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Appalachian State Baseball’s Watts Thrives in Professional League After Spring Graduation

Luke pitched at Appalachian State for four years. Three years as a reliever from the bullpen, and one year as the Game 3 starting pitcher.

By Savannah R. Watts

Recent Appalachian State University Baseball alumni, Luke Watts, brought the heat with his professional pitching debut on June 22. Appearing for one-inning, Watts recorded two strikeouts and one hit for a scoreless inning to contribute to the 7-0 win for the Lake Erie Crushers against the Windy City Thunderbolts. Since then, Watts has continued to dominate the mound throwing a scoreless inning in all but one of his appearances with the Crushers.

Luke in his new uniform for the Lake Erie Crushers.

Coming to Appalachian State in 2013, Watts was considered a preferred walk-on. While the team conducted on-field practices, he spent some time throwing, lifting weights, and visiting the baseball team’s indoor facility. As the beginning of the season inched closer, Watts’ future was uncertain, and despite his hard work, he didn’t appear on the 35-man roster his freshman year.

In an interview last year, Watts said, “The first few weeks are tough, but after that you miss it a lot. You realize how much you love playing the game, so it makes you work that much harder to get where you want to be, which [for me] was on the team.” Watts used that energy to dedicate his time outside of academics to working on his technique and speed.

After primarily appearing as a catcher throughout his high school career at Alexander Central High School, Watts received more outings as a pitcher his senior year with the addition of Appalachian State and Alexander Central teammate, catcher Riley Smith. Watts began working tirelessly on refining his pitching techniques to achieve his dreams. He spent countless hours researching pitching techniques and throwing bullpens with his dad in their front-yard or at a nearby park. Watts channeled his love for the game into developing and improving his craft as a right-handed pitcher.

From his freshman year to his final senior season, Watts consistently returned to the mound each year better than the year before. Assistant Baseball Coach at Appalachian State Justin Aspegren worked with Watts for his final three seasons at Appalachian. He says, “Luke’s work ethic is phenomenal. He’s dedicated in the weight room, he’s dedicated to his conditioning, and he’s dedicated to his personal routines. There is a reason why he was able to pitch with very high frequency and continue to improve during his senior year. It’s his efforts in preparation.”

Watts joined the roster as a redshirt freshman in 2015, and since then has proven that his year off allowed him to strengthen his arm and comeback better than before. “To not be on the 35-man roster, it gave me a year to develop more, and I could have used it, to be honest,” says Watts. “It’s probably one of the most beneficial years I’ve had because I got to learn more about myself and renew that love for the game.”

During his time at Appalachian State, Watts spent his first two years as a reliever from the bullpen before filling the Game 3/Sunday starting pitcher slot. In his last year for the Mountaineers, Watts appeared as the team’s closer—a fitting way to close his time at Appalachian State. Aspegren says, “When we first started working together it would be safe to say Luke was not in control of his emotions on the mound, and as a senior closer, he showed an incredible amount of composure finishing games.”

In his first two years out of the bullpen, Watts had 30 appearances and led the team’s relievers with a 2.48 ERA and racking up 18 scoreless outings. As a redshirt junior, Watts had 14 starts in 14 appearances spanning 75.1 innings and a 5.85 ERA. He held the best groundball ratio on the team and tied for 7th in the Sun Belt Conference with only 20 walks.

Aspegren came to the Mountaineers during Watts’ sophomore season on the field. Despite not seeing Watts during his redshirt or first season, he says, “In the time that I was able to coach him, his most dramatic improvements came on the mental side of the game.” These mental improvements Watts acquired working on and off the field led him to better control the mound and have a standout final season with the Mountaineers.

Watts finished his career at Appalachian State this spring with nine saves for the season, ranking him with the fifth-best season in Mountaineer baseball history and eighth-best on the school’s career list. Watts tied for ninth in single-season appearances with over 30 outings and tied for tenth in career appearances at 74 outings with 14 starts. He finished his career for the Mountaineers with an overall ERA of 2.37 over 47 games as a relief pitcher (2018, 2016).

In his last year, Watts led the Sun Belt Conference with 27 games finished and ranked second with more than 30 appearances. He totaled no earned runs in 25 of 30 outings and noted 16 consecutive appearances with no earned runs in 18 innings. On April 4, Watts needed only 9 pitches and 1.0 innings to take the save against University of Louisiana-Monroe.

“Luke has been a sinker/slider pitcher since we got together. This past year, we transitioned from a changeup to a split-fingered fastball, but that was really the only repertoire change in three year,” says Aspegren of Watts’ technique. “With the help of some added technology though, I believe this past season we were better able to pitch his strengths with the fastball—a high velocity, low spin sinker.”

Aspegren, like all the baseball coaching staff at Appalachian, hopes that the past four years with the Mountaineers has prepared these young men for success in professional baseball, including Watts. “Luke is very focused, tremendously competitive, and he has the ability to handle failure in a relatively short period of time,” states Aspegren. It’s these qualities in tandem with his skills and techniques that have introduced Watts to professional baseball and will carry him upward in the hierarchy.

Despite graduating from Appalachian State with three business degrees in Risk Management and Insurance, Finance and Banking, and Management, Watts has moved on to a professional pitching career for the Lake Erie Crushers of the independent Frontier League in order to pursue his lifelong dream of a career in professional baseball. In his time with the Crushers, he has only allowed one run over five outings.

Luke hard at work during his time at Appalachian State to prepare for his professional career.