The first thing former Lehigh baseball player Mark Washington did when he was drafted was go to the shopping mall.
Washington and his dad needed to pick up some LA Dodgers gear.
During his time at Lehigh, Washington emerged as a prototypical pitcher. While he was injured for much of his junior season, the 6-foot-7 right-hander curated an impressive record during his sophomore season in 2016, going 6-1 with six starts and finishing the season with a 1.80 ERA.
“What’s unique about Mark (Washington) is that his best days are still ahead of him,” Lehigh coach Sean Leary said. “When I talked with scouts, they would talk to me not about drafting him to fill an organizational need, but when they talked about Mark (Washington), it was more, ‘I’m really excited to see where he’s going to be when he’s 24.’”
Washington forgoed his final year of NCAA eligibility to pursue a professional career with the Dodgers. He was drafted to the team during the 25th round of the 2017 MLB draft.
While the choice he was faced with may have been daunting for some, Washington said it was not difficult when he looked at all the factors of his offer, his education and his dream of playing in the MLB.
“It’s a dream-come-true type of situation,” Washington said. “I’ve always wanted to do this, I’ve always wanted to play professional baseball and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing that I couldn’t pass up.”
Washington made the most of his choice.
Coming off of a shoulder injury, he served as a reliever for most of his time with the rookie league team for the Dodgers in Arizona. He posted a 1.96 ERA while starting three games (1-2).
After the rookie league season ended, Washington prepared to come home but was called up to the Dodgers short-season single-A team, the Ogden Raptors, to close out the season.
Washington will be heading back to Arizona this week for an invite-only instructional camp until mid-October.
“I’m looking forward to keep progressing my game year-by-year and game-by-game,” Washington said. “I don’t want to get a big head, I want to still be myself.”
He said transitioning from college baseball to playing in the professional ranks has some key differences.
Besides the overall strength of the players and the use of wooden bats, Washington said pitching strategy is different at the next level of baseball.
“In college, I would throw a lot more off speed, but in the minor leagues, you attack the fastball,” Washington said. “When I use my fastball more and establish the count early in the strikes, it’s harder to be hit.”
Senior Michael Schwab, one of Washington’s teammates, said the culture of Lehigh baseball and Lehigh athletics itself would also aid Washington.
“I think it’s our culture that is going to ground him,” Schwab said. “This is a place that’s a lot different than professional baseball. It’s a very blue-collar, mentally tough attitude that serves you well no matter what you decide to do in life. Mark (Washington) definitely has that, and I think that’s what’s going to make the difference between him and another pitcher. They might have the same stuff, but Mark (Washington) is tougher.”
While he won’t be finishing out his senior year at Lehigh, Washington still plans to stay involved with the Lehigh team through advice and leadership, even if he’s on the other side of the country.
“If there’s stuff going on with our team that needs to be addressed or if we’re in a slump and we’re trying to break out of it, Mark (Washington) is going to be involved in that conversation,” Schwab said. “And I hope he gets to the league as fast as possible because in terms of how far he goes, our entire crew is going to be with him every step of the way.”