Mike Ellenbest spun seven shutout innings in his longest outing as a pro May 31.
Mike Ellenbest was at his absolute best for the Lansing Lugnuts in his latest start. The 2016 Vancouver Canadians righthander scattered just four hits and a walk over a career-high seven shutout innings against the Lake County Captains to earn his second victory of the season May 31. His strikeout and groundout total were six apiece, throwing 58 strikes in an economical 84-pitch outing while earning a Game Score of 78.
Ellenbest’s first Midwest League victory came in his first start of May versus the Clinton LumberKings when he allowed three runs (two earned) over six innings. In between was a very rough three-start patch when he was torched for 17 runs in 10-1/3 innings.
Despite his last start, the 22 year-old Ellenbest’s overall numbers are not great right now with a 2-4 record and an earned run average of exactly seven but some underlying numbers suggest there could be improvement around the corner. His BABIP is an inflated .391 while his FIP and xFIP numbers check in at 4.53 and 3.87. The Parma, Ohio native’s strikeout rate is nearly one per inning with 44 over 45 frames and his groundball rate is just less than 57 percent, a slight uptick from his time in Vancouver.
What has been hurting the 6-foot-4 Ellenbest is the home run ball as his home run per fly ball rate is nearly 14 percent, a 10 percent jump from his Vancouver number. Conversely, his infield popup rate has been cut exactly in half from just over 22 percent with the C’s to slightly above 11 percent with the Lugnuts this year. Ellenbest has been issuing more walks this year with a rate of four every nine innings, representing a slight hike from his over two-and-a-half walk rate per nine with Vancouver.
Ellenbest was a 24th round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2016 draft out of Saginaw Valley State University. In an interview with Lansing Lugnuts broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, Ellenbest said his older brother Matthew – a former pitcher with Morehead State – played a big role in helping him get to Saginaw Valley State.
“It started with a showcase. I was throwing in front of a bunch of scouts. The SVSU head coach that was there, including the pitching coach – they actually didn’t see me pitch because they recruited my brother (Matthew) beforehand a couple of years before. They recognized my last name and they’re like, ‘We’d like to have you for a visit.’ I was like, ‘Alright, yeah, I’ll be there’.”
Ellenbest was a redshirt freshman with the Cardinals and he won the Freshman Pitcher of the Year award in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference, punctuated by four straight scoreless starts covering 26 innings. He says the key was putting his redshirt year to good use. “I would show up to games and I would watch and I would learn,” Ellenbest said. “I would learn the hitters and how they would approach the game and that helped me a lot. That redshirt year really, really helped me”.
Ellenbest extended his shutout string to 35-1/3 innings into his sophomore season, enroute to winning all-GLIAC first team honours in his sophomore season. SVSU head coach Chris Ebright had nothing but praise for Ellenbest’s two-year stay with the Cardinals.
“Mike Ellenbest is the perfect example of what hard work and determination can do for you. Mike came to SVSU throwing 84-86 mph and has done everything our coaching staff has asked and with his dedication is now throwing 91-93 mph. He helped us coaches in the development of our younger guys as well in a huge leadership role. Mike will be missed, both on and off the field. I wish Mike all the best in his baseball career, and in life. He is a great teammate and the Blue Jays got a great kid!”
Ellenbest throws the standard four pitches – fastball, curveball, changeup and slider, the latter which he developed himself when he was around 16 years old.
“I taught myself how to throw my slider. I didn’t have a pitching coach growing up that would teach me things,” Ellenbest said. “I taught myself how to pitch, mechanics, pitches, everything. Just watch videos on it, like big league guys and that’s how I decided to develop my game.”
Ellenbest says the pitchers he watches the most are the late Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlis and 2011 Vancouver Canadians/New York Mets hurler Noah Syndergaard.
Mike Ellenbest recorded a save in his first professional outing against Hillsboro June 26.
In his pro debut with Vancouver last year, Ellenbest earned a three-inning save by shutting down the Hillsboro Hops at Nat Bailey Stadium June 26. He followed up with two more three-inning shutout appearances and became a tandem starter with current Lugnuts teammate Andy Ravel. The rest of his season did not turn out as well as he finished the second half of the season with a 6.61 ERA, up from 1.93 in the first half. The lone highlight of his second half saw him earn his first Midwest League victory by tossing three shutout innings in Hillsboro August 13.
Mike Ellenbest notched his first professional victory in Hillsboro August 13.
Overall, Ellenbest went 1-3 with a 4.45 ERA and a 21-9 K/BB total in 30-1/3 innings with Vancouver. Even though he didn’t enjoy the greatest of seasons, he really enjoyed his time on the West Coast.
“Vancouver was absolutely amazing”, Ellenbest said. “The fans there were tremendous. They’re loud, they’re into the game. It was great, especially for a first year in pro.”
Ellenbest ended the year with his first promotion as he got the call to Lansing to take part in the Crosstown Showdown exhibition game against the Michigan State Spartans. He tossed two shutout innings to help the Lugnuts take down the Spartans 4-1.
Ellenbest says his goal is to move up the minor league ladder and be able to pitch for a new team every spring. If he can turn in more starts like his last one for the rest of 2017, he could spend 2018 in Dunedin.