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The Lion King: Staples grad delivers breakout season on the mound for Columbia

Updated 4:44 pm, Thursday, June 27, 2013

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  • Left-handed pitcher David Speer, a 2010 Staples High graduate, went 6-3 with a 2.34 ERA and earned All-Ivy League first-team honors for Columbia University as a junior this spring. Photo: Contributed Photo / Norwalk Citizen

    Left-handed pitcher David Speer, a 2010 Staples High graduate, went 6-3 with a 2.34 ERA and earned All-Ivy League first-team honors for Columbia University as a junior this spring.

    Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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THE SPEER FILE
SCHOOL: Columbia University
YEAR: Junior
HOMETOWN: Westport, Conn. (Graduated from Staples High in 2010)
BATS/THROWS: L/L
HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 6-1/185

COLLEGIATE STATS
2011: 2-1, 5.09 ERA, 11 appearances (3 starts), 23.1 innings, 17 K, 12 BB
2012: 3-1, 4.91 ERA, 10 app. (9 starts), 47.2 innings, 40 K, 13 BB
2013: 6-3, 2.34 ERA, 11 app. (11 starts), 73 innings, 66 K, 16 BB

SUMMER LEAGUE STATS
2012 (Holyoke Blue Sox of NECBL): 3-3, 3.21 ERA, 7 app. (7 starts), 47.2 innings, 33 K, 7 BB
2013 (Bourne Braves of CCBL): 0-2, 2:07 ERA, 2 app. (2 starts), 8.2 innings, 10 K, 3 BB

Accomplishments: Selected to All-Ivy League first team in 2013 … two-time all-state, three-time all-area at Staples … FCIAC Tournament MVP as a sophomore in 2008 … led Staples to back-to-back conference titles in 2008 and 2009 … holds school's all-time wins record with 21-5 career mark.
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Fresh off a second Ivy League title in six seasons, Columbia University head coach Brett Boretti handed the ball to his ace to open the NCAA Tournament on May 31.

Up stepped junior left-hander David Speer, who was presented a tall order: facing Cal State Fullerton, the fifth overall seed.

Speer -- a 2010 Staples High graduate -- battled, albeit in a losing effort. He scattered five hits and allowed four runs (three earned) over 6 2/3 innings, falling to the host Titans 4-1 in the regional.

Despite that loss, 2013 was a breakout season for Speer, one in which the southpaw sharpened his repertoire and established himself as the Lions' top starter. In 11 starts, he went 6-3 with a 2.34 ERA, tossing a team-high five complete games, including two shutouts.

"I finally put it together this year mentally and physically," he said last week. "I was more prepared for it -- just everything kind of broke right."

Speer's emergence at the front of the rotation spurred Columbia to a milestone season. At 28-21 overall (16-4 in the Ivy League), the Lions set single-season school records for overall wins and conference victories.

After falling to Fullerton in the regional opener, the Lions picked up their first NCAA Tournament win in program history, edging New Mexico 6-5 in 13 innings. The Lions were eliminated after losing to Arizona State 10-5 in their third regional game.

"It was something that I'll never forget. It's why I play baseball," Speer said of the postseason experience. "It was so much fun. ... It was such an amazing experience."

BLOSSOMING ON THE MOUND

Carrying big-league aspirations, Speer didn't disappoint late in the season for Columbia. One of his most dominant outings came when the Lions needed him most -- against rival Dartmouth in the first game of the Ivy League Championship Series. The 6-foot-1 left-hander struck out 12 over 7 1/3 innings, earning a no-decision. He gave up four runs on seven hits and no walks in a 6-5 win.

"Dave's a winner," said Boretti, the Lions's eighth-year head coach. "He was a winner in high school, and he's continued to exhibit those characteristics. He just finds a way of competing very well and giving us a chance to be successful."

Speer enjoyed a decorated career at Staples, graduating in 2010 as the school's all-time wins leader (21). He pitched the Wreckers to back-to-back FCIAC titles in 2008 and 2009, going 4-0 with two shutouts in the postseason.

With a fastball that's clocked between 84 and 88 mph, Speer has often fooled batters by mixing in an assortment of offspeed pitches -- curveball, slider and changeup.

"I don't throw hard enough to just blow it by everyone," he said, "so I rely a lot on mixing up my pitches in different counts and throwing inside a lot with my fastball to try and jam hitters."

Before cementing a place atop Columbia's rotation, Speer endured what he called a "frustrating first two seasons" with the Lions. Mostly a reliever his freshman year -- he made 11 appearances, eight out of the bullpen -- he recorded a 5.01 ERA, giving up 28 hits and 12 walks in 23 1/3 innings. As a sophomore, he started nine games and went 3-1 with a 4.91 ERA with 53 hits and 13 walks in 47 2/3 innings.

"I showed some signs of being able to put together a good year, then kind of tailed off at the end," Speer said of his first two collegiate seasons. "I had one or two bad games that kind of ruined everything."

But he had a strong summer in 2012 with the Holyoke (Mass.) Blue Sox of the New England Collegiate Baseball League (3-3, 3.21 ERA, 47 2/3 innings).

This spring, Speer blossomed and was a first team All-Ivy League selection. He improved his control and often out-smarted hitters, notching 66 strikeouts and only 16 walks in a career-high 73 innings.

"He's very smart. He knows what he's doing," Boretti said. "He's got the confidence now that he's comfortable throwing any pitch in any situation. He knows how to set guys up. He knows how to work in with his fastball."

Staples High baseball coach Jack McFarland took his team to Columbia to watch one of Speer's starts this season -- an 8-1 win over Cornell on April 13, in which he allowed just one run in a seven-inning complete game. McFarland said the left-hander was a "better version of what I remember him."

"The day I saw him, he was putting the ball wherever he wanted it," McFarland said of Speer's four-hit, seven-strikeout outing.

CARVING OUT A FUTURE

Speer's strong campaign has translated into a prime opportunity this summer. The southpaw earned a temporary contract pitching for the Bourne Braves of the Cape Cod Baseball League -- often regarded as the premier summer league for college-level prospects. Depending on his performance, Speer can potentially earn a full-time contract later in the summer.

"He's got a great opportunity this summer, I think," Boretti said. "That's a very well-scouted league. He'll get seen by a lot of different scouts as well, not just the guys who see him in the New York-area during college."

In two starts with Bourne, Speer is 0-2, despite a 2.07 ERA. In 8 2/3 innings, he's struck out 10 and walked just three.

With the rest of the summer and one final season at Columbia ahead, Speer is determined to build on his breakout campaign.

"I set the bar for myself with this past year," he said. "My goal is just to improve. I think that that's really doable. ... This is one of the more important things in my life. The tools are definitely there to turn in another good year."

Earlier this month, Columbia had one player -- right-handed pitcher Alex Burke -- selected in the 29th round of the MLB Amateur Draft by the Kansas City Royals, while another -- right-hander pitcher Tim Giel -- signed a free-agent contract with the New York Yankees. Boretti believes Speer has the potential to carve out his own opportunity at the big league-level.

"A left-hander who's a mid to upper-80's guy who's had that success over a long period of time ... I think he deserves a shot," Boretti said. "There's no doubt about it."

dbonjour@scni.com; 203-255-4561 ext. 114; twitter.com/DougBonjour

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