The word Arkansas State Red Wolves baseball coach Tommy Raffo uses to describe college baseball is fluid.
By that he means it is always changing, but not always in a smooth, flowing manner.
The Red Wolves learned a tough lesson last week when catcher Ryan Scott from Scottsdale, Ariz., signed a pro contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It is something new for Red Wolves baseball – losing signees to the pro draft.
A year ago, pitcher Adam Grantham from Kennett, Mo., was drafted by the Atlanta Braves but turned down the pro money for Jonesboro.
“It was down the last day,” Raffo said.
A brief conversation with Tommy Raffo about Scott’s decision this year showed disappointment. But the coach admitted, you have to take chances like that.
“Now we have to look at options two, three, four and five,” Raffo said.
As of this writing, the Red Wolves still have not settled on a catcher, the last piece to be added to the Red Wolves’ 35-man roster.
College baseball, for those who don’t know, limits schools to a 35-man roster. Of that group, 27 are allowed to receive scholarship money from the athletic department. That group splits up 11.7 scholarships, with each receiving at least 25 percent.
“I am not one of those coaches who believes in bringing a lot of kids in for the fall and let them compete for a roster spot,” said Raffo. “I know there are some other schools in the state that do that. I am not like that. If you make a commitment to come here you have a spot on the team for at least a year.”
One of Raffo’s best examples of walk-on development and success is pitcher Daniel Wright, who just finished his senior season at Arkansas State.
Wright joined the program as a recruited walk-on. His senior season he finished 6-5 with a 3.18 earned run average. He earned first-team All-Sun Belt Conference honors and was named the league’s Pitcher of the Year.
Last month, he was drafted in the ninth round by the Cincinnati Reds. His selection was the fourth straight year the Red Wolves have had a player selected in the draft and the eighth player drafted during the Raffo’s tenure as coach at Arkansas State. Four of those selected have been pitchers.
Baseball players can accept other scholarships offered by the school, and Tommy Raffo said the lottery scholarship in Arkansas helps.
And when walk-ons are needed, it helps a lot.
Tommy Raffo Bio:
Tommy Raffo was named head coach of the Red Wolves baseball team on July 1, 2008.
Raffo became the fifth head coach in the history of the ASU baseball program after serving as an assistant coach at Mississippi State for the past 15 years. During his time at Mississippi State, he served as the hitting and outfield coach for a Bulldog program that made three trips to the College World Series. Under his direction, the Bulldogs posted a team batting average of .300 or better in eight of the past 11 seasons.
Now entering his fifth season as head baseball coach at Arkansas State, Raffo has revived the Red Wolves baseball program. In 2012 he led ASU to a 34-23 record and a 19-9 record in Sun Belt Conference play. A-State finished second overall in the SBC and the 34 victories were the most for any team in the Sun Belt Conference and the most in head coach Tommy Raffo’s four seasons. ASU’s 34 victories are also the most since winning 35 games in 1997 and the fourth-most in school history.
ASU advanced to the championship game of the SBC Tournament for the first time since 1996. Raffo was named the SBC Coach of the Year, while senior pitcher Jacob Lee earned SBC Pitcher of the Year honors. Closer John Koch and shortstop Dustin Jones were also All-SBC second selections.
Michael Faulkner, Jacob Lee and Brandon Farley were all choosen in the MLB Draft in the summer of 2012, giving ASU 10 players in the professional ranks, all of whom were coached by Raffo.
Under Raffo’s direction, A-State ended the 2011 season with an overall winning record (30-28) for the first time since 2005 and finished above .500 in Sun Belt Conference play (16-14) for the first time since 1998. ASU not only made its first appearance in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament since 2006, but was one victory away from playing in the tournament’s championship game. The Red Wolves advanced to the semifinals, enjoying their best run in the tournament since 1996.
In 2010, the Red Wolves finished with second-highes team batting average in school history (.312) and recorded the most hits (647) and third most RBIs (345) in school history.
Raffo led the Red Wolves to a 23-30 record in 2009, and although Arkansas State missed the Sun Belt Conference tournament by one-half game, the team showed a great deal of improvement over the previous season. The Red Wolves won 12 Sun Belt Conference games in Raffo’s first season, up from just eight the year before, and ASU’s overall record showed an improvement of three wins over the 2008 season. Arkansas State earned conference victories over Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama and UALR.
The Red Wolves raised their team batting average an impressive 36 points over the previous season, finishing the year with a team average of .296. Five players hit .300 or better, compared to just one in the previous season, with one, sophomore Murray Watts earning All-Conference honors at the conclusion of the season. The Red Wolves were also much more aggressive on the bases in Raffo’s first season, stealing 42 bases to almost double the figure from the previous year.
All-Conference selection Chase Ware helped keep the Red Wolves strong on the mound in 2009, and Ware signed with the Cincinnati Reds organization at the conclusion of the season. As a team, the Red Wolves hit .296, which ranked third all-time in ASU history. Arkansas State belted out 557 hits during the year which was the fifth-most ever for an ASU team. The Red Wolves’ 242 walks was the sixth-most in team history, and ASU’s 337 runs and 291 RBIs were both the seventh-most ever at ASU. A-State’s 786 total bases ranked as the ninth-most in school history.
During his 15 seasons at Mississippi State, Raffo served as the recruiting coordinator for the Bulldog baseball program, landing 10 straight recruiting classes ranked in the top 33 nationally by Collegiate Baseball. He coached seven All-America players and four Academic All-Americans. He was named as the 2007 Southeastern Conference Fellowship of Christian Athletes Coach of the Year, and during his time at MSU, 49 Bulldogs were chosen in the Major League Baseball Draft.
Raffo’s outstanding recruiting at MSU paid dividends for the program as he helped the Bulldogs reach the SEC Tournament 12 times, with two championships to their credit. Mississippi State also made 11 appearances in the NCAA Tournament during Raffo’s time with the program, winning five regional titles. The Bulldogs made three appearances in the NCAA Super Regionals and advanced to the College World Series in 1997, 1998 and 2007. Raffo coached one Johnny Bench Award winner, given annually to the top college catcher in the country, and helped seven hitters finish the season in the SEC’s top five batting averages.
As a player, Raffo was co-captain of the 1990 Mississippi State team that advanced to the College World Series. He was a two-time Academic All-American and a three-time Academic All-SEC selection. He was named first-team All-SEC in 1989 and 1990, and in 1990 earned second-team All-America honors from both the American Baseball Coaches Association and Baseball America.
After earning his Bachelor’s of Business Administration Degree from Mississippi State in 1990, he was chosen by the Miami Miracle with the first pick of the eighth round in the 1990 MLB Draft. While playing in the Reds organization, he was the MVP of the 1991 South Atlantic League All-Star Game, and was Co-Captain of the 1992 Midwest League Champion Cedar Rapid Reds.
A native of Orange Park, Fla., Raffo is married to the former Paula Hawkins of Calhoun City, Miss., and they are the parents of two daughters, Claudia Elizabeth and Anna Winifred and a son, Thomas Hanniford “Ford”, born in July 2007.
Jeff Reed is sports editor of astatenation.com