FRISCO, Texas – Wyatt Mills has some unfinished business in the Texas League.
The Spokane native finished last season at Double-A Arkansas, going 0-2 in nine appearances after being promoted from high Single-A Modesto, where he was a 2018 California League Midseason All-Star.
Thus far in his 2019 return to the Travelers, he is 2-0 through 10 appearances.
“Yeah, coming up here last year I was excited, I was nervous. I really didn’t pitch very well,” Mills said. “It (coming up here last year) was to learn the ropes.
“Same thing with this year. I’ve had to get back to what got me here. A lot of times it can take you away from what got you here, try to be better, change things. Really, you’ve just got to look back at your strengths. That’s what this level teaches you. Everyone’s good. You’ve got to be able to perfect your strengths and use those to attack the other team.”
One big difference between 2018 and 2019 is that the Gonzaga product now has the added experience from pitching in the 2018 Arizona Fall League (AFL). In eight appearances for Peoria, he was 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP, seven strikeouts and three walks.
Mills, the Mariners’ No. 16 prospect per MLB.com, fared well against many of baseball’s top prospects in the AFL, solidifying himself as an up-and-coming reliever in the Seattle organization.
“The fall league was an amazing experience. Being around some of the best players that I’ve ever played with, being in the same locker room as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. during those games was really cool just to see how those people act and how they are,” Mills said. “It’s crazy how not far away we all are from where want to be. Fall league was hard, but I thought I threw well. I went out there and was myself.”
Of course, the seeds for his current success and his strong showing last fall in the AFL were sown during his four seasons at Gonzaga between 2013 and 2017, when the Mariners selected him in the third round of the June amateur draft.
And it was with the Bulldogs that the former Gonzaga Prep standout altered his arm slot to become a sidearm reliever, a decision which has proved to be a rousing success.
“I loved Gonzaga,” Mills said. “Had a lot of fun there and that moved into making a switch of being a sidearm pitcher as a sophomore. My coaches were OK with that and that’s really made me who I am, know as a player (how to) find a spot on a team by being a sidearmer and being funky (with my delivery). I loved the coaching staff. I loved my teammates and it’s by far the best chapter of my life so far.”
During spring training in Peoria, Arizona, he had several conversations with fellow Gonzaga product Marco Gonzales, a starting pitcher for the Mariners, exchanges which only reinforced how close Mills is to joining his fellow ex-Bulldog in the show.
“He set the bar for the Zags,” Mills said of Gonzales. “I got to speak with him a couple times in spring training, just a class act. I hope to be teammates with him one day. That’s my goal. He’s setting a very good example for what a Zag is at that level and I’m going to try to match it.”
At one point this season, Mills was one of three sidearm relievers on the Travelers. Regardless of where the release point is on his delivery, one thing has defined him thus far in 2019 – effectiveness out of the bullpen.
“Yeah, the guy’s got electric stuff,” Arkansas catcher Joseph Odom said. “Obviously, arm angle’s a little bit lower than the normal and has pretty good velocity from down there. He’s been really good for us this year. Our biggest thing has been him coming in tight situations just trying to throw the ball over the plate. Because of his natural ability and natural movement, the rest kind of takes over.”
Over the past few seasons, the Mariners as an organization have emphasized meditation, the importance of being mindful and present, as something which can benefit their players. Count Mills as a believer as he finds himself just trying to be present, focusing on the task at hand, which is usually his next pitch, and not letting his mind drift from his immediate focus.
And that singular focus is epitomized by what he feels he can bring to any bullpen, in the minors or hopefully one day in the big leagues.
“What I want to bring is just a funky, different look. Can sneak a fastball in there that’s a little bit faster from the low slot,” Mills said. “I’m trying to go out there and attack the zone, throw strikes and get you out just as fast as I can.”
Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.