Head Coach Jim Morris found himself more than just a pitcher when J.D. Cockroft came to a pitcher/catcher camp a few years back. Cockroft has become Miami’s most consistent pitcher, whether it is out of the bullpen or in the starting rotation.
From Foster City, Calif., Cockroft attended Bellarmine College Prep, the same high school that produced former Hurricane great Pat Burrell.
Although Cockroft, a graduated senior, has won the Ron Fraser Award the past two seasons for being the ‘Canes’ top pitcher, he was demoted from the No. 1 starting job at the beginning of the season. After a tough 3-0 loss to Florida on opening night, things went downhill in a hurry and Morris put him in the bullpen. Cockroft took the switch hard.
“It really hurt,” Cockroft said. “Being the number one [starter] had been my goal ever since I got here and it seemed like everything I worked for was going down the drain.”
After five appearances out of the bullpen, a spot in the rotation opened up when Morris felt that starter Dan Touchet needed a couple weeks of rest due to a dead arm. Cockroft took full advantage of his opportunity.
“I think I pitched my way back into the role,” Cockroft said. “I’m pitching the best I’ve really pitched in a really long time. It really feels great to be back out there to set the tone for the series.”
His first start back in the rotation was against Florida State, where he went seven innings and only allowed three hits, as Miami shutout the Seminoles 10-0.
When watching Cockroft out on the mound, one immediately realizes that he isn’t a typical lefty pitcher. He doesn’t come after hitters with overpowering fastballs. Instead, he throws slow curveballs that drop out of the zone and changeups that are able to baffle even the best hitters in the country. Cockroft had always heard that he didn’t have what it takes to be a great pitcher, but he has proved skeptics wrong time and time again.
“I’ve been hearing that I wasn’t going to make it ever since I was a little kid,” Cockroft said. “But I took everything they said and made it fuel my desire to prove them wrong.”
Cockroft feels that there are benefits to not throwing as hard as some other pitchers. These help him when he’s out there on the mound starting, where he prefers to be.
“I’m the kind of pitcher that has good endurance,” Cockroft said. “I don’t throw as hard as the other guys do, but I feel it is an asset to me because I can go longer in games.”
Morris feels that Cockroft has been a special part of his ball club during the past four years.
“He’s done a great job for us. No matter what role we’ve asked him to do, he has gotten it done,” Morris said. “He’s a captain for us, which makes him a leader on the field and off the field. He’s really a great kid.”
After four years of hard work and endless practices, J.D. Cockroft will be hanging up his University of Miami baseball cap and putting on his Texas Rangers uniform. On the second day of the MLB draft, the Rangers drafted Cockroft in the 26th round.
Michael Johnston contributed to this article.