Photos by author, Luke Ramirez.
Among the many time-tested traditions that the game of baseball is built on, Long Beach State junior Clayton Andrews is working toward renouncing two: his lack of size and the threat he provides as both a hitter and a pitcher. He bats leadoff for the Dirtbags while patrolling centerfield everyday except Saturdays, when takes the mound and hits for himself.
The two-way talent is listed at only 5-foot-6 and 160 pounds but he has done it all for Long Beach (24-27, 9-9 Big West). With a 2.37 ERA over 13 starts along with a .300 average and 26 RBIs, Andrews is proving the stigma of his size invalid while establishing himself as an impact player starting games on the hill and in the lineup everyday.
“Just to be a part of the team and the culture here at Long Beach State has been a dream come true for me,” Andrews said.
From Rohnert Park, California, Andrews played two seasons with Cabrillo College (almost 80 miles south of San Francisco) before making the jump from junior college to Division 1. He was able to experiment and decide on whether or not to continue the unusual pursuit of pitching and hitting at a high level. Serving mostly in relief, he was able to post a 0.91 ERA over 39 ⅔ innings and struck out 69 batters in his 2017 sophomore season. Meanwhile, a .399 batting average and 39 runs scored over 44 games got him drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 40th round. More importantly, he caught the eye of Long Beach’s associate head coach Greg Bergeron.
Andrews was almost immediately factored into taking on a bulk amount of innings after the Dirtbags saw two thirds of its weekend rotation drafted in 2017.
“Being at a [junior college] set the tone for me in being able to go about hitting as well as pitching,” Andrews said. “Then I got to [Long Beach State] and sat down with the coaches early on to layout a plan with me. All of the credit goes to them for helping me manage that.”
The plan was originally for Andrews to work as a Sunday or even mid-week option for starting games, but injuries have thrust him into the Saturday starter role. The left-hander was eager for the opportunity.
“The expectations for every pitcher we have is to come in throw strikes and get guys out,” Andrews said. “I am definitely honored to be throwing on Saturdays and it’s something I’ve taken a lot of pride in.”
He got off to a rocky start with a 1-4 record in his first five starts, but the Dirtbags have had trouble scoring when it’s Andrews’ turn in the rotation. In his seven losses this year, the offense has only provided him with 13 runs of support. That’s tough to manage for any starter.
As Andrews has progressed on the bump, his pitches have developed from inducing weak contact to legit strikeout stuff. He struck out 36 batters in his first 36 ⅔ innings over six starts and has struck out 64 over 63 frames in his last seven starts. Andrews is coming off a career-high 13 punch out performance in a win over UC Riverside on May 5.
“The biggest thing that has helped me is what our pitching coach [Dan Ricabal] has preached in that it’s not about a perfect spot but more of a hole,” Andrews said. “I’ve really taken that to heart and it’s helped my command along with a better focal point for my breaking ball.”
“My changeup is honestly just my changeup. I don’t put a lot of thought into it I just throw it knowing that it’s my best pitch. I also like when I get the slider called. I’m perfectly confident in calling that pitch and can put it where I want to to get a swing through.”
He’s currently second in the conference in strikeouts with 100 and is certainly in a groove looking to add to that.
“Andrews has been our most consistent guy all year mainly on the mound,” head coach Troy Buckley said. “He’s got some weapons that allow him to mix it up well.”
At the plate, he’s the leading hitter amongst the Dirtbags’ everyday starters and gets on base at a .378 clip in the leadoff spot. Andrews is also familiar with causing havoc on the base paths, successfully stealing 12-of-17 bases and 29 runs scored. The offense also seems to tick up a notch when he hits for himself during outings on the mound. His most notable game was the effort in a series clinching win over cross-town rival Cal State Fullerton March 25. After tossing 7.2 innings with six strikeouts, he broke a scoreless game in the eighth inning with a clutch 2-run triple as part of a 2-for-4 day.
“I’m having the most fun that I have had in baseball,” Andrews said. “It’s gone beyond what I was expecting [coming to Long Beach].”
Andrews is Long Beach’s first everyday starter in the lineup and weekend rotation option since current New York Met Jason Vargas in 2004, as reported by JJ Fiddler of The562.org.
With the arrival of Shoehi Ohtani and the perpetual talent that Jose Altuve has become in Major League Baseball, things may be looking up for the rare 5-foot-6 two-way threat that is Clayton Andrews of Long Beach State.