Vince Arobio entered into the summer season as a first-year set-up man. He finished it as the best closer in the Alaska Baseball League.
After leading the league with six saves this season, Arobio was named an ABL All-Star selection, it was announced Saturday. The effort by the former Burlingame standout helped the Matsu Miners to the league championship game, before the team was swept in the best-of-three series by the Alaska Goldpanners.
The Goldpanners rendered Arobio’s late-inning talents irrelevant in Game 1 with a 14-0 blowout July 29, before scoring a 2-1 win in the July 30 finale.
“It was tough losing, because if we won we would have got nice, big rings,” Arobio said. “But it wasn’t like the loss was devastating. It is summer ball. For the most part, you’re there to get better. But we won a lot of games. That was fun.”
Matsu finished the season with a 21-12 record. And Arobio emerged as the team’s closer, inheriting the role from right-hander Spencer Jack one week into the season.
As a freshman at University of the Pacific last season, Arobio was a workhorse out of the bullpen. Setting up for freshman closer John Jaeger, Arobio ranked second on the team with 22 appearances while posting a 2-1 record with a 3.63 ERA, and this in his first season as a fulltime pitcher after entering the 2014 campaign focused on winning a job as a middle infielder.
“I’ve enjoyed pitching,” Arobio said. “I love the one-on-one, me versus the batter kind of thing. … I’ve had a blast with it.”
And the 6-foot right-hander has acclimated to the pitching routine as well. Entering the summer at 165 pounds, Arobio said he has put on nearly 20 pounds after a nightly diet of Alaskan salmon dinners and a diligent workout regiment. The results have shown up in his ability to sustain his velocity. But the velocity has been there since the first time he emerged in the ninth inning for a save opportunity, he said.
“Right when I went to the closing role, my [velocity] went up. It was almost like I got way more adrenaline to go in the game,” Arobio said. “It wasn’t like I was trying to throw any harder. It’s just the way it was.”
According to Arobio, he went from sustaining an average velocity 89-92 mph entering into the summer season, to a spike of 92-95 mph after he assumed the closer’s role.
“That was my biggest thing,” Arobio said. “I wanted to increase some velocity this year in the summer, which I did — and obviously the curveball. So, that was my main focus.”
In addition to the uptick in velocity, the fanfare of the ABL took some getting used to as well. For a region which doesn’t see any live baseball for most of the calendar year for obvious weather reasons, the fans turn out en masse for the two-month summer season — especially in Matsu.
The Matanuska-Susitna Valley, situated just 16 miles west of Anchorage across the Cook Inlet, makes for a cozy baseball hub, drawing upwards of 1,000 people per game. According to Arobio, he signed more autographs this summer than he has throughout his entire life.
“It’s obviously not quite the hype of the big leagues. But in their eyes, they don’t see a lot of sports, so when we come … they’re asking for autographs all the time,” Arobio said. “I don’t think kids are allowed on the field after a college game. Here, they swarm the field after every game.”
Arobio didn’t let the attention detract from his mission to improve upon his solid freshman season at Pacific. In addition to his ABL leading six saves, the right-hander notched a 2-1 record with a 2.37 ERA. His 14 appearances tied for fourth in the league, while he worked 19 innings, allowing 13 hits and striking out 11 against seven walks.
“I took it really serious,” Arobio said. “I was going to the gym tons and working really hard to get ready for this (college) season.”
It also helps that Arobio has a low-mileage arm. He only took up pitching as a high school senior, and logged just 20 2/3 innings as the Panthers’ closer in 2013.
“I haven’t felt any fatigue, really,” Arobio said. “I’m new to pitching so I’ve got a pretty fresh arm compared to a lot of guys.”
Entering into his sophomore season with Pacific, Arobio said he is game for upping his workload as a starting pitcher, but his role is yet to be determined.
“For this coming fall, I’m going in trying to do my best and do whatever [Pacific manager Ed Sprague] has in store for me,” Arobio said. “If [an opportunity as a starting pitcher] got brought up, I would definitely do it. But as of right now I love the closing role. It kind of fits me because I get wired and amped.”
Arobio was one of three Miners pitchers selected to the All-Star roster from the six-team summer league. Texas A&M right-hander Ryan Hendrix was selected as a starting pitcher. Fellow Aggies left-hander Tyler Stubblefield also was selected, in addition to being named ABL Pitcher of the Year. Miners outfielder Cameron Newell, who enters his transfer junior season at UC Santa Barbara this season, was named ABL Player of the Year.