BOISE — Joel Condreay says he is starting to feel like a pitcher.
A year after being drafted by the Colorado Rockies outside of his natural position at NCAA Division III Whitworth, the Boise Hawks’ righthander has had the benefit of an entire offseason working off the mound.
“I came here last year and they kind of threw me in the fire,” said Condreay, who had played shortstop in college. “I had to figure out how to pitch. I did my best last year, and in spring training I got a lot more focused attention, figuring out what I’m doing to refine my craft. This year I come back feeling like a pitcher, not just some college kid they told to get on the mound. I’m feeling a lot more confident going into this year.”
After a three-game series at Salem-Keizer to open the season, Condreay and the Hawks return to Memorial Stadium for their home opener Monday against the Everett AquaSox.
Condreay looks to continue his transition to the mound, which started when he was drafted in the 31st round of last season’s draft.
In his first season in Boise, Condreay pitched 14 innings in 14 relief appearances, and had a 4.50 ERA. In Friday’s season opener, he pitched two innings without allowing a baserunner in a 7-6 extra innings loss at Salem-Keizer.
“He’s a strike thrower,” said Hawks’ development supervisor Fred Ocasio. “He comes in there and challenges the hitters, he pitches to contact, and that’s why he gives himself a chance. That’s the one thing about pitchers, you want them to go up there and be aggressive in the strike zone and that’s one of the thing Joel does.”
Condreay led Whitworth with a .355 batting average during the 2018 season, adding two home runs and 25 RBIs for the Pirates. But it was his arm strength at shortstop that really started catching the eyes of Major League scouts.
While some teams were still scouting him as an infielder, others started looking at him as a pitcher. He had pitched a little growing up, but up until the 2018 season hadn’t pitched at all in college.
Cognizant of that fact, coaches gave him a handful of appearances when scouts were in town. In four appearances on the mound he pitched 2.2 innings and had an ERA of 13.50.
“I was just hoping for an opportunity, trying to be flexible and hoping that someone would give me a chance one way or another,” Condreay said. “It’s not a great feeling stepping on the mound, having never done it in college. I definitely felt unprepared, but I was just trying to light up the radar gun and hope someone saw some potential in me.”
He made his first appearance of the season on July 4, 2018, against the Eugene Emeralds. In one inning he allowed four hits and two earned runs. He credited the staff last season with staying patient with him through his early struggles. By mid-July, he had hit a routine.
On July 18, in Hillsboro, Oregon, he a full inning without allowing a hit. That sparked a 10-game stretch during which he allowed just two earned runs for a 1.80 ERA.
“It was really starting from scratch and my pitching coach last year, Bob Apodaca, was awesome,” Condreay said. “He didn’t overwhelm me, but he gave me some basic ideas like ‘hey, try to think about doing this.’ For the three months I was here, I felt like I got better, then I made huge leaps and bounds over the offseason.”
He started seeing quick improvement during the fall instructional league. When he started throwing bullpen sessions in January and February, he noticed that it was starting to come a lot easier to him.
First-year manager Steve Soliz, who was hired in January, said that in his experiences with Condreay, he makes it look easy.
“He’d been an infielder before, so he’s an athletic pitcher, which is nice,” Soliz said. “He’s a strike thrower. He’s got a couple pitches that he can throw over the plate for strikes. The transition to me, other than me asking him how it’s going, it looks like it’s been pretty seamless.”
As he begins his second season as a pitcher, Condreay hopes he can continue building on the strong base he’s set over the past year.
“It’s still two years of pitching, so I’m far from a completed project,” he said. “But I feel like I’ve got to the point where I’m on the same wavelength as the rest of the pitchers in the locker room. Now I’m on the same path as them trying to figure out the kinks.”