Most top baseball pitching prospects starred as their high school ace before being drafted; no matter what role they ultimate assume in pro ball. Not James Pugliese.
The right-hander grew up in New Jersey and attended Steinert High School. Instead of starting, he was the team’s dominant closer.
Following graduation, Pugliese enrolled at Mercer County Community College in New Jersey. His talent was so apparent that the team decided to convert him into a starter. It turned out to be a great decision for everyone involved.
Pugliese spent just one season with Mercer, but it was one for the ages. He went 6-2 in 65.2 innings with a 1.51 ERA in 2011. He also struck out 77 batters while walking 25. He seemed to get stronger as the season went on, as during one 40.1 inning stretch, he allowed just 16 hits and three earned runs.
Pugliese’s college repertoire included a low-90s fastball, changeup, slider and, surprisingly, a knuckleball.
Although he had a scholarship to attend St John’s University in 2011, his success with Mercer also attracted pro scouts. He had two pre-draft workouts—one at Yankee Stadium and the other at Citi Field. He was impressive during those showcases and ended up being drafted in the 18th round of the 2011 draft by the Chicago Cubs.
After signing, Pugliese was sent to the Cubs’ instructional team in Arizona, where he pitched in 15 (nine starts) games in 2011. He went 2-2 with a 4.62 ERA, and showed that he had a future as a starter.
This past season, Pugliese appeared in 15 games (11 starts) with Boise in short-season ball. He was only 1-5 with a 5.37 ERA. However, his ERA was greatly inflated by a July 22 game against Eugene, where he allowed seven earned runs in four innings. Without that outing, his ERA would have been 4.63 on the year. More information on his statistics is available at BaseballReference.com.
With the Cubs in full rebuilding mode, Pugliese figures to have a great opportunity to develop as a pitcher and have a shot to move through the organization. I had a chance to ask him some questions last year and found him to be very focused on what lies before him. Take a moment and get to know the Chicago prospect a little better.
James Pugliese Interview:
Who were your favorite team and player growing up?: I never had a favorite team or a favorite player until I was drafted. My favorite team now is obliviously the Cubs.
What pitches do you have in your arsenal, and which one do you think you need to improve the most?: I have four different pitches in my arsenal. My curveball needs the most improvement.
Can you run through what your 2011 draft experience was like?: Overwhelming. The draft was very overwhelming due to the amount of scouts calling me at the same time.
Do you believe your future lies in starting or relieving, and why?: I am in the starting role as of now. But I am able to pitch in any role the organization needs me to be in. I enjoy them all.
You were throwing a knuckle ball a little bit prior to the draft. Is that something you are continuing with?: I wish! Haha, but no I am not throwing the knuckleball anymore.
After you signed your first contract, did you do anything to treat yourself or celebrate with friends and family?: I signed my first contract and then left New Jersey and headed to Arizona four days after signing. I was only able to have a going away party with my family and friends at a local restaurant.
How does the Cubs adding a front office person like Theo Epstein impact minor league prospects such as yourself?: It’s great how he is building throughout the organization and not just focusing on the Big team. What they teach us in our workouts is the same from the top to the bottom of the organization, which is definitely something that’s going to improve the entire organization.