Scout’s son Schugel opens eyes

A.J. Schugel has pitched six scoreless innings this spring, stranding a lead-off triple in his last appearance Thursday night

PHOENIX — A.J. Schugel grew up living every kid’s baseball dream, and he may be doing so again.

A.J.’s father, Jeff Schugel, is a major league scout and has been for three decades. So A.J. spent many spring and summer vacations with his father on exploratory trips before high school intervened. Vero Beach, when the Los Angeles Dodgers called it home during spring training. The Cape Cod summer league for top college prospects. The Dominican Republic, where scouts trolled for untapped talent.

"I think I missed more school than my mom wanted me to," Schugel said. "I usually found a way to go with him. It was always a blast.

"It’s funny the way it works out, going to all those parks with him and now playing in all these parks how many years later."

Schugel is relatively new to pitching but he has progressed so well since transitioning from the infield at Central Arizona College that he is a factor this spring as the Diamondbacks go about constructing their seven-man bullpen. Schugel has pitched six scoreless innings this spring, stranding a lead-off triple in his last appearance Thursday night, after which manager Chip Hale said: "He definitely has a shot."

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It has been a successful if under-the-radar rise for Schugel, 25, who is in his second season with the D-backs. He was acquired in the three-team Mark Trumbo trade last winter, when Arizona sent Adam Eaton to the Chicago White Sox and Tyler Skaggs to the Los Angeles Angels.

Schugel was somewhat in the background in 2014, on a Double-A Mobile staff that by the end of the season included Archie Bradley, Aaron Blair and Braden Shipley. But people noticed. Schugel was a midseason all-star, took every turn through the rotation and gave up three earned runs or fewer in 20 of his 26 starts. His 3.47 ERA was first among D-backs minor league starters who played a full season.

Shortly after reporting to camp this spring, the D-backs suggested Schugel would have a better chance advancing if he moved to the bullpen. Enough said.

"Whatever role they want me in, that’s fine with me," Schugel said.

It has sort of been his M.O. along the way. The Angels took Schugel in the 25th round in 2010 out of Central Arizona with the express intention of making him a pitcher.

"They kinda said your best chance is as a pitcher, if you want the opportunity," Schugel recalled.

His response?

"Absolutely," he said.

Adaptation is a family trait, as it turns out. Jeff Schugel attended Mankato (Minn.) State on a hockey scholarship as a goaltender and also played baseball. He was selected by Minnesota in the 18th round of the 1983 draft and spent three seasons in the Twins’ system as a catcher and corner infielder before he became a scout. He has scouted for Colorado, both Los Angeles teams, Atlanta and joined the Cincinnati organization this winter.

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A.J. also was a two-sport athlete through high school, playing hockey and baseball in the Denver suburbs. Some of it probably had to do with the athletic genes he inherited not only from his father but his mother, Tammy, who was a gymnast at Mankato State. A.J. was a hockey center and as such followed such Colorado Avalanche players as Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, but baseball was his sport of choice when he had to make a call after high school.

"My parents thought I was going to go to hockey, but I just remember thinking there is a little more opportunity in baseball," Schugel said. "More upside. A lot more minor league teams. Hockey is a little harder to get into. There are no (junior colleges) for hockey. Way less places to play, for sure."

Schugel brought a low-key mindset to spring training, using the same approach that marked his four years on the mound.

"Throwing strikes, attacking hitters," he said, "letting them get themselves out for the most part. It’s always kind of been don’t try to be too fine. Obviously, certain situations call for it. I’d rather give up a hit than a walk, for sure."

He will not change even, as his chances at a roster spot seem to be on the rise.

"I just wanted to go out, have fun, compete," he said. "The final say is up to them. Hopefully I’ve opened some eyes and see what happens."

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