San Antonio, TX – It still makes Joe Busam angry. His furrowed brow presents itself as the commercials end, and he’s had enough. Busam grabs his remote, and with a deep sigh, presses his thumb ever so lightly onto the power button, ending his agony.
The 2036 College World Series was being reshown on ESPN classic, and it was game 7. It was just about to start when Busam turned it off finally. University of Miami vs. Rice University. Chris Noegel vs. Lyndon Dohrmann. Noegel had been Miami’s ace all season, finishing the year with a 5-1 record and a 1.22 ERA in 10 starts. Rice going with Dohrmann was shocking, as he had made just 3 starts all year, throwing 12 total innings during the regular season. He had an ERA of 6.00. Miami was a heavy favorite because of the pitching matchup, although it’s worth noting that Dohrmann had thrown 5 shutout innings in Rice’s game 1 win, 1-0.
Noegel lived up to expectations, giving up just 3 hits in 6 1/3 innings, allowing 2 runs, 1 earned. Busam was expected to be the first reliever out of the bullpen, but Miami coach Henry Reville decided to use Jeff Gurr and Jerry Berry over the final 2 2/3 innings. Berry allowed 1 run, but it didn’t matter, as Miami’s offense was completely shut down by Dohrmann, who threw 3 1/3 shutout innings, before giving way to the teams two aces to finish it out. Tim Zender, who made 13 starts during the regular season, threw 3 2/3 shutout innings to get Rice to the 8th inning. Here, Rice turned to their best pitcher, ace and future #6 overall draft pick Manny Velasguez, who was oddly used in a relief role throughout the series despite making 11 starts during the regular season. He promptly threw 2 no hit innings, with 3 strikeouts, as Rice defeated Miami to win the College World Series.
Busam didn’t even get to throw a pitch in the team’s most important game of the year. He posted a 1.48 ERA in 23 appearances, striking out 41 batters in 24 innings in helping lead Miami to the College World Series, but remains crushed that he wasn’t used in game 7, even if he knows deep down it wouldn’t have changed the outcome. Busam was used in game 1, when Miami lost 1-0, and threw 1 shutout inning. He closed out Miami’s game 3 win with a 1 2/3 inning save, striking out 3. His final collegiate appearance came in game 5, where he picked up a 2 inning save in another Miami victory.
He finished the College World Series without allowing a run, but felt he was under utilized throughout the series.
“I just realized, and I mean no disrespect to Coach Reville, but I realized sometimes other people just make bad decisions,” Busam says as he turns his TV back on. “I don’t know why they [Miami] only used me out of the bullpen my final two years. I thought it was what was best for the team, and I was successful, so I just went with it. But thinking about it now? Man,” he continues, as the TV flickers on, and he immediately loads up Netflix, the worlds longest running streaming service even in 2041. “Why the hell wasn’t I starting?” He finally finishes his thought as he turns on the newest Netflix Original Movie, “Some Marvel Shit”, the 7,343rd super hero movie to hit the platform.
Joe Busam is baseball’s best pitcher, and it’s not close. The stats are ridiculous, to be sure. A CBL record 1.38 ERA this past season. Over 1,000 strikeouts in just the last 3 years. 27.7 WAR over that same time frame. But it wasn’t always clear that Joe Busam was destined for even a CBL career, let alone stardom. Despite an impressive collegiate career, including being the best pitcher on the second best team in the country in his final season, Busam fell all the way to the 5th round. He was the 89th overall pick.
“He was just small,” a former CBL scout tells me. “He threw hard for his size, but he wasn’t throwing 100 MPH in college like he is now. We had him viewed as a future reliever with some upside, but nobody expected him to develop a third pitch the way he did.”
At 5’10”, Busam is used to being overlooked. But it’s almost comical to hear a scout mention the doubt that existed in Busam developing any kind of a third pitch, when you consider that Joe Busam’s Fastball-Changeup-Curveball are likely the #1, #2 and #3 pitches in baseball. Yes, he almost certainly has the top three pitches, and he can throw them at any time, in any count.
In a May start last year against Nashville, Busam struck out 19 batters in just 7 innings of work. That’s not a typo. 19 of the 21 outs Busam recorded were done without the use of his (non-catcher) defense whatsoever. Even crazier? He was in the midst of a perfect game through those 7 innings. Ruben Velazquez hit an 8th inning lead off double to end both the perfect game and the No-Hitter, and Tabasco immediately removed Busam from the game despite his objections. Kiichi Harada replaced Busam and promptly allowed a 2-run home run, and that gave Busam the loss.
“The situation didn’t matter as much as the college game, since it was just a game in May,” Busam admits. “But I was just as mad. That’s the best game I’ve ever pitched. I would’ve gotten the next three guys out with anyone scoring, and we would’ve still been tied at zero. Skip pulled me at 99 pitches. I’ve never broken so many water coolers in my life.”
Despite the occasional complaints about his usage with Tabasco, Busam has very fond memories of his time with the organization.
“Look, they drafted me when every other team passed on me,” Busam says. “It was hard watching 88 players be picked ahead of me, I knew I was better than that. But the minor league system they ran and the pitching development was instrumental in me becoming the player I am today. I am so incredibly thankful for my time there, but it’s time to move on now. I’m excited to be in Minneapolis.”
The Millers paid a hefty price in acquiring Busam, but the organization has a history of sending their top prospects away in trades, so it wasn’t a huge surprise. However, the haul Tabasco received was massive. According to OSA, the Millers sent the #5, #6, #50, #55 and #68 overall prospects to Tabasco in exchange for Busam, with 4 of those prospects projecting as future starting pitchers. It was no secret Tabasco needed to improve their pitching, and adding this many quality arms is a great start for a team that has a boatload of minor league talent these days.
“It’s been a crazy off-season,” Busam continues. “But my agent pointed out to me this is probably the first year since I was a senior in high school that a team is just going to let me pitch every fifth day, with no limitations.”
Sources say the Millers have made no guarantees to Busam specifically, but it’s expected he will be on a much higher pitch count with his new team. The risk of injury is always there, of course, but the Millers feel strongly that Busam’s ability to pitch late into games will ultimately help out their entire bullpen as well, and will allow him to reach pitch counts he’s never gotten to before.
Most experts believe a healthy Busam will eclipse the 400 K mark this coming season, and that’s a goal Busam isn’t shying away from.
“400 is the goal, absolutely,” he says, smiling. “But I’ll be a lot happier if I can START in game 7 of the Premier Cup, maybe that’ll help fill the void from college.”
It still makes him angry.