After going 7-3 with a 2.89 ERA in his junior year at Oregon, Alex Keudell was told by an adviser he’d likely be drafted between the 10th to 15th round in last June’s MLB amateur draft.
The estimate wasn’t even close to being in the right ballpark.
Keudell had to endure hours of agony as 1,167 players were drafted before he finally got the call from the Minnesota Twins in the 38th round. The wait was over, but Keudell wasn’t satisfied with his draft position.
“Bittersweet would probably describe it the best,” Keudell says.
Familiar, too. Keudell is used to being overlooked and underestimated. From being denied a promotion to varsity in high school to being forced to walk on in college, Keudell has never been considered an elite athlete.
“I always feel like I had to prove people wrong,” Keudell says.
He’s done that so far this season. The No. 1 starter on a Ducks team that’s on a 10-game winning streak and ranked No. 10 in the latest USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll, Keudell is 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA, validating his choice to delay the start of his professional career for another season.
In doing so, Keudell, who was the only one of Oregon’s eight drafted players to return to school, has once again proved his detractors incorrect.
“That’s a big chip on the shoulder,” Keudell says. “I feel like I’ve been overlooked my whole entire life. I was a walk-on my freshman year. I like to go out and prove people wrong, so it’s fine with me.”
Snubbed as a sophomore
During his sophomore year at Jesuit High School in Portland, several of Keudell’s classmates were elevated to the varsity squad at the beginning of the season. Keudell wasn’t one of them. He eventually was promoted towards the end of the year, but didn’t forget about the snub.
“Starting from my (sophomore) year of high school, no one’s really thought of me as that good of a player so I try to keep a chip on my shoulder, to say the least,” Keudell says.
Keudell learned how to funnel the frustration of being overlooked into motivation early on in his career.
“The one thing I appreciate about him is that he didn’t take the downfalls or these hiccups and mope around,” says Barry Keudell, Alex’s father. “He worked harder.”
Keudell thrived once he was elevated to varsity, particularly during his senior season. He was named first-team all-state, going 7-2 with a sparkling 1.24 ERA.
Nonetheless, Keudell wasn’t heavily recruited. He had offers from Kansas State and Hawaii, but Oregon State, then the premier program in the state, didn’t show him any attention — a stinging blow to the would-be third-generation Beaver.
“I was never really recruited by them, unfortunately,” Keudell says.
But after speaking with Oregon coach George Horton and then-Ducks pitching coach Andrew Checketts, Keudell switched allegiances. Oregon, which was preparing for its first season of Division I baseball in 26 years, offered Keudell an opportunity to walk on.
The transition to the Pac-10 level wasn’t easy for Keudell, who went 0-6 with a 5.15 ERA his freshman year, or Oregon, which limped to a 14-42 finish and won only four games in conference.
“I don’t think any of us had much confidence after we started losing games and everything started spiraling,” Keudell says.
But neither Keudell nor the Ducks were down for long. In Keudell’s sophomore season, he shaved a run off his ERA and emerged as a reliable swingman for an Oregon team that unexpectedly reached the NCAA Tournament.
Coming into his own
Keudell became a key rotation piece in his junior season. Although Oregon failed to live up to lofty expectations and missed the NCAA Tournament, Keudell thrived in 2011. His velocity increased, his command improved and his confidence skyrocketed.
”I think there’s been that evolution of confidence that he’ll throw his four pitches over the plate against any kind of team, where young Alex didn’t trust his stuff and wondered if he had to be too fine with every single pitch,” Horton says. “Now he believes in his stuff.”
This season, Keudell’s impact hasn’t been limited to the diamond. As one of only a handful of seniors on the roster, Keudell has taken a leadership role on the team and helped mentor the underclassmen.
“On the field, he’s been a coach to me and kind of a mentor and really taken the whole staff under his wing, being the older guy,” says Jake Reed, a freshman pitcher.
Keudell, who was awarded a scholarship prior to this season, sets a positive example for the rest of the team through his work ethic and preparation.
“He’s not a real boisterous kid, he’s not a guy who demands attention, but he’s a guy who gets attention because of his daily work habits,” Horton says. “I think as a coach if you could say all 35 guys are like Alex Keudell, it’s a good team.”
Keudell will graduate from Oregon with a degree in political science after this term. He hopes his performance this year raises his stock in the eyes of MLB scouts, but isn’t counting on it.
“I hope that I’ll get drafted higher this year, but I’ll take care of that on the field,” Keudell says. “I’m not sure what the scouts think of me. I know I’ve been overlooked my whole entire life.”
But being overlooked has never prevented Keudell from success. After his baseball career ends, Keudell will consider joining the coaching ranks or following his father (who works for Nike) into the business world. The odds of making it big are slim in either profession, but don’t discount Keudell’s chances.
“He’s going to get the most out of himself no matter what comes in front of him,” Oregon assistant coach Dean Stiles says. “Whether it’s pro baseball or some other type of career, he just has that kind of fortitude that allows him to succeed at whatever he does.”