On the Mark for a Shot at Majors : Baseball: Mark Tranberg didn't earn respect when pitching at Dominguez Hills, but he is earning victories in Philadelphia's farm system.


When he was competing at Cal State Dominguez Hills, Mark Tranberg didn't receive a lot of respect from scouts.

The pitcher wasn't drafted after his junior season, despite an 11-3 record and 2.81 earned-run average.

After completing his eligibility, Tranberg finally got a call from the Philadelphia Phillies: He was selected in the 34th round.

But Tranberg, 24, has been commanding a lot of respect as of late. The 6-foot-4, 208-pound right-hander has a 6-1 record and 2.65 ERA with Clearwater of the Florida State League, Philadelphia's top Class-A affiliate. Tranberg was promoted to Clearwater in June after going 8-1 with a 1.98 ERA with Spartanburg of the South Atlantic League.

His season total of 14 wins is tied with Ryan Karp from Prince William (New York Yankees) of the South Atlantic League for the most victories in the minor leagues this year, according to Howe Sports Data.

"I think if you look through our (farm) system, he's definitely our most successful pitcher and it's no accident," Clearwater Manager Bill Dancy said. "No. 1, he has good control and he keeps the ball down. It's a hitter's league down here and he always keeps us in the game."

John Verhoeven, the pitching coach at Cal State Dominguez Hills and former Angel and Minnesota Twin pitcher, said Tranberg is in a position to earn postseason honors.

"I think he's got a good chance to be the pitcher of the year in the Phillies organization and he may even be in line to be pitcher of the year for all of the minors," he said. "I know; I keep track in Baseball America and I haven't seen anyone with those kind of numbers."

Tranberg's success may be a little surprising because of how his college career ended.

After his successful junior season, in which he made the NCAA Division II All-America second team and was named to the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. first team, Tranberg anticipated being selected in the 1991 draft.

"I talked to people from a few teams and they said they were going to draft me," he said. "But you never know about that until you're actually told you're drafted."

When he wasn't selected, Tranberg was told it was because his fastball was only about 83 m.p.h.

"His fastball was just average," Verhoeven said. "It was just a little bit short. So I got in touch with (former major league catcher) Bob Boone, who I've kept in contact with, and he put me in touch with a guy named Bill Pewett to work on picking up his velocity."

Verhoeven said he was a little skeptical about Pewett's ability to increase the pitcher's velocity, although Tranberg took the workouts to heart.

"He put much of his emphasis on a program that (Pewett) said would increase his velocity four to five m.p.h. and it actually did that," Verhoeven said. "He just lost a little in his control."

Verhoeven said the conditioning program may have contributed to Tranberg's struggles as a senior, when his record slipped to 5-5 and his ERA increased to 3.65.

"He'd do this rigorous workout every day and it lasted an hour and it was pretty nasty," Verhoeven said. "I think it just wore him out."

Tranberg's struggles continued in his first pro season.

Playing for Batavia, N.Y., of the Class-A New York-Penn rookie league, Tranberg was 0-2 with an 8.10 ERA and had 15 walks in 20 innings.

"You can consider that an injury year for me because I got there and I had some pain in my shoulder and it was kind of a tough year," Tranberg said. "The first year in the minors is usually a learning experience, anyway. The hitters are all out to move up, so they really go after you. It's a good thing it was a short season."

Verhoeven is not surprised that Tranberg has been able to turn his fortunes around this year.

"I knew if he got the opportunity he'd be a decent pro player because of his makeup and I told scouts that," he said. "He stays on an even keel and he never gets too up or down. You can never tell if he's up by seven or down by seven because he always has the same look on his face."

It has been mostly a look of desperation for Tranberg's opponents this season. He has kept hitters off-balance with a combination of fastballs, split-fingered forkballs and an occasional slider.

As a senior, Tranberg abandoned the forkball in favor of the fastball. But the forkball has once again become an important pitch in his repertoire.

"That's pretty much my out pitch," he said. "I like to throw it when I'm ahead 0-and-2 or 1-and-2 in the count and when I really want them to swing at a pitch."

Tranberg's control and stamina have also improved. He has 31 strikeouts and only nine walks in 44 innings of pitching for Clearwater and has completed three of seven starts.

Tranberg has learned a lot about pitching in pro ball.

"Pitching in pro ball is more setting up the hitters instead of just going after them with the fastball," he said. "That's what gets you here, but you still need to get people out once you get here."

He said adjusting to life in the minor leagues wasn't easy at first. The biggest difference, he said, was his eating habits.

"When you're at home, you have your mom's cooking," Tranberg said. "But here you have to fend for yourself. You can get out of shape pretty fast. I've lost about 12 pounds since spring training because I'm not eating the same way as before."

With his success at Clearwater, a promotion to Philadelphia's double-A team in Reading, Pa., might be in the offing.

"Right now, I just want to finish the year off well," he said. "That's something you think about in the off-season. But if you put up the right numbers at each level, you know you'll move up."

Dominguez Hills Coach George Wing wouldn't be surprised to see Tranberg playing in the major leagues.

"I think he's in a very good organization to make that move because I don't know if the Phillies have a lot of arms in their organization," Wing said.

Verhoeven believes Tranberg has the skills to pitch in the majors.

"He's got a big-league fastball, he's got a better than big-league split-finger, he's got at least an average slider and he's got a big-league makeup," he said. "I could see him being a three, four or five guy in a major league rotation or a setup guy in the bullpen."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World