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April 25, 2014

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Building a baseball star

UNLV pitcher Erick Fedde is projected to be a first-round draft pick, and Tim Chambers is just the man to guide him

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Sam Morris

UNLV pitcher Erick Fedde is expected to be a first-round draft pick in June.

2014 UNLV Baseball

From left, UNLV baseball players Erick Fedde, Eric van Meetren and John Richy juggle a baseball with their feet and gloves during a media availability day Tuesday, Feb 11, 2014. Launch slideshow »

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Bryce Harper, who left Las Vegas High after his sophomore season, is in his third season with the Nationals. Had he stayed in high school, he and Fedde would have been in the same class.

By the numbers

2 — UNLV players selected all-time in the first round of the baseball draft. Shortstop Matt Williams went No. 3 overall in 1986 to the San Francisco Giants; pitcher Donovan Osborne went No. 13 overall in 1990 to the St. Louis Cardinals.

4 — UNLV players to compete all-time for USA Baseball, including Fedde. The others include: Ryan Ludwick (1998) and Matt Williams (1985) on the Collegiate National Team, and Mel Stottlemyre Jr. pitched on the 1984 Olympic team.

22 — Where MLB.com projects Fedde to be picked this June. Last year’s No. 22 selection, Hunter Harvey of the Baltimore Orioles, received a signing bonus of $1,947,600.

Tim Chambers was instrumental in Las Vegas baseball star Bryce Harper’s development. Now, the UNLV baseball coach is back at it, guiding a pitcher who’s expected be the city’s next big thing.

Rebels right-hander Erick Fedde is projected to be a first-round selection in June’s Major League Baseball draft. But first, he’ll need to manage the pressure of having every performance dissected by scouts.

That’s where Chambers’ ability to protect players makes the veteran baseball man valuable. His track record includes guiding Harper from can’t-miss prospect to MLB all-star last year.

Harper played one season for Chambers at the College of Southern Nevada before being selected No. 1 overall by the Washington Nationals in 2010, surviving the spotlight in part because of Chambers’ game plan.

He was cut off from media, even declining an interview request from “60 Minutes.” He didn’t talk to scouts or spend hours after games signing autographs. Instead, he spent some of the hours that would have been consumed by interviews becoming a better baseball player.

Chambers has the reputation of going above and beyond to shield his players, regardless of whether the player is a superstar or the 25th man on the roster. They know what to expect and trust the plan he has for them.

The first entry in Chambers’ playbook is simple: Don’t get overwhelmed.

“I’m really trying not to concern myself with worrying about (the draft),” said 6-foot-4, 180-pound Fedde, who is part of Baseball America’s Preseason All-America Second Team. “Things like that will eat you alive. Wherever I’m taken, I’m taken. I can’t do anything but pitch my game.”

In the Rebels’ season-opener on Valentine’s Day, Fedde showed Central Michigan how strong his game is. He struck out 11 batters and gave up one hit in 7 1/3 innings.

Among the ways Chambers is making sure Fedde doesn’t burn out, break down or veer off on his way to the pros:

Build him up

Fedde arrived at UNLV weighing about 155 pounds, light for his frame. That was partly because he was also a standout soccer player at Las Vegas High School. But he immediately blossomed in UNLV’s strength and throwing programs, going from a run-of-the-mill pitcher full of potential to a preseason All-American on the verge of becoming a millionaire.

“His work ethic is off the charts. We don’t have to tell him what do,” Chambers said.

The strength has helped Fedde, who last season logged a 7-3 record and ranked fourth in the Mountain West with 83 strikeouts, bloom into a dominating pitcher.

“Right-handers throwing 92 mph are a dime a dozen. When you jump over that number, now all of sudden you have something,” Chambers said. “He does it pretty easy.”

Staying on a schedule; no overuse

Some coaches might be tempted to juggle their pitching rotations to put a star like Fedde on the mound more often, increasing their chances of winning. Chambers won’t do it, even though they’re playing a tougher schedule than last year’s in order to build a resume for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.

Fedde is the Rebels’ Friday night starter, which is the marquee assignment for college baseball, and he’ll stay that way. “We’ve been running him out there on Friday nights every week the past two years,” Chambers said. “We aren’t worried about who he faces.”

No access for scouts

Teams spend countless hours evaluating prospects, invest millions in signing bonus money and devote years to developing young players. They have to get it right, making the final weeks before the draft frantic as they tie up loose ends. Scouts request home visits and dinners, monopolizing a prospect’s time in what turns out to be a four-month job interview. But they won’t get a crack at Fedde on Chambers’ watch, following the philosophy he used with Harper.

“We aren’t allowing him to talk with scouts, have home visits or take the side tests they do,” Chambers said. “He’ll just pitch. I’ve told him, ‘When it’s time to go, I just want you to pitch.’ He’s a real competitor. He won’t listen to those outside distractions.”

But Fedde is not concerned that stiff-arming the scouts will prompt them to downgrade him. Chambers has taken care of that problem by building a reputation for delivering prospects who are ready for the majors.

Starting in his days coaching Bishop Gorman High and through his 11-year tenure in building the College of Southern Nevada into a junior college powerhouse, scouts have been hanging around Chambers’ programs for more than two decades. At CSN, he had 46 players drafted, including four who played with major league teams. Scouts value his advice and have confidence in drafting a player from his system, knowing they’ll come prepared. “He’s the best,” Fedde said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better person to guide me.”

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