Connor Staine has always believed in his skills on the mound. But after his first two seasons of college baseball didn’t transpire as he envisioned, Staine wasn’t sure what to expect in his first year at the University of Central Florida this spring.
The right-handed pitcher entered the season as UCF’s No. 1 starter. He quickly showed he belonged, especially after throwing seven shutout innings with 10 strikeouts against then-second-ranked Ole Miss in his third start of the season.
Staine didn’t allow a run until his ninth start of the season on April 14, throwing 33 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. It was a remarkable accomplishment for Staine, who started his college career at the University of Maryland before transferring to UCF in the offseason.
Staine’s success and development as a starting pitcher have vaulted him up MLB draft boards this spring. Scouts project Staine as a potential top-three-round pick in July’s draft.
“It is pretty surreal,” Staine said. “It is something every kid dreams of accomplishing. I am not a 1-1 guy. That has never been who I was. I have never had that following. I think that is what makes this so special for me.
“Since I got to college, I have told my parents that I am going to be a first-rounder. I still hold myself to that. I’m not going to be disappointed if the dice don’t roll that way, but that is where I feel my abilities and potential are. As much as you can tell yourself that, it is awesome to see your hard work pay off.”
After posting inconsistent results in his first two years at Maryland, Staine felt he needed a fresh start. Transferring to UCF paid off for Staine, who posted a 1.87 ERA with 51 strikeouts and 21 walks allowed in 43 1/3 innings.
A back issue and blister problems caused Staine to miss some time this season. But his projection and pitch mix intrigue scouts. His potential to start in pro ball will allow him to go early in the draft, even though he doesn’t have a long track record of dominating college hitters.
Staine is a 6-foot-4, 200-pound right-handed pitcher that throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider, curveball and changeup from a quick arm action and athletic delivery.
He typically relies on his four-seam fastball over his two-seamer. It sits in the mid-90s and tops out at 97 mph with late movement. His fastball also plays well up in the zone and generates swings and misses.
Staine started throwing a slider while at Maryland. His slider is his best secondary pitch. He tunnels his slider well off of his fastball and has confidence throwing it to righties and lefties. The pitch serves as his strikeout pitch.
His curveball has 12-to-6 breaking action. It serves as a quality alternative to his slider and typically catches hitters off-balanced after he throws them a high fastball. He rarely throws his changeup, but it flashes potential.
After working on visualization in the offseason, Staine believes his mental approach to pitching is his top attribute.
“I know the book on me is that I have a fiery personality,” Staine said. “That is 100% accurate. That fiery personality helps me excel at my game, especially when things get tight. That helps me hone in and focus on the next pitch.”
Staine averaged 4.4 walks per nine innings this season. In the offseason, Staine wants to improve the command and control of his pitches.
Staine hopes to improve his ability to throw fastballs on the inside part of the plate to right-handed hitters. He also wants to increase his curveball’s velocity so it has a sharper break in the future. He believes those tweaks will help him have more consistency moving forward.
“This is the most walks I have had in a year,” Staine said. “It is not like I have an outlandish amount. But it is just more than I would have liked to have had.”
Staine made tremendous strides in his first year at UCF this season. He credits his evolution as a starting pitcher to UCF pitching coach Nick Otte.
Within the first two weeks of fall baseball, Otte cleaned up “two or three mechanical flaws I had for years,” and the changes helped him have more consistency, Staine said. Staine’s relationship with Otte helped him feel relaxed and confident anytime he pitched.
Staine is thankful for his time at UCF and believes the program has set him up to have a successful career in the professional ranks.
“I am forever grateful for my time here,” Staine said. “This has been one of, if not the best, experiences I have ever had. I know what I am capable of and know where I can be. I just hope everyone else is ready to see me succeed from here on out.”
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Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for seven years. He has interviewed 356 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.