SPOKANE — Port Angeles’ Cole Uvila is settling in nicely in his rookie season with the Spokane Indians, the Texas Rangers Class A Northwest League Minor League Baseball affiliate.
Uvila is soaking in the minor league experience during a summer filled with bus trips for games in locales like the Tri-Cities, Vancouver, B.C., and beginning Monday, a three-game series in Everett.
In Spokane, Uvila landed with an organization with a rock-solid ownership group in the Brett family (including Hall of Famer George Brett), and a devoted fanbase — a Triple-A city with a single-A ballclub.
“The fans are incredibly supportive,” Uvila said. “We draw between 4,000 to 7,000 people a night. I’ve signed more baseballs in the last month than I ever thought I would in my life.”
And the 1,199th selection (out of 1,214) in the 40th round of June’s Major League Baseball Draft is putting up impressive statistics.
In six appearances out of the bullpen through Wednesday, Uvila has a 1.54 ERA in 11.2 innings pitched, a 16 to 2 strikeout to walk ratio and a .51 walks and hits/per innings pitched (WHIP).
“It’s going good, about as good as it could go,” Uvila said earlier this sweek. “Having a lot of fun and learning a lot, while taking things one day at a time and trying to make the most out of it.”
He also collected a save in a July 5 win over the Tri-Cities, striking out two batters in a 3-1 victory with family in attendance.
“The day I got my first professional save my dad [Steve] was there and I gave him the ball,” Uvila said.
“My dad and stepmom and sister have probably made it to about 70 percent of the games, so that’s been really special.”
He came on in a tight spot in his last appearance in Monday’s game against Vancouver, pressed into long relief after a lengthy rain delay knocked Indians’ starting pitcher Hans Crouse out of the game.
Crouse was the Rangers’ second-round pick in the 2017 draft, a “million dollar arm,” according to Uvila [Crouse’s signing bonus was $1.45 million], so Crouse is treated with care and no unneccesary moves that could potentially risk injury — such as remaining in a game after a long delay between pitches — are being taken.
Uvila got the call during the rain delay.
“In the locker room eating,” Uvila said. “I was like, ‘Sweet.’ It was a 0-0 score, and a lot of the other outings I came in when the game was like 6-0, so there was some added pressure.” Uvila said.
“I started with a 2-2 count on their No. 3 hitter with a runner at second and two outs. The whole stadium was standing on their feet and I threw a strike and it was really cool to punch that guy out.
“Pitching would be a lot easier if everybody started with a 2-2 count.”
Uvila was drafted June 6 and after signing his contract at the Rangers training complex in Surprize, Ariz., complete with a signing bonus, he was assigned to Spokane along with six other fellow Rangers’ draftees, making friends as the new teammates traveled up to the Inland Empire.
“As a 40th round pick the minimum bonus you can get is $1,000 and that’s what I got,” Uvila said. “I have two quarters left [before graduating] at the University of Washington and they will cover that as well.”
That small gesture is an example of how well the Rangers organization treats their players, Uvila said.
“The Texas Rangers are on the short list for taking care of their players,” Uvila said. “It’s been super eye-opening to hear the differences with other organizations. We’ve been lucky.
“I hear from some other guys they are eating PB and J’s [peanut butter and jelly sandwiches] three times a day and staying in rough places on the road.”
Uvila said the Indians are on their own for breakfast, but a team nutritionist puts together a lunch buffet and post-game buffet for players, and the Rangers also cover the costs of all dietary and exercise supplements provided by the nutritionist.
He and his roommate Sean Chandler also lucked out on housing during the season. The Indians set their players up with host families in Spokane and the Rangers pick up the rent, which for A-ball players, who all make around $1,300 per month, is no small amount.
“All minor league players have the same exact contract, it’s the same amount of money in rookie ball for a first or 4oth rounder,” Uvila said.
“Sean and I stay at a really nice host family’s [Paula and Marty Barth] house up on the hill in Spokane,” Uvila said. “It’s a 10-acre spread up on the hill and they take really good care of us. Their kids are off living on their own, so we have a finished basement all to ourselves. We’ve got a ping pong table, we’re set.
“A buddy on the Angels short-season A ball team has to pay his own rent.”
All minor league players receive $25 per day on all road trips in addition to the food and lodging they are provided on the road.
And Major League Baseball also pays 100 percent of the health insurance premiums for all minor league players, and an average of 75 percent of the premiums for their dependents. They also receive a $50,000 life insurance benefit and earn a year’s pension if they are on a minor-league roster as of Aug. 1.
Uvila said he and Indians’ pitching coach Jomo Arnold have been working to refine his slider.
“It’s my third pitch and I’m trying to get it a little more consistent, more of a swing and miss pitch.
“Less working on the pitches’ movement, more on increasing velocity and being sharper. In college I threw it in the low 80s [MPH] and a little loopy, with Spokane it’s now in the upper 80s and a little sharper. With the extra velocity it makes it harder to land for a strike, so it’s about finding that balance.
Uvila did close out his appearance against Vancouver on Monday with the pitch.
“The last pitch of my outing was a slider and it was probably the best I’ve thrown in pro ball so far.”
As a relief pitcher, Uvila doesn’t always know when he’s going to get the ball and appear in a game, but he’s looking forward to a good-sized crew of friends and family coming over to see him in Everett.
“I’ve got a pretty good group of people ready to come and say hello,” Uvila said.
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected]