Name: Stephen Villines
Born: Lake Hills, California
Age: 22 (7/15/95)
Height/Weight: 6'2"/175 lbs
School: University of Kansas
Stephen Villines was a four-year letter-winner for the El Toro Bulls, his high school team. In his junior year, the young right-hander posted a 1.41 ERA in 49.1 innings, striking out 33 and walking seven. As a senior, he posted a 1.40 ERA in 30 innings, striking out 19 and walking 6. With no MLB clubs calling, and no Division I NCAA colleges showing any interest in the high school reliever, Villines all but finalized arrangements to enroll at Saddleback Community College. A friend of a friend happened to know Coach Price of the University of Kansas, and put the two in contact. Price liked what he saw of Villines, and offered him a baseball scholarship to attend. Villines agreed, and the right-hander went on to attend the University of Kansas instead.
In his first season in a Jawhawk uniform, the freshman was immediately thrust into a position of importance. Early in 2014, staff ace Wes Benjamin went down to a season-ending injury, forcing Coach Price to shuffle his pitchers around. He trusted Villines with the closer role, and the right-hander took to the role with aplomb. He saved eight games with the Jayhawks that year, and ended the season posting a 1.50 ERA in 48.0 innings, split over 29 appearances, the sixth-best single-season ERA posted in the history of the baseball program at the University of Kansas.
Over the next few years, the right-hander was a steadying presence in the Jayhawk bullpen. Players would come and go, some would have success and others would struggle, but Stephen Villines was always a constant. In 2015, he saved 13 games, and posted a 3.40 ERA in 53.0 innings, split over 28 games. In 2016, he saved 5 games, and posted a 2.13 ERA in 50.2 innings, split over 25 appearances. During the summer of both years, he played for the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod League. He posted a combined 1.50 ERA in 42.0 innings pitched, saving 9 games.
Villines was not drafted during the 2016 MLB Draft, so he returned to the University of Kansas for his senior season. The right-hander saved a career-high 14 games and posted a 2.70 ERA in 43.1 innings pitched, split over 32 games. In April, he passed Don Czyz’ single-season save record of 31 and at the conclusion of the season, set the University of Kansas’ all-time saves record with 40 saves, just one shy of the Big-12 record of 41, set by Huston Street.
Villines’s fastball is graded as far below average for a right-hander, sitting in the mid-to-upper 80s. It gets significant arm side run, thanks to his arm slot, but not much sink. He complements the fastball with a slider and a changeup. His slider, which sits in the low-t0-mid-70s, has sharp bite, once again due to his arm slot, but does not have much depth. His change-up fades down and in to right-handed hitters, which elicits plenty of swings and misses. The right-hander is able to command all three of his pitches, and has the ability to throw any of them in any count for a strike.
The lanky right-hander throws from a low, almost sidearm arm slot. He developed the throwing mechanics when playing ball with his brother, Benjamin. Normally playing middle infield, he began turning double plays using the motion, and brought it with him onto the mound when it felt natural, but more importantly, it got results. The delivery gives the right-hander, who the Mets took in the tenth round, plenty of movement on his pitches, and imparts plenty of deception on his pitches. Despite the unconventional mechanics, he repeats them well, and his ability to control his pitches has never come into question.