With three experienced pitchers handling the bulk of the starting chores for the Glendora High baseball team last season, Steve Arffa was forced to spend most of his first year on the varsity as a reliever.
But the 18-year-old left-hander got a chance to be a starter this season and has made the most of the opportunity.
As a senior, Arffa has developed into one of the premier pitchers in the San Gabriel Valley. In fact, there are not many pitchers in Southern California who have a 10-1 record and 1.11 earned-run average with 76 strikeouts and only 14 walks in 69 2/3 innings pitched.
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Arffa also enjoyed success as a reliever in his junior season. He was 3-1 with a 1.01 ERA and had seven saves to earn the nickname “Bulldog” from his coach, Clint Harwick.
But Arffa says he prefers to be a starter.
“I like starting a game and finishing a game,” he said. “It gives me more satisfaction when I pitch the whole game. It’s also nice to come in and shut people down as a reliever but I prefer starting.”
He said there is a distinct difference between being a starter and a reliever.
“As a reliever you don’t really have time to think,” Arffa said. “The coach says you just have to get right up and go in. As a starter, you know when you’re going to come in and pitch. But as a reliever you have to be ready to go in all the time.”
Harwick said he expects Arffa will probably be a starter in college.
In April, Arffa signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Arizona next season after also visiting USC, Cal State Fullerton and Arizona State.
Arffa said Arizona recruited him as a starter and he thinks he will have an opportunity to pitch as a freshman.
“I think they’re going to see where I fit in but they’re losing three pitchers this year and they say I’m going to get some pitching time,” he said.
That was not the only reason Arffa decided to sign with the Wildcats.
“Right when I got there I felt like I fit in and the coaches were great,” he said. “Arizona wasn’t too far from home and the atmosphere there was just right.”
Although he will miss being close to his family, Arffa is excited about having a chance to pitch for a top NCAA Division I program.
After his junior season, Arffa said he would have been satisfied with one scholarship offer.
“I didn’t expect this kind of attention,” he said. “I thought maybe one school would contact me and that would’ve made it easier to pick the school. But when all of those schools called me I was real honored and surprised.”
He said he probably caught the interest of college recruiters when he had a good season with the Dodger scout team during winter league play that ran from September through November.
“The league is coached by scouts and there were always quite a few scouts there and that helped me get noticed,” he said.
Arffa has also caught the attention of pro scouts from teams such as the Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Montreal Expos and Atlanta Braves. He thinks there is a strong possibility that he will be selected in the major league draft in June although he wants to attend college and pursue a degree in business.
“I’ve talked to some (scouts) and they know I’m out there but they also know I’ve signed a letter of intent with Arizona,” Arffa said. “So they all know that I’m going to go to college. Even if I am drafted in a reasonable round, I’m still going to college for sure. That’s still my first priority. But my main goal after that is to play professional baseball.”
Harwick thinks Arffa has the skills to have a lengthy career.
“He’s definitely got Division I ability and he’s got the size that the scouts like,” he said.
His best pitches are a fastball and curve ball. Arffa’s fastball has been clocked in the mid-80 m.p.h. range.
“He’s got a good fastball and curve ball and he’s got good command of his pitches,” Harwick said. “He’s also got a good demeanor on the mound. He handles adversity well and doesn’t get easily rattled.”
Arffa has also demonstrated a fervent desire to improve his skills. After last season, he said, he benefited from lifting weights.
“I’ve been on an off-season weight program and it’s helped me with my speed and I also have better movement than I did last year,” Arffa said.
He has also added a change-up to his pitching repertoire and that has proven to be another obstacle for opposing hitters.
“With the fastball and curve ball, I feel I can throw that all day but with the change-up I use that to shake up the batters,” Arffa said. “It just gives them a little something else to think about.”
Arffa said he prepared more intensely for this season because he realized it would be his last in high school.
“Going into the season I knew I was going to be a starter and I’ve put in a lot of hard work,” he said. “So I guess in a way I deserve the success I’ve had. I really wanted to do well but I didn’t think it would turn out this good.”
The only way it could turn out better for Arffa is if the Tartans can make a strong showing in the Southern Section playoffs. Glendora, which is 19-5 and won the Baseline League title, will play host to Dos Pueblos of Santa Barbara in the first round of the 4-A Division playoffs Friday afternoon.
But with his success so far this season, the Tartans can rest assured that Arffa is already making a pretty strong pitch for a successful conclusion to his high school career.