In 2014, Dan Altavilla won the Brett Tomko Award, given to the most outstanding pitcher in Division II baseball, back when he was pitching for the feared Mercyhurst Lakers. In 80.1 innings that year, Altavilla struck out 129 batters and allowed just 11 earned runs in 12 starts - and seven of those runs came in his first and last games of the season.
In a start on May 1, 2014, Altavilla recorded 23 outs...and 19 of those were strikeouts.
Now, if you’ve never heard of Mercyhurst University before, I don’t blame you. Its most famous alum is probably Buster Douglas, of “Down goes Tyson!” fame. (Bonus line I’ve never heard before from that match: “This makes Cinderella look like a sad story!”)
But you’ve hopefully heard of Dan Altavilla, whose own Cinderella story is quickly becoming the stuff of legend. And whether or not he starts the season with the big-league club (my guess is that he will), he figures to make an impact on the Mariners’ bullpen in 2017 and for years to come.
Enjoy the wonderfully quaint video above, with mesh netting galore.
After being selected in the fifth round by the M’s in 2014, Altavilla spent a year and a half as a starter, putting up okay numbers across short-season A and high-A ball. In 2016, however, Altavilla was shifted to the bullpen, where his supposed 5’11” frame would likely hold up better. (It’s okay, Dan. I tell people I’m 5’9.5” and there’s this mutual understanding that we’re both pretending when I say it.)
And hold up better, it did. Altavilla was electric in Jackson, striking out more than a batter an inning while posting a 1.91 ERA. On the strength of that performance, Altavilla jumped AAA and headed straight to the bigs in August, where he was just as good if not better - a 0.73 ERA, 10 strikeouts in 12.1 innings compared to just one walk, and only one run allowed.
Here’s the thing: Remember how that first video says he can touch 97 MPH? Well, according to the article about his MLB debut, he can now touch 100 MPH, and BrooksBaseball says his fastball fluctuates between 96 and 98 on the radar gun. Combine that with a devastating slider that can fool established pros like Todd Frazier (above), and you’ve got a heck of a reliever.
Now, for the bad part. Maybe it’s because of his limited time in the big leagues, or even his limited time in AA-ball or higher, but Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection system is pretty down on Altavilla, at just 0.1 WAR for the season; Steamer projects him for a similar amount.
Altavilla (note: it’s pronounced VILLA, not vee-ya) is unquestionably focused on being the best big-leaguer he can - he turned down an invitation to pitch for Italy in the World Baseball Classic, depriving us of his smile on a global stage in exchange for more opportunities on a local one. And that’s exciting! I mean, how can you not love this guy?
When it's 4 PM on Friday and the biz won't stop but you're trying to have a positive attitude. pic.twitter.com/zXnFy3diRs— Nathan Bishop (@NathanHBishop) January 13, 2017
The biggest challenge for Dan Altavilla will be separating himself from Daniel Altavilla. The latter, of course, is famous for his role in the second-best game in the world (behind baseball).
But then again, our Dan Altavilla has a powerful fastball, a killer slider, and a winning smile. Our Dan Altavilla figures to play a pivotal role in the bullpen this season, and if he can keep pitching anywhere close to his 2016 campaign, the Altavilla-Diaz combination at the end of games becomes a sight to behold.
And maybe one day, they’ll rename the “Brett Tomko Award” after the latest and greatest D-II to MLB sensation.