P-O grad picked by Brewers

When Pitt’s baseball coaches first told Luke Curtis they were moving him to the bullpen, the redshirt junior right-hander from Philipsburg-Osceola High School wasn’t sure he was all that keen on the change.

“All I ever was was a starter. I didn’t know anything at first. When I was moved to the bullpen, it was different,” Curtis said. “But it was something that I embraced. I’ve always treated baseball as a gift. It’s a blessing that we get to go out and play the greatest game there is. So I made the most of it, and I actually fell in love with the bullpen.”

That’s a good thing, because it might just be Curtis’ ticket to the big leagues.

Curtis took the first step in that direction on Saturday afternoon when he was drafted in the 18th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Milwaukee Brewers.

Curtis was listening to the draft on the Internet when he heard his name called. Then he got a call from Brewers scout Jeff Simpson.

“It’s a very surreal feeling,” Curtis said. “Everyone that plays the game hopes to get the phone call someday. It’s very exciting.

“It’s something I worked very hard for, something I hoped for. I’ve got a lot of people to thank from over the years. I wish I could thank them all.”

Milwaukee had been in touch with Curtis earlier in the day to let him know they might draft him, so it wasn’t a total surprise.

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Curtis led the Panthers with a 2.17 ERA and was tied for the team lead in saves with two.

“The greatest thing about Luke is that he bought into the process and believed in what we were doing,” Pitt pitching coach Jerry Oakes said. “He made tremendous strides. It all goes back to his work ethic. Luke is a kid that never complained. He just goes out every day to get better.”

Curtis saw his draft stock rise along with his velocity – he worked out for the Yankees and Twins and talked to a couple of other teams leading up to the draft. Curtis wasn’t entertaining many pro baseball overtures when he was throwing in the high 80s. However, as the season progressed, he began to up the speed of his fastball into the 90s, eventually topping out at 96 mph.

“A lot of it was mechanical. Luke never used his lower half, and he’s got some strong legs. That alone will get you another mile or two,” said Oakes, who added that Curtis made some big strides with his offspeed pitches.

Another big stride Curtis made was just recovering from Tommy John surgery that he underwent in 2011, forcing him to redshirt his freshman season in college.

“It was a rough road to recovery. This is the first year I came back fully strong,” Curtis said. “I had two tough years after the surgery. Then, over the summer, the arm started feeling good. I really felt the strength coming back, and the confidence.”

Curtis has been playing baseball since he was 2 or 3 years old. His father, Mel, has been a longtime coach in the area recreational and developmental leagues, and his brothers, Matt and Mark, both were successful players growing up.

“It’s always been a huge part of our life,” Luke Curtis said. “It’s something that we always lived for.”

Which leaves Curtis with one of the biggest decisions of his life. He still has another year of college eligibility but, because of the year he lost to surgery, he would be 23 years old when next year’s draft comes around, which is on the older side to start a pro career.

“I’ve kept an open mind the whole time. Pitt’s been great to me. I’ve enjoyed all four years there,” said Curtis, who had yet to line up someone to advise him during negotiations. “Until it’s all laid out in front of me, it’s something my family and I will discuss. But it’s definitely an opportunity that I’m excited for and that I’ve always worked hard for.”