Former Minutemen sign minor league contracts

By Dan Gigliotti

U. Massachusetts baseball players Nick Serino and Bryan Leigh signed with major league squads this summer, after concluding their careers as Minutemen.

On June 9, the junior left-handed pitcher, Serino was first pick in the 37th round of the Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft by the Washington Nationals. On June 24, right-handed pitcher Leigh signed a contract with the Seattle Mariners.

“We’re happy for them,” UMass coach Mike Stone said. “They had good enough years and showed enough potential to be [signed]. It’s a great opportunity for them and hopefully they make the best of it.”

Serino, a 21-year-old from Saugus, Mass., is the latest of 75 Minutemen to be selected in the MLB draft and the first since Washington selected left-handed pitcher Mitchell Clegg in the 21st round in 2009.

Serino opted to forego his senior year at UMass to sign a minor league contract with the National’s’ affiliate team in the Rookie Gulf Coast League in Viera, Fl.

“If I went back to school, I could have gotten drafted higher or been a senior-sign,” Serino said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I thought if I had a good year, I could get picked up.”

Serino posted a 2-6 record with a 6.72 earned run average in 11 starts this past spring and ranked 21ststin the nation in strikeouts per nine innings (10.72). His 83 strikeouts rank ninth in the program’s history for a single season.

In his career at UMass, Serino threw in 39 games, including 26 starts, going 9-14 with a 5.67 ERA. He leaves sixth all-time in career strikeouts (189).

Serino pitched for the Lowell All-Americans of the New England Collegiate Baseball League during the summer of 2009 where he earned an all-star selection. His performance that season reaffirmed his confidence that he could take the leap to the professional level.

Serino’s decision became easier after a workout he had with Mike Albert, a scout for the Nationals organization, who helped Clegg get drafted last year.

“On paper, I didn’t have a great year,” Serino said. “About four or five days after the draft, I had a workout with the Nationals. After that, I started thinking ‘OK this might happen.’ I knew that I was going to be playing at the next level. I just didn’t know when that was.”

Serino is getting limited time with his new minor league club. In 10 games since joining the GCL Nationals, Serino is 1-2 with 16 strikeouts and a 2.93 ERA. He has pitched 15.1 innings in relief as the team makes room for rehabbing pitchers such as Scott Olsen and Chien-Ming Wang.

“It‘s really tough to get innings,” Serino said. “When a guy gets hurt in the minor leagues or the big leagues, they come down here to rehab. It’s crazy— I grew up playing with these guys in video games and now I’m standing next to them.”

Leigh, 22 years-old from Somerset, Mass., was passed over in the MLB draft and signed with Seattle as a free agent. On June 25, he was assigned to the Mariner’s’ affiliate team in Pulaski, Va., a member of the Appalachian League.

After transferring from Barry University as a sophomore in 2008, Leigh pitched in 39 games as a Minuteman, starting 19 of them. He holds a 9-14 record with a 4.63 ERA and 128 strikeouts. Leigh began his senior season going 0-4 before registering five-straight wins. He finished 6-5 with a 4.80 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 12 games.

His performance out of the Minutemen UMass bullpen and later as a starter made enough of an impression to garner the attention of Brian Nichols, the major league scout of the New England area for the Mariners’ organization. Once he got the offer to play, his decision was a quick one.

“I was shocked, excited and surprised at the same time,” Leigh said. “They told me they had a spot for me and I left the next day. It was either that or start looking for another job.”

Leigh is given limited time on the mound for the Pulaski Mariners. He currently has 13.1 innings pitched in eight relief appearances. Part of the reason for Leigh not getting out of the bullpen is because of his extensive time spent on the mound for UMass. He now has a 1-0 record with a 1.35 ERA and 14 strikeouts.

Over 30 former players have now made the move to the professional level in Stone’s 23-year tenure.

“UMass has always had the kind of baseball program that would have the kind of players that can play at the next level and we prepare them to play at the next level,” Stone said. “It is something that we promote when we recruit and it is something we are very proud of.”

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