Arizona State is turning to professional baseball for its new pitching coach.

Mike Cather, who reached the major leagues as a pitcher before becoming a pitching coach at the Triple-A level and the Miami Marlins’ minor league pitching coordinator, is joining ASU coach Tracy Smith’s staff after an extensive search to fill the position that Smith held this season.

“Everybody I talked to in the game said he’s excellent making guys the best, taking what they do and getting the most out of them,” Smith said. “One of my main things was finding someone who can help with the development piece.”

Cather, 46, worked for the Boston Red Sox from 2006-11 as a Class-A and Double-A pitching coach and advance scout. He was with the San Diego Padres from 2012-14 including a season as pitching coach with Triple-A El Paso, then managed by former ASU coach Pat Murphy. He was the Chicago Cubs’ Triple-A pitching coach in 2015 before becoming the Marlins’ minor league pitching coordinator in 2016. 

The ASU opportunity came along just as Cather, after finishing two classes to complete his college degree, was looking to shift into college coaching.

“Everything over the last couple of years said it’s time to go back and be closer to home and get down to the core of what you really love,” namely hands-on coaching, Cather said. “The dominoes lined up.”

“We were looking for the best fit culturally,” Smith said. “If I didn’t hear at some point that Arizona State is where I want to be as part of a national championship dog pile in Omaha then I ruled people out. We identified a top group of candidates from across the country with various backgrounds. Mike made the most sense for us. I love the pro experience piece.

“Recruiting is so different now days, particularly at ASU. It’s a lot of face time and interfacing with families. He has a great demeanor, articulates well and will resonate big time with kids aspiring to play at the highest level. He’s going to be different than 98 percent of college coaches because of his experience and background. We fits our culture better than anybody we talked to.”

Cather pitched for the Atlanta Braves from 1997-99, including in the 1997 National League Championship Series, in a playing career cut short by injury. He was a private pitching instructor from 2001-05 before joining the Red Sox. In college, Cather pitched for California, including in the 1992 College World Series.

Cather is a key hire for Smith, going into his fourth season and coming off ASU’s first losing season (23-32) since 1985. Smith doubled as pitching coach in 2017 after firing Brandon Higelin before the season began. He took his time with the hire “because I want to get this right” before making an offer that Cather accepted Monday night.

“When you talk about ASU, baseball is there at the top,” Cather said. “That history and lineage at ASU is something that can be harnessed. I spent a lot of time with the Boston Red Sox and understand what it means to be a high profile position. That all plays into my qualifications. I’m comfortable having high expectations.”

Cather said he was immediately comfortable talking baseball with Smith, who was “very open, honest and transparent about the struggles” this season.

“I love challenges,” Cather said. “Looking at the roster and recruits coming in, there is a solid foothold for having a quality team. Sometimes you’re just missing one part, a little chemistry or a new face.”

ASU’s returning pitchers include Chaz Montoya, Connor Higgins, Spencer Van Scoyoc, Eli Lingos, Ryan Hingst, Jake Godfrey, Fitz Stadler and Zane Strand. Incoming pitchers include Boyd Vander Kooi, Drake Davis and Colby Davis.

ASU is losing just two players – pitcher Brendan Murphy and infielder Jake Holmes – from its 2017 recruiting class to pro baseball. Murphy was a fourth-round draft pick (Milwaukee) and Holmes an 11th-rounder (Philadelphia). The pro signing deadline is Saturday, but Smith is confident that seven other draftees including Higgins are sticking with the Sun Devils.

ASU infield signee Gage Workman of Queen Creek is among 40 players who will be trying out for the USA Baseball U-18 National team, Aug. 19-24 in Minneapolis. That team, managed by Grand Canyon’s Andy Stankiewicz, will play in the World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 World Cup in Canada.  

The 2017 class is ranked eighth nationally after the draft and highest among Pac-12 schools by Perfect Game, which rated the 2016 ASU class at No. 5 nationally.

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