipating what is coming. Taufer said he believes hitters also have a difficult time picking up the ball during his delivery.
“It certainly works,” Mountain said, “so it’s hard to mess with something if it works.”
His curveball is his go-to pitch, but, he said, he has improved the location on his fastball to make it more effective.
“I’m happy to be a reliever,” he said. “I get to pitch in more games and different situations. Coming in later in games, the goal is to give the team a zero. I’m happy I have been able to do that so far.
“I think my confidence is the biggest thing. When I’m out there, I don’t think anybody is better than me.”
That confidence got a big boost two seasons ago when Taufer was put on the Presidents’ postseason roster, making him part of the first team in program history to play in the Division III World Series. He pitched in two postseason games — vs. Earlham in the regional and vs. Cal Lutheran in the World Series — and gave up one run in two innings.
“It was a great experience,” Taufer said. “It opened my eyes. … It was very motivational to work hard and get back there.”
Mountain said his eyes were opened, too. His initial questions about Taufer have been answered, and, the coach said, he and the Presidents are better for it.
“From the time he got here as a freshman to this point, he’s probably grown as much as anybody we’ve had at this point,” Mountain said. “I’ve learned a lot from coaching Mitchell. I took a big lesson: never give up on a kid. Never turn your back on a kid.
“He’s made me a better coach.”
Chuck Curti is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .