By: Brian Frank
Andrew Bash was one of the Bisons’ biggest success stories last season, establishing himself as one of the team’s top pitchers. After posting a 2.88 ERA in 40 2/3 innings pitched as a reliever and opener for Double-A New Hampshire, he was promoted to Buffalo and eventually joined the starting rotation – becoming one of the team’s most reliable starting pitchers down the stretch.
The 27-year-old right-handed hurler was raised in Southern California, where he grew up a huge fan of the Los Angeles Angels.
“We had season tickets all the way through into middle school,” he remembered. “My dad used to pick me up from school and we’d head out to a game.”
One of his early baseball memories is attending Game Seven of the 2002 World Series, in which the Angels defeated the San Francisco Giants 4-1 to bring home the franchise’s first World Series title.
“We got tickets for that game and it was electric,” he said. “It was crazy.”
Bash uses a four-pitch mix to get hitters out. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
After starring at Palm Desert High School in Palm Desert, California, where he starred on both the mound and at the plate, he attended California Baptist University. He continued to shine as a two-way player in college, pitching and playing third base and right field.
“They offered me basically everything I needed, like letting me pitch and hit and play the field,” he explained. “Also all the classroom help – they had everything that showed me that I was going to be able to make it through without a struggle.”
Bash became one of the Lancers’ leaders both on the mound and at the plate. He redshirted his freshman year. His sophomore season, he had a 6-4 record with a 3.50 ERA in 64 1/3 innings pitched, while slashing .272/.347/.404 in 131 plate appearances. He exploded at the plate his junior season, slashing .399/.473/.732 while hitting 14 home runs and driving in 61 runs – all while going 8-2 with a 2.71 ERA in 83 innings pitched. He continued to play third base and right field his senior season, slashing .276/.368/.476 with 12 home runs and 35 RBIs, while going 6-4 with a 1.98 ERA in 77 1/3 innings pitched.
“I thought more of myself as a hitter,” he said when asked if he thought he had a better chance to turn professional as a pitcher or a position player. “I didn’t throw as hard as I throw now. The stuff wasn’t the same. I always thought I was going to be able to play the field and hit.”
Bash was drafted by the Angels in the 30th round of the 2019 MLB June Amateur Draft – a dream come true for someone who grew up a die-hard fan of the team.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” he recalled. “I hadn’t talked to them too much. Getting picked by a team I grew up watching and so close to home was pretty special.”
Bash was selected by the Angels in the 2019 Draft. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
During his first minor-league season with the Angels’ Arizona League affiliate, Bash made the transition to being a full-time pitcher. He had a 2.51 ERA in 14 games (16 IP) for the short-season Rookie League team.
“It was something different,” he said of his debut season playing professional baseball. “College is definitely a grind when you’re out there four hours a day practicing. When you got there (to Arizona) it was basically like – do your throwing and get what you need done, stick around for the games, and then get out of there. So it was definitely a more concentrated time for what you needed to be doing.”
Then came the cancellation of the 2020 minor-league season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite being released by the Angels, Bash worked hard during the shutdown in order to seize another professional baseball opportunity if it came his way.
“That was a tough time,” he said. “The Angels released me right after spring training, about two months in, when everyone stopped getting paid basically. I continued to work out, throw, stay in shape, and I ended up playing in a small summer league up in Santa Barbra, California. I played at the end of July and all of August – probably 35 games. I probably got around 40 innings in or so. That kept me moving though that offseason.”
He eventually landed with the Missoula Paddleheads of the Pioneer League, an MLB Partner League, to start the 2021 season. That’s when the Blue Jays took an interest in him.
“I was throwing well there and I got a call from (Blue Jays assistant general manager) Joe Sheehan and then (Blue Jays pitching coordinator) Cory Popham contacted me. Within two days I was driving back to Missoula packing my stuff and heading to Florida.”
He rose rapidly in Toronto’s system, pitching in 16 games across three levels of the Blue Jays minor-league system in 2021. In 2022, he spent most of the season at Double-A New Hampshire, where he went 10-4 with a 3.81 ERA in 27 games (75 2/3 IP).
“The pitching development side really helped me,” he explained of his success. “I put on a bunch of weight, the pitching coaches worked with me, Cory (Popham) worked with me, and the velo just started to come out of nowhere. I topped out at 96 mph at the end of my first season here in ’21. I kind of just held that and then topped out at 97 earlier this year.”
Bash held batters to a .168 batting average in his nine starts for Buffalo. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
He returned to New Hampshire to begin the 2023 season, pitching out of the Fisher Cats bullpen. He pitched a couple games for the Bisons in June, but returned to New Hampshire, before being promoted to Buffalo in late July. Prior to August, he’d made 92 career minor-league pitching appearances, only 11 of which were starts. He opened some games for Buffalo in August – and pitched so well that the team started giving him regular turns in the rotation.
“We needed a starter,” Bisons manager Casey Candaele said. “He was a reliever and came in and we stretched him out. He just kept getting through innings, challenging hitters, going after people, throwing strikes, and getting outs. He’s been great.”
It’s not always easy for a reliever to adjust to becoming a starter or vice-versa. Bash believes his transition to the rotation was smoother because he’d been a starter before in high school and college.
“I’d been a starter in the past,” Bash said. “I kind of knew the routine. I was built up earlier in the year to go 60 pitches. I think as I continued to do well and was able to stretch out, it was basically helping out overall to just stay as a starter and build up the pitch count a little bit.”
“It’s a little bit different knowing my role before as a reliever was between an inning to maybe three innings,” he added. “So I could kind of just let it go for those three innings, try and top out. Now as a starter, it’s basically trying to maintain for that full 80, 90, 100 pitches, whatever you’ve got – six, seven, eight innings. It’s definitely a little bit different.”
Bash uses a four-pitch mix to get hitters out – a four-seam fastball, changeup, slider, and weeper. He hasn’t changed his pitch usage since moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation.
“When I was pitching out of the bullpen, I was throwing all of them,” he said. “That was helpful because a lot of bullpen guys come out and might only have a couple pitches. Having those four pitches really helps. It makes it a little more difficult on hitters. They’re not just looking for one or two pitches. Definitely when I’m starting and I’m able to throw the changeup for strikes – that one really helps out being a starter and being able to throw it more than the slider.”
That strategy worked. In nine starts for the Herd, Bash had a 2.15 ERA in 37 2/3 innings pitched, holding opponents to a miniscule .168 batting average.
“He’s just been great,” Candaele said. “He’s picked us up tremendously. We’ve been able to count on him for at least five innings. He’s pitched wonderfully. It’s been very impressive and I think he’s set himself up for next year to come back and have a great season.”